A(nother Review): Till the Cows Come Home by Sara Cox

Over the past few years biographies have been spoiled by the sensationalised, heightened realities of superstar celebrities and politicians, all the scandals being laid bear on the pages of tabloids and news websites.

This has result in the whole genre feeling a little bit cheapened, but we’ve started to see a revolution against these cynical money-grabs (I mean, all books are a money grab of some kind, else they’d be given away for free, but some of them were blatant, written with no love). 

First there was Robert Webb and Sara Pascoe who used their own stories to create extended essays on gender identity (I still think a lot about both of those books) and then we had Adam Kay’s memoir-with-a-message This Is Going To Hurt – a look at what it means to be a modern day junior doctor.

All three of these books were powerful insights, not just into their subjects, but also into the overriding issue. What I’ve missed – the bit about biographies I’ve always liked – is the ability to identify with a person’s life and understand a bit more about who and what they are.

The three books mentioned above (which are just three of many examples I could have used) are brilliant books, but they’re all carefully edited and constructed to support their overall message. I’m not saying it didn’t all happen, I’m saying I don’t feel like I necessarily saw all that happened.

Not so with Sara Cox’s Till the Cows Come Home.

I love Sara Cox. I listen to her radio show and I’m slightly in love with her irreverent humour. You know when a straight man is slightly obsessed with another man, it’s called a man-crush… what’s the opposite of that for a gay man being slightly obsessed with a straight woman? Possibly just a crush. 

Anyway, I’m slightly pre-disposed to love her book – but I went into it with the aim of being objective – and objectively speaking, this is a lovely heart-warming memoir. No trashy scandals, no message, just the story of the first twenty (or so) years of Cox’s life

From her early days growing up on a farm, to the accidental loss of the ‘h’ from the end of her name this covers all the parts of life that we all experience that we can all identify with, all told with Cox’s trademark warmth.

To be completely frank, it feels a little more restrained than the DJ is when she’s live on the radio and as such, loses the sound of her voice a little. This is probably to be expected, but I wonder if she was writing about something other than her family, her own history, whether her voice, her humour would shine through more.

Perhaps a fiction book might be coming in the future? For now, though, back to this book and it was a really nice exploration of Cox’s formative years. It doesn’t go into any huge detail about her party years as a nineties IT Girl – partly because Cox says she doesn’t really remember a lot of it – so anyone interested in that side of things might be disappointed.

But anyone who’s a fan of Sara Cox won’t be and this makes a lovely read. If you’re not a fan there’s still just enough here to keep you interested. I particularly enjoyed the stories of times she spent with her father, it’s clear she has a lot of love for him – as well as the rest of her family

Till the Cows Come Home is available now from Coronet

A(nother) Review: How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb

 

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