Thomas Beller, How To Be a Man

It was with embarrassment and quiet glee that I picked up Thomas Beller's promisingly titled How To Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood last month. It was next to Carson Kressley's book on wardrobe, Off the Cuff: The Essential Style Guide for Men, and the Women Who Love Them, and that gave me pause, but the shelving may have been some kind of in-joke by the UVic bookstore's staff. It may even have been an homage to Jane McGonigal's Ministry of Reshelving project, but I don't know about that.

What a treat Beller's book turned out to be.

Each separate piece comes with a title and an age Beller was at when the events occurred, but since they're not in chronological order, I'm reasonably confident that it's not a faux-plainspoken fragmentary postmodern autobiography. These are just scenes and moments, of varying seriousness and on topics as diverse as carpentry, bagel inventories, and a '77 Thunderbird. Beller, a streetball-playing journalist with a varied work history, comes off like a guy I wish I knew, and that's a rare experience for me in the area of books about guyishness.

There's just so much earnestness in these books, when what you want is to hear about the state of being inhabited by the kind of guy you might want to know. Bill Zehme's
The Way You Wear Your Hat : Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin' gave me the right impression in a bookstore once, but I didn't buy it and find out; Garrison Keillor's Book of Guys has flashes of it. Beller's How to Be a Man is it, though. He talks about masturbation maybe once too often for me, and his New York state of mind can sound a bit self-important, but honestly, it's worth twice the price of admission.


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