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The Boys of My Youth Paperback – January 29, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; First Edition first Printing edition (January 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316085251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316085250
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jo Ann Beard beautifully evokes her childhood in the early '60s, a time in which mothers continued to smoke right up to labor, one's own scabs were deeply interesting, and Barbie dolls seemed to get naked of their own volition, knowing that Ken would be the one to get in trouble if they were caught. Beard's memories of the next 30 years are no less sharp and wry, powered by antic melancholy, perfect juxtapositions, and "the push of love." When she was little, "the words of grown-ups rarely made sense," and even now, with the exception of her best friend and a few colleagues, not much seems to have changed.

In the title story, Beard and her best friend, now 38, still spend forever on the phone, an activity they perfected in junior high and that is now possible thanks to an office WATS line. Hindsight easily renders their seventh-grade ex nihilo obsession with a "ninth grader extraordinaire" foolish, along with most encounters with the boys of their youth. But their current relations with men are really no less absurd, as they realize while listening to Beard's latest possibility leave an answering-machine message: "I don't know whether to faint or kill myself. Elizabeth laughs unbecomingly. I put both hands around my own neck. We are no longer bored."

The Boys of My Youth is filled with family picnics, small celebrations, and fragility. Beard knows that her teenage efforts to "have a better personality" were as futile as her later attempt at "practicing being snotty, in anticipation of being dumped by my husband," but that doesn't make her any less fond of her younger self. And she has the same affection, and irritation, for her family, who slowly emerge in story after story. In "Waiting," she and her older sister try to keep calm as their mother is dying: "I hold two fingers up to remind her of how much longer she needs to keep this up, to pay attention. She holds up one finger, guess which one, to remind me of who's the oldest, who's the boss. I would love more than anything to slap her."

There isn't a weak piece in this collection, which includes the world's most perfect description of the agonies of having your hair washed--at age 3--and the ecstasies of one encounter near the Mexican border. "The car is a boiling cauldron. The coyote stands scruffy and skittish, like a wild dingo dog I met once, who bit everything in sight, wagging his tail like a maniac. Eric slides the camera to me and puts a hand on my arm. He whispers in my ear. I nod. I love dogs better than anything else on earth, next to cigarettes and a couple of people."

Beard often edges from serious laughter to high seriousness and back again. "The Fourth State of Matter" is perhaps the book's standout, a narrative about space physicists; invading squirrels; a beautiful, dying dog; a "vanished husband"; and, alas, a seminar turned 12-minute massacre. On November 1, 1991, she leaves work early and passes by the disappointed graduate student who will later that day gun down eight members of the University of Iowa physics depart. Her piece is complex and heartbreaking, a master conduit of emotion and information. As always, Beard knows the rich value of the minor ritual. Earlier, she had recalled playing "Maserati" with her collie: "I'd grab her nose like a gearshift and put her through all the gears, firstsecondthirdfourth, until we were going a hundred miles an hour through town. She thought it was funny." After "the newslady" finally confirms her colleagues' deaths, "Maserati" again figures: "We sit by the tub. She lifts her long nose to my face and I take her muzzle and we move through the gears slowly; first second third fourth, all the way through town, until what has happened has happened and we know it has happened." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

These 12 autobiographical sketches are linked by the theme of romance and the au-thor's painful disillusionment with it. One story, "The Fourth State of Matter," selected for The New Yorker's 1996 fiction issue (June 24/July 1), tells how the author happened to escape a co-worker's fatal shooting spree. With a remarkable eye for detail and the past, Beard writes of her earliest memory, a childhood attachment to a doll named Hal, Barbie dolls that didn't know what to do with Ken, eluding a would-be attacker on the highway, and her divorce from a husband who preferred to look at himself in the mirror than at her. Her conversational style puts the reader, for example, right on the handlebars of her sister's bicycle: "No. Yes. Around the corner, clipping a parked car. Sewer grate. Here comes the sewer grate. Hard to describe how skinny my legs are, except to say that one of them fit perfectly down the sewer grate." Beard's work has also appeared in Story and other publications. The current title will be of interest to public and academic libraries.?Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Jo Ann Beard's book shows that every experience, no matter how small or large, can have an immense impact on the rest of your life.
"agj32"
This book, a collection of autobiographical short stories, weave together and create a beautiful and poetic novel about a woman that I could fully relate to.
Elizabeth Roberts-Zibbel
I laughed my head off, had to keep stopping to read sections to whomever was closest at the time, and felt hugely melancholy when the book ended.
Jen (jenvoice@erols.com)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 21, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is so moving, so painfully touching. I read it over a weekend and could hardly put it down. As I read it, I kept on thinking of friends that I wanted to lend it to afterwards, but the more I read, the more I thought, This book's not leaving my sight; I'll tell my friends they have to buy their OWN copies. Jo Ann Beard is so poetic; she doesn't so much tell stories as offer brilliant vignettes of critical times in her life. She talks to the reader like he or she's a second self; she makes herself extremely vulnerable in this book. Her memories of childhood are so acute and observed so perfectly through a child's eyes--like being at an open-casket funeral and only being able to see the nose and glasses of the deceased from where she sits. I nearly caused a scene on the bus reading the "Dirty Barbies" story, because I was laughing so loud. Being a male, I have never been given so much insight into what it's like to grow up female as I was given in this book. It's a brilliant collection of stories--evocative, faithful in the tiniest but most telling of details. I couldn't stop thinking about it when I had finished it. It's a wonder.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Darrelyn Saloom ficwriter on July 31, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like a flashback, Jo Ann Beard's collection of short stories takes you back in time. My favorite story is "Cousins" and is about two best-friend cousins. At an outdoor Eric Clapton concert the girls ingest a mild hallucinogen and discover pieces of their childhood in the quilt spread on the ground. One girl feels her halter top is coming off. When she looks at her cousin she is "cupping clouds." Moments later her cousin says, "The clouds are cupping me now," and she wants someone to "Get them off." Beard writes, "A guy on the blanket next to us tries to hand me a joint. I can't take it because I'm holding my chest. He looks at me, looks at Wendell balled up on the ground, and nods knowingly. 'Bummer,' he proclaims."

With an exquisite eye for detail and lots of humor, Jo Ann Beard inspires memories of laughter and friendship and the heartache of youth that is never matched in later life. Upon completion of this book, you will find yourself thanking Jo Ann Beard for taking you back to that magical place in time. "The Boys of My Youth" is worth reading and re-reading and sharing with your best friends.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By "booboofish" on July 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Not only do I agree with all of the other positive reviews as to Beard's uncanny ability to put us in her present, I have to say that Jo Ann Beard's use of language is some of the best I have ever read. As a writer, I am envious of her ability to be so clear, concise and poignant. I was amazed by this book on many levels. The underlined, highlighted, exclamation-pointed copy I will keep attests to that!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "agj32" on May 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Jo Ann Beard's collection of autobiographical essays, The Boys of My Youth, is a look at real life events, some seemingly minor and others monumental, that teaches the reader to look back and remember the things that have shaped your life. She writes in a way that, no matter what the situation-tragic, silly, or otherwise-one can relate to what she's talking about. Whether the reader has been through the same thing or not, Beard brings the reader into the moment and makes him or her understand Beard's feelings. Her writing is honest and witty. I found myself laughing outloud and calling friends to read to them a specific section of an essay and end up reading the whole thing and sometimes others. Beard's essays range from devasting experiences to light-hearted memories of her youth, young adulthood, and beyond. Her voice and description bring not only humor and honesty to her essays, but also a vivid image of each scene that she is talking about. Beard's style of sectional writing and tying different scenes together at the end is so effective that as a reader, I never wanted to put the book down. Jo Ann Beard's book shows that every experience, no matter how small or large, can have an immense impact on the rest of your life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. J. Goolian on May 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought Ms. Beard's The Boys of My Youth, her collection of fictionalized essays, and finished it in short order. It was a delight. Then I went back and read parts of it again. Then I tried another "quirky" writer a friend had recommended, but soon found myself rereading ALL of The Boys of My Youth. So there you have it. I love this writer. I think "Fourth State of Matter" is just about the most perfect piece of writing. Ever. So whenever you're ready, Jo Ann, we're out here, like one of your faithful dogs, waiting so hard.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a terrific book! I read it right after it was published and have recently read it again enjoying it even more the second time. It appears very obvious that the previous glut of "one star" ratings are actually the work of one single individual posing as many. Notice that the reviews are basically the same and they are all from "a reader in..." (fill in the blank), usually from somewhere in New York. Too, they were all written within days and weeks of each other. Certainly, a person is entitled to his/her opinion but to pull a stunt like that shows a sick immaturity and apparent jealousy. It makes me both mad and sad to see this. I want to say, "Grow up already, okay!?"
I thoroughly enjoy the writing of Jo Ann Beard and cannot wait for more from her. Keep up the great work!
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