Won­der­ful chal­lenge to male gen­der con­di­tion­ing

West Sussex County Times - - The Guide - Phil He­witt

With our li­braries work­ing out re­open­ing, we are keep­ing in touch with our li­brar­i­ans. This week Kathryn Gal­lop, li­brary as­sis­tant in Chich­ester, tells us why her favourite book is How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb: “To choose one favourite book would feel like choos­ing a favourite food – too tricky for me. So many dif­fer­ent gen­res, dif­fer­ent books for dif­fer­ent times, moods and sit­u­a­tions. Just as I might pick sticky tof­fee pud­ding but then re­mem­ber the joy of a rasp­berry pavlova on a sum­mer’s evening, or choose roast lamb but then what about an oozy camem­bert with crusty bread? That leads me nicely to Toast by Nigel Slater, a nos­tal­gic mem­oir I took enor­mous plea­sure in. But how could I choose that over I Know Why The Caged

Bird Sings, All the Light We Can­not See, The Hand­maid’s Tale? You see my dilemma. “I would say that my favourite books have some­thing in com­mon, and that is an ex­plo­ration of re­la­tion­ships and the var­ied lives and ex­pe­ri­ences of peo­ple. This of­ten leads me back to me­moirs, and How Not To Be a Boy has been a favourite since it was pub­lished in 2017. With four men in my house I was drawn to Robert Webb’s How Not To Be a Boy to pro­vide a male per­spec­tive and hope­fully a pow­er­ful mem­oir and man­i­festo. “Robert Webb is best known as an ac­tor, writer and co­me­dian, part­nered fa­mously with David Mitchell in a num­ber of sit­coms. He grew up in work­ing class Lin­colnshire and the book is de­light­fully full of 70s ref­er­ences such as Blake’s 7 and aniseed balls! “Webb strug­gled from the start with the un­writ­ten rules for be­ing a man: don’t cry, love sport, play rough, drink beer, don’t talk about feel­ings. “In this book he seeks to chal­lenge the gen­der con­di­tion­ing of men, us­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ences to il­lus­trate the chal­lenges faced if one doesn’t con­form, and the dam­age that can be done. Men are only just be­gin­ning to be more open about the men­tal health is­sues they face, and char­i­ties have emerged to sup­port this. CALM (Cam­paign Against Liv­ing Mis­er­ably) and Heads Up are two ex­am­ples. Most of us have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of the dam­age caused by men keep­ing fears, stresses and wor­ries hid­den and books such as this can pro­mote the dis­cus­sion and open­ness that we need. “How Not To Be a Boy is a story that would res­onate with many. It’s about not fit­ting in, about peo­ple’s as­sump­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions of you be­cause of your gen­der. It’s about sur­viv­ing per­sonal tragedy; it’s about form­ing healthy re­la­tion­ships and re­defin­ing the con­cept of strength. The way Webb de­scribes his life story is at times hi­lar­i­ous, at others beau­ti­fully mov­ing. He dis­plays a vul­ner­a­bil­ity and open­ness that grabs your heart and squeezes un­til it breaks. Pro­found and po­etic phrases such as “grief is love’s echo” make you pause and re­flect, but then there are also laugh-out-loud pas­sages that cap­ture per­fectly the universal as­pects of fam­ily life. The book res­onated with me as a par­ent, daugh­ter and sis­ter. I ac­tu­ally bought a copy for all the men in my fam­ily for Christ­mas, such was my evan­gel­i­cal praise for this book! Read and be chal­lenged, moved, ed­u­cated and en­ter­tained.”

This week li­braries are start­ing a phased rein­tro­duc­tion of ser­vices from with a Se­lect and Col­lect op­tion from the front doors of all 36 li­braries

Kathryn Gal­lop

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