Back on Board, and His Stupid Boyhood

You may have noticed that it’s been a little quieter at That Book You Like… of late. I’ve been popping up weekly, but not daily (as I’d like). In short, moving house, relocating TBYL HQ and an increase in my ‘day-job hours’ have, as you might expect, interrupted my writing time somewhat. In saying that, I’ve still been reading like a fiend and I’ve got the most incredible pile of books that I’ve read over the last couple of months but haven’t had a chance to write about yet.

And that’s where the fun starts…

TBYL HQI’m pleased to say that I’ve now settled into my new, wonderful home and TBYL has a brand new HQ. I’ve rejigged my timetable to account for the extra hours in the city, and scheduled lots and lots of great reviews.

Some of these write-ups will feature books that have been out for a few months, other books that are brand new. In the near future, I’ll be introducing a few new friends, and I’ll give you a chance to pick up some bargain-basement bookish gifts. And of course, there will be give-aways, lots of chances to win.

I hope you’ll join us for another year of That Book You Like, and as promised, here’s a nice shiny new review for you…

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A disclaimer before I start today’s review – I’ve not read anything by Peter Goldsworthy, and I read his memoir His Stupid Boyhood (Penguin) because it was sent to me to take a look at, and it sounded interesting…

his stupid boyhoodFew Australian writers have delved as deeply as Peter Goldsworthy into the mysterious state of being that is childhood. 

In this memoir he applies his fascination with that state to his own boyhood, from his bizarre first memories to the embarrassments of adolescence. For all his working life Goldsworthy has been both doctor and writer – Australia’s Chekhov – and here he reveals a mind charmed equally by science and literature, by the rational and the imagined.

And you know what? I’m so glad that I read this book! It has introduced me to a fascinating Australian author (and poet, and composer, and doctor) and it has also revealed to me a new kind of memoir, one all-together more skilfully complied than your average autobiography.

For me, reading memoirs can be a little challenging. I find the revelations and details interesting, mostly entertaining, but I also find it hard to get past the quiet, almost unavoidable egotism that goes hand-in-hand with writing ones own story.

Interestingly, I can honestly say Peter Goldsworthy’s book seems to have quite successfully moved away from this. The self-deprication, the humility and absurdity of some of Peter’s tales lighten the tone, making it easier to believe that Goldsworthy has written this memoir as a kind of revelation of his foolishness as a child…

“In my final year of high school I took to wearing a cravat and smoking a pipe when heading out for a night on the town. This would have been a major style disaster for a pimple-pocked sixteen-year-old string bean in any bush town, but in tropical Darwin the effect of a cravat worn with the formal Territory rig of short-sleeved shirt, shorts, long socks and suede Hush Puppies was beyond parody. I wore this ensemble to parties, to the drive-in, to the Parap open-air picture theatre; I wore it to the Mecca coffee lounge round midnight before heading home.

On Friday nights, fishing with my best friend Iggy from the Darwin wharf, I wore the cravat with shorts and thongs.

What was I thinking? I think I was thinking that I looked like an intellectual, although I spent far more time thinking about being one than being one, thinking…

…What was everyone else thinking? That I looked like a skinny, pimple-pocked, would-be Hugh Hefner, stranded in the great outdoors with not a single Bunny in sight.”

It’s this focus on childhood that makes His Stupid Boyhood really readable. The scope of the tale is very manageable, spanning only about eighteen years, a coming-of-age story. I was grabbed by the writer’s humour, but also by his dedication to detail and to learning (both then and now.) I was taken in by his name dropping; Corso, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and frequent mention of Penguin Modern Poets 5 made my ears prick up – I’ve a much-treasured copy of that book on my own bookshelf. Further, I was impressed by the inviting, entertaining and literary writing style of this unique boys-own-adventure.

Whether you’re a fan or not, I’d have to recommend this memoir as a good read. It’s a great snap-shot of Australia, of how one grows up writing and of what makes a multi-talented, slightly eccentric gentleman tick.

You can find out more about Peter Goldsworthy’s His Stupid Boyhood here…