After last week declaring that I didn’t read much Non Fiction, I went straight into reading another Non Fiction title. It’s not something I would have normally done, and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into a Fiction book, however, the subject of the book was irresistible, particularly after reading Sara Pascoe’s Animal.
Animal was part-memoir part text book about the female body and mind and society’s attitudes towards it.
How Not to Be A Boy to me felt like it might be the same from a male point of view, so jumping straight into it from Animal felt like the perfect thing to do.
Initially, I was a little disappointed, but that disappointment comes from my own expectations, promises that were made by neither the author or the publisher.
It is much more of a traditional memoir, an exploration of how Webb grew up feeling different to his father and brothers, and how he felt that meant he wouldn’t fall into the same traps as them.
Men don’t talk about their feelings. One of the many possible chapter headings that Webb could have used is the over-arching feeling to this book, and while this is not fictional, it’s been structured and written to make the reader realise that at a young age Webb realises all of these so-called rules are bullshit, but he ends up believing and attempting to adhere to them anyway.
The chapters are both funny and sad, often at both at the same time, and in fiction Webb would be an unreliable narrator – just when you’re starting to think he’s being a giant cock to everyone, he reveals something else that has been going on in the background that explains it all.
I was a little frustrated as we got towards the last chapter, Webb has talked about his relationships with women and his wife and daughters, but had barely touched upon his bisexuality, apart from a small fumble with a friend back in school.
Nor has he offered any potential solutions to this problem of fragile masculinity that he’s explored throughout the book.
But then in the last chapter, he talks about how he finally told his dad that he liked boys as well. He mentions boyfriends – that we as readers didn’t meet – and his brother already knows, we don’t find out how. For Webb, obviously, the most important factor of his bisexuality is his father’s reaction – and it’s an interesting one, not one that we would expect.
As for how we change these unspoken rules, Webb presents the solution in his parenting of his two young daughters. Change yourself, and instill different attitudes in your children.
His family openly talks about ‘The Trick’ this idea that men have to be a certain way, and how both men and women are fooled into believing it. Feminism, he writes, is not about men vs women, it’s about men and women vs the trick.
It’s a brilliant ending to the book, one that neatly ties up the various hanging questions he has left dangling in previous chapters.
I went into the book expecting part-memoir, part lecture on masculinity, and was initially disappointed that it was more of a memoir than I was expecting. I leave it wanting more memoir.
The funny, and surprisingly touching How Not To be A Boy is published on 29th August 2017 by Canongate