Book Recommendations For Young Men | GUEST POST BY LUKE PALMER

Book Recommendations For Young Men by Luke Palmer

1) Are you Experienced? – William Sutcliffe

For 14 year old me, this book blew the lid off of who could be an MC in their own story and, for at least the few weeks that I was reading it, I genuinely felt like William Sutcliffe had used *me* as a muse for Dave. His snarky-disdain-as-cover-for- uncertainty-and-something-akin-to-yearning pretty much summed up my late- teenage years. 

Dave fails, miserably sometimes, and frets and worries and frets some more before failing all over again. The whole premise of the trip around which the novel revolves is almost unbearably awkward, and the scene after Dave eats an ill-advised burger will haunt me forever, but behind the snark, Dave perseveres. It’s not the travel-brochure kind of enlightenment, realising your own shortcomings, but it’s probably far more valuable than twisting your own leg around your neck at a yoga retreat in the Himalaya. 

This was a wonderful introduction to a world of books with vulnerable, uncertain young men in them, who knew they weren’t perfect but got on with stuff anyway. Boys who weren’t ‘role models’ in the untouchable sense, but friends who would commiserate with you and celebrate wherever and whenever they could. Which, if you stop to look at any of your experiences, is actually quite a lot of the time. And, as a bonus, you can see just how grown-up Dave turned out if you read Sutcliffe’s latest novel, The Summer We Turned Green (spoiler: it’s not what he was expecting, inevitably!)

2) The Eternal Return of Clara Hart – Louise Finch

I’m not sure if the writer or the reader in me loves this book more, but it’s a complete tour de force of energetic story-telling, taut and super-confident structuring, excellent character studies and massively important messaging. I tend to wince a little bit when books for young adults lean too hard towards the ‘instructive’ end of the spectrum, but this book does the best thing I think you can do – it functions as a clear and unsmeared window onto the world and lets the reader make their own mind up about it.

Spence is a wholly believable and complex character whose eventual bravery is hard won, but even then he gets the ending he deserves rather than the Hollywood version. It’s a full, frank, and necessarily brutal exploration of the darkest side of male culture and of coming of age within that. These kinds of books are almost always described as ‘hard hitting’ – I don’t think that’s the strength of their punch, but that they get us just where we need to be got. And we rise up stronger as a result.

3) The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry is one of those people who are, in my humble opinion, a total force for good in the world (I’ve also recently elevated Joe Lycett to this status, if you were interested). The way Perry preaches and practices the good message of creativity has brought joy to so many people over his time as one of the UK’s must recognisable artists; his eye is keen, but kind, and even at his most satirical he is – somehow – never judgemental. This book looks at the various performative aspects of masculinity and how they’ve seeped into male ‘culture’, now taken as read. As someone who famously sits just outside of that particular performativity, he names and recognises it with grace and no small amount of humour.

The most profound moment (of many) in the book comes when that performativity is also seen, acknowledged and questioned by that (apparent) stalwart of maleness; a cage fighter. Perry nurtures his readers, writing without force and with an endearing vulnerability of his own. This is an accessible book that scrapes the surface of the ‘study’ of men and masculinity – something I think we all need to do if we hope to resign the vociferous voices of entitled misogyny back into the distant past from which they have come.

4) A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

Reading is an escape from reality, and it should be enjoyable. I think, sometimes, we try to over-police what we give boys access to in the false assumption that they won’t realise where the line is. Of course they will. It’s a ridiculous thing to even say aloud that boys are wonderful humans capable of holding multiple realities in their heads at the same time, and knowing exactly where the boundaries lie. Of course they are. Even if they might push at those boundaries from time to time. 

Burgess’ often- banned classic was the first book I read that made me feel like a grown up. The cover was the right mix of edgy and literary, and the text was weird, funny, inventive and appalling. I talked about this book endlessly with my friends at school. We all wanted huge speakers under our beds and played Beethoven’s 9th on repeat. It was a gateway book to a host of other writers who wrote engagingly and entertainingly about things we knew were problematic, and that we were also looking for answers to, or at least some other perspectives on. I had a great conversation with a student about Irvine Welsh last week on exactly the same basis. Because young people need to explore, and should be supported in doing so. It’s another moot point to add that books should never be banned, and any that are ever considered for that foul practice should instead be made to rain down from the sky.

5) A Heart That Works – Rob Delaney

OK, so maybe this for the older boys – feel free to buy this book for your dads, folks!
Rob Delaney is my man-hero at the moment. This book tenderly and beautiful depicts the staggering, brutal force of grief after the loss of Delaney’s third son, Harry, who passed away after a brain tumour at the age of two. I got the audio book of this, which Delaney reads himself, and I’ve cried more times listening to it than in the whole of the last five years combined. 

But I’ve laughed out loud at least that much, too. Throughout, Delaney is generous, warm and giving of himself. He is vulnerable and accepting of his short-comings. He is funny and angry and complicated and so, so beautifully human. It is, without a doubt, the most rounded and honest and humble and messy depiction of what it is to be a father that I’ve ever come across. I can’t begin to imagine what strength it took to write, but it is an act of love in the truest sense. And I love Rob Delaney right back.

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