Samuel Rafael Barber, author of “A Guide for Boys: Adventures and Other Ventures into Human Capital (Ages 6+)” from Volume 72.2, gives us insight into the origins of and voice behind this novel excerpt.
We didn’t have this book when we were Boys, so I had to write it. Read this book to become invulnerable to peer pressure, definitively answer Haddaway’s timeless question, and know thine enemy.
When we were Boys, we hazed each other in locker rooms and invented nasty rumors about ex-girlfriends and fought Boys we didn’t like (or at least lied about having fought Boys we didn’t like). We struggled to open extremely cold Gatorade bottles in the cafeteria at lunch without jar gripper pads, chuckling nervously and slumping almost imperceptibly and wishing we had never been born. We danced to “Party in the U.S.A.” in the nude after school but before football practice, snapping towels at as many buttocks as possible and hitting every note and pretending to hate the song or love the song when we mostly didn’t care about the song at all in comparison to leaving red marks on the buttocks of our friends and enemies. We read as many Stephen King novels as possible on bus rides home rather than give our math teachers the satisfaction of ever getting good at geometrical proofs, enraptured by the horrific plots invented by a seemingly mild-mannered Mainer that would never possibly compare to the terror of our day-to-day realities (terror exacerbated by our math teachers during parent–teacher conferences, it must be said).
At the dinner table, our mothers and fathers asked us about our days. We described the hazing and misogyny and fighting, and our mothers and fathers patted our heads and said, “Boys will be Boys.”
In this age of cryptocurrency enthusiasm and artisanal tacos and creeping authoritarianism, there must be a place for therapy and frozen burritos and the abolition of the Senate. All of our fathers will eventually come to complete shirtless yard work while singing along to “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls, and yet we insist that it isn’t so. Like the novel’s narrator, all of us will be coerced into indefinitely living at our cubicles at the onset of a global pandemic after an opaque and uncontestable algorithm determines that, within our department, we are the essential worker whose life is most expendable. I hate to say it, but unless you purchase and read and leave an immensely kind review of this book on every possible online platform years from now, when it’s published in full, we’re all doomed.
Boyhood is about curiosity, and Boys should be as equipped to distrust dentists and dental hygienists as they participate in small talk, prepare for nuclear war with Iran, and remember Steve Guttenberg. How do you tie a tie? How do you make Teddy Roosevelt proud? How do you deconstruct the nonsensical idioms people use when trying to sound worldly?
The answers are in this book. It was written in two cities across four years (on and off). It began with a parable inspired by my friend Jae Towle Vieira––an incredible writer whose gaze misses nothing––and their incredible ability to amass vast data without pressing thousands of ears to thousands of doors. It found life with a logically bulletproof philosophical critique of the aesthetic odiousness of ties. It came into its own when I recognized how my entire life had been structured to generate as much capital as possible for my future employers, to my emotional and physical detriment.
It began as an attempt to say something important about the unaccountable systems which dictate the material realities of our collective lives and ended some time after I fell in love with T., when I tried to imagine living without her. Without her, this novel would remain unfinished, a pale imitation of the book I knew it needed to be (the book it is now). She believes Domino’s “isn’t pizza” (even the thin crust!), but nobody’s perfect.
Boys today are the same as they always were, but the world they inhabit and the knowledge required to flourish within it are not. This book is filled with the lessons that all Boys six and older must learn in order to wisely invest their time and resources, maximize the growth of their human capital portfolio, and rebound from a broken heart.
We didn’t have this book when we were Boys, though we wish we did. Things might have gone differently.