Great reading as men open up about their mental health difficulties

With our libraries working out reopening, we are keeping in touch with our librarians.

Thursday, 9th July 2020, 9:00 am
Kathryn Gallop, library assistant in Chichester
Kathryn Gallop, library assistant in Chichester

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

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