In which I read, cry, laugh and review Robert Webb’s How Not to Be a Boy.

How Not to Be a Boy

876 words about review — 07:00 · 3rd Jun 2018

Going into this, I knew Robert Webb is a very funny man.

Alongside Olivia Colman and David Mitchell (Peep Show and Mitchell & Webb), all three of them have been making me piss myself with laughter for years.

What I didn’t expect were the relatable and incredibly heartbreaking stories I was about to encounter.

Taking me on a journey through his life, from losing his mother to breast cancer at the age of 17 to eventually becoming a parent to two girls, and realising how woefully unequipped he was to be a parent.

A part-autobiography and part-exploration in toxic masculinity, Robert somehow manages to walk the line of grief and bereavement with absurd masturbatory humour without losing touch of either.

Is there any romance greater than the one a teenage boy has with his own loneliness? How Not to Be a Boy, Robert Webb

I had the pleasure of attending An Evening with Robert Webb last year, where aside for selling and signing the books, he talked about the ridiculous expectations boys and men have forced on them throughout their lives.

Carlos Eriksson and Robert Webb frowning at the camera.
Robert looked so bored doing the standard smile so I asked him if we could frown together.

To say this book changed my life would be hyperbolic, but it did have an incredible impact on me, especially given where my life was at the time of reading it.

Growing up in Finland, where the traditional rite of passage for boys-becoming-men is to beat the figurative shit out of their fathers, the notion that we, as a gender, are nurtured to become effectively less-than-human rang true on so many levels.

Lost, angry and struggling to find acceptable ways of expressing all the cluster-fuck of emotions I was going through it felt reassuring to read that I wasn’t alone.

There were moments when snot flew out of my nose from laughing so hard.

There were moments when I had to put the book down, snot and tears running down my face as I burst out crying.

What I’m saying is, there was a lot of snot.

But the good kind of snot.

What follows is an excerpt from Chapter 5, “Boys Are Never Teacher’s Pets”.

Robert Webb's How Not to be a Boy

To be fair, I’m perfectly happy staying home alone with my current Doctor Who book.

I’m in my bedroom, reading in bed. It’s a pity that the Doctor’s companion, Nyssa, has chosen to part company with the Doctor, staying behind to help with the space leper colony. But then, I think, as I remove the last of my clothing, that’s Nyssa for you: beautiful and kind-hearted. I put the book to one side, and think about beautiful Nyssa and how, on the space leper colony, she wouldn’t have anyone to help her if, for example, she somehow got a splinter in her vagina.

I’m not sure how often this happens, but I’m pretty sure that if Nyssa had a splinter in her vagina, I’d be a good person to call. I’d probably be one of an elite squadron of teen space-doctors who happened to be passing through.

Nyssa and I would probably get chatting in the TV lounge of the space leper colony and, relieved to be talking to someone who didn’t have space-leprosy for a change, she would confide her embarrassing predicament. After I had reassured her about my discretion and experience, she would gratefully allow me to extract the splinter with infinite care and precision using my teeth. At that point, and recalling the diagrams I’d learnt in the Elite Teen-Doctor Space Academy, I’d probably provide the customary after-care service of licking her clitoris with nerve-electrifying skill and artistry. And then Nyssa, what with being such a kind girl, would probably teach me how to wank properly the way other boys probably do and I would… HANG ON, SOMETHING VERY ALARMING BUT FANTASTIC IS HAPPENING! I SHOULD STOP THIS – IT’S MAKING ME GOING TO DO A WEE! NO! IT’S NOT A WEE, IT’S SOMETHING ELSE! IT’S… OH MY FUCKING LORD!

And thus it was that the would-be Doogie Howser MD of space cunnilingus had his first orgasm.

Honestly, do yourself a favour and get How Not to Be a Boy.

If you’ve grown up indoctrinated into male-gendered behaviour, you’ll find so many things to relate to, spoken of with such earnestness and humour, that you too will have a lot of snot flying out of your bodily cavities.

If you’ve been conditioned into female-gendered behaviour, well, you’ll find just as much insight into the conflicted shit we go through and struggle to articulate.

Ever since reading How Not To Be a Boy I’ve recommended it to everyone I’ve met, it’s a profoundly necessary book and its stories are made more poignant by the world we live in.

Five unashamed tear-riddled stars out of five.

You’ve just read How Not to Be a Boy.

In which, 5 years ago, I wrote 876 words about review and I covered topics, such as: writing, books, and equality.