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The Boys of My Youth

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  2,329 ratings  ·  319 reviews
Rarely does the debut of a new writer garner such attention & acclaim. The excitement began the moment "The Fourth State of Matter," one of the fourteen extraordinary personal narratives in this book, appeared in the pages of The New Yorker. It increased when the author received a prestigious Whiting Foundation Award in November 1997, & it continued as the hardcove ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 29th 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Harkinna
Everyone loves this book. No one writes bad reviews of this book. The Boys of My Youth is Jo Ann Beard’s only book to date. Everyone is right. The book is amazing, but I am going to tell you what I did not like about the book.

Beard’s descriptions of childhood are just too well done. While reading them, memories of your own childhood bubble up. And not just the good memories, but also the memories that sting, the memories you thought were gone.

And really, as you are reading the book, she flits ar
...more
Brendan
Jul 01, 2007 Brendan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: William H. Gass & Eric Clapton
William H. Gass, that curmudgeonly king of American letters, proclaims with enormous exasperation that that “the perils of the present tense are pronounced.” In his 1996 essay, “A Failing Grade for the Present Tense,” he shakes his finger like a schoolmarm and scolds, “What was once a rather rare disease has become an epidemic.” And sounding like our elders in Washington, who wonder where in the world the outrage went, he woefully concludes that “if there is an academic prose, this prose is coll ...more
Megan
Aug 21, 2008 Megan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Megan by: Sarah Lawrence College
This book taught me a lot about reading and writing: that is, what I want to read and what I don't want to read; what I should write, and what Jo Anne Beard shouldn't. The ambiguous, vague touchy-feely pieces on her family were Important Because They Happened to Her. In a very, very negative way. The piece "Coyote" particularly stands out as one that I absolutely had to skim over. It must have been laborious as hell to write, because it was laborious as hell to read. I'm not a courtesan. I don't ...more
Melanie
This dark and luminous collection of personal essays is worth reading if only for the essay entitled "The Fourth State of Matter", first published in The New Yorker in 1996. The heartbreaking essay is probably one of the best that I have ever read, both for its deep humanity and the elegance of its stylistic structure. I won't even tell you what it's about for fear of ruining any part of it.

Jo Ann Beard is a ridiculously gifted writer and her recollections of youth (she is especially remarkable
...more
Chris
One of my all-time favorites. Jo Ann Beard writes like a friend -- does that make any sense? Or maybe it's her writing style that just makes me *wish* we were friends. I first read this book for a memoir writing workshop, and I immediately realized that this is exactly how I wish all my own writing could turn out. Her collection of essays is just spot on -- in tone and character and so much wonderful detail. A particular stand-out for me is the story 'The Fourth State of Matter,' which -- withou ...more
Simon A. Smith
This is a very strongly written memoir. Beard does several things that writers are NOT supposed to do. She's a rule breaker, this one. It's mostly written in present tense (big no), it's really "workshoppy" (uh-oh) and it leans toward melodrama about illness and dogs (run for the hills!) But fuck that noise. This is an honest, heartfelt, humorous look at what it's like to be neurotic woman writer with a whimsical voice and an astute ear for dialogue. Not hooked? There's mass murder, too. Put tha ...more
JSou
Apr 23, 2013 JSou rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to JSou by: Mike "PHT" Reynolds
These seriously are some of the best essays I've ever read in my life. I can't even say how much I loved this book, and now Jo Ann Beard. What a fantastic writer. Every single essay in this collection made me laugh AND cry.

Thank you, Mike Reynolds for such a wonderful gift. (I finally read it! )
Donna Everhart
I was mesmerized by the writing style of Jo Ann Beard. She did a magnificent job capturing her youth, really her life in general, from the time when she was about three up through adult years. I laughed out loud as some of her descriptions of her relationship with her mother, her aunts, friends, siblings.

She wrote often saying, "We" this, or "they" that. She might be referencing herself for "we" or maybe her and her doll, Hal, or someone else, but it was so uniquely done. Her voice in these sto
...more
Angela Blount

On the whole, his was a pretty erratic read. The author jumps around from memory to memory in her small-town Midwestern life without anything this reader could call a logical cohesion or progression. Half of the time, these short stories almost feel more like tangential modern poetry than memoir essays. The most gripping and memorable of these was, hands down, her memory of a horrific act of workplace violence that the author narrowly avoided.

While seeming somewhat unlikely, the author's recoll
...more
Constance
I liked these a lot and would recommend them. Some of the essays here are just so nice to read. (Skip Coyote though; as one wonderful gr reviewer put it, “It must have been laborious as hell to write, because it was laborious as hell to read. I'm not a courtesan. I don't have time.”) While the overly-dramatized, overly-neat memoir style seems slightly dated, it is really satisfying for an essay to have a cohesive narrative and Jo Ann does it well. (The post-modern “I think this happened but I ca ...more
Vanessa
I read just read this for my Creative Writing class in college and fell in love! Reading Jo Ann Beard's memoir was like spreading butter. Sounds weird I know, but the writing quality and word choice just flows so smoothly and naturally. She goes into such great detail creating this images of the simplest things. Her word choice makes you think, "Wow those words are exactly how I would describe that if I could think of the perfect way to say it." There are so many lines in the book that I just ch ...more
Luann
This book of essays is one of my favorite all-time reads. Beard has a particularly Midwestern voice, in my opinion (I grew up in Illinois) and that identification really struck me. Some of the pieces continue to haunt me years later. Very occasionally I've seen something of hers in The New Yorker - but I've been waiting and hoping for another book for a long time.

I highly recommend this. In fact, I think I just talked myself into rereading it.
Jody
Jo Ann Beard
Interviewed by Michael Gardner

JoAnn Beard is a graduate of the Nonfiction Program at the University of Iowa. JoAnn Beard served as a visiting writer to the MFA program at Saint Mary's College of California in the fall of 2003.
MG: This is the first year that the nonfiction genre exists in the MFA Program at Saint Mary's College and will also be the first year in which works of nonfiction will be included in Mary Magazine. In developing my ideas about the genre of nonfiction, I couldn
...more
Alison
I was already blown away by the quality of this collection when, near the end, I discovered that the writer grew up in Moline, IL (just a hop and skip from where I live). What the WHAT?

A few months ago, I read (and enjoyed) an essay, "Behind the Screen," (about a little girl and her family on the Fourth of July), on a blog about a genre called flash memoir. A week or two later, I picked up The Boys of My Youth at a local bookstore mainly because I liked the title and because the copy was on sal
...more
Jessica
This feels like a cohesive memoir even though the chapters are self-contained essays. I really enjoyed this collection even though some of the topics of the essays are more common like first loves, childhood crushes, and a mother's death. Almost all of the pieces are grounded in present tense even though Beard jumps around in time. This ability is particularly impressive in the title story, "The Boys of My Youth." Her most interesting essays to me were the one about the shooting at Physics Depar ...more
Christine
'The Boys of My Youth' is a memoir written through a collection of essays. The narrative is not linear and I enjoyed the shifting timeline and her overall writing style. The strongest chapters were Fourth Side of the Matter (recalling a horrific workplace incident) and a chapter written about her being followed in her car in the south (frightening). Without question, these sections were 5/5 stars. For the most part, I enjoyed the sections written about her childhood but her adult sections (exclu ...more
Cindy C
Oct 04, 2014 Cindy C is currently reading it
Blown away by her essay: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/199... and looking forward to reading this entire book.

There are very few writers who grab you within the span of a couple of pages and never let go. She is one of those.
Laura
Our local writers group hosts events every once in a while, and the latest event was "Bookstruck"—bring a book you had read a while back and reminisce about how it still affects you. One of the writers touted this 1998 acclaimed story-style memoir, reading some passages from it which made me curious enough to get it out from the library. Really loved Jo Ann Beard's voice and writing style. The stories of being a girl growing up in the midwest resonated with me, although Beard had quite different ...more
Joan Colby
. Beard is funny, moving and often poetic in these essay-memoirs. “Coyotes” is pure poetry in parts…”In the dark that, on my smooth ocean, inside my mind, he is already gray and golden like the desert, like the moon moving among them in the clearing…” “Cousins” will resonate with any girl who had a bosom friend for the wild and carefree times. I remember reading “The Fourth Side of Matter” years ago in the New Yorker, one of the most powerful and unforgettable stories I’ve encountered. Beard’s v ...more
Luanne Castle
In five or six writing courses I've taken, the instructors assigned “The Fourth State of Matter,” an essay from JoAnn Beard’s memoir The Boys of My Youth. I had to read it over and over. But there’s a reason why so many instructors assign it. Wow, what a piece of creative nonfiction! What occurs in the story is what happens when Beard was in the right place at the wrong time.

I’m not trying to be cryptic or coy. It’s best to let the stunning essay at the heart of the book speak for itself and tak
...more
Diane
For a book that I approached with the intention on learning how to write a little bit better (mostly on the description of emotion) I was pleasantly surprised. Jo Ann Beard makes poignant, oftentimes in one sentence, indications of the people she has met in her life. She even goes so far as to, in the last chapter, intone about the book and the people to whom she must speak to about the book.

What lies within the cover is a collection of short stories, jumping back and forth between Beard's adult
...more
Val
Although this series of creative non-fiction essays were written prior to In Zanesville, I am glad I read this after that book. It further clarified what was already brilliant. I loved this. I could barely put it down to go to sleep. I just hope Ms. Beard already has another up her sleeve. I just can't get enough of her writing. I could relate to it all--from the Barbies and the Barbie cases, to the loss of love and death of a parent to cancer. Beard is an honest, unpretentious writer, and hones ...more
Jen Knox
Awesome collection of essays. Love the humor and grit and up-close scenes that, as will all good nonfiction, make me feel as though I'm in good company. I can't believe it took me so long to find this book. I need to find more like it... I'm facing a shortage of good essay collections.
Murat Aydogdu
Another great recommendation from Sage!

The author writes in a casual, direct manner. She doesn't seem to take herself very seriously, but she doesn't write in a self depreciating way. Her observations are often amazing. This was a fast read for me.
Graham
If I had to say what this book is about besides being a memoir, I have no idea what I'd say. It's just damn good writing. The life she's writing about is not special; there isn't a central narrative (not even boys) and it just works anyway.
Carol
This collection really defies the classification of nonfiction while simultaneously making me want Someone With Authority Somewhere to redefine creative nonfiction to specifically include this book. Like any collection, some of the stand-alone essays are better than others, but they're all funny, charmingly self-deprecating, and full of Heart and Truth without feeling sentimental. Her prose is exquisitely rendered as she poetically describes what seems, for all intents and purposes, to be a rath ...more
Ashley
This book is a treasure trove of amazing essays in a variety of formats. Studying this collection was a master class in writing compelling, raw, and beautifully-crafted essays.
Mme. Bookling ~
So amazingly well-written. I gobbled up every last word of this intelligent, funny, subtle, expertly-woven memoir of essays.
Amy
I thought the writing was good, sometimes quite good, but I found most of the stories a little tedious.
Abby Howell
From the mother who smokes one endless cigarette to lines like "It's okay to be married to a perfectionist, at least for awhile. Just don't try to remodel a house with one", I was riveted by this book of essays about Beard's life and a whole lot of other things. I love Jo Ann Beard and I can't believe I never read her before. "The Fourth State of Matter" is the most often cited essay in her book, which I did love, but also "The Family Hour", "Waiting" and "Bulldozing the Baby" broke my heart and ...more
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Jo Ann Beard is the author of a collection of autobiographical essays, The Boys of My Youth. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Best American Essays, and other magazines and anthologies. She received a Whiting Foundation Award and nonfiction fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts.
More about Jo Ann Beard...
In Zanesville The Fourth State of Matter Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to the Present

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“We sit silently in our living room. He watches the mute television screen and I watch him. The planes and ridges of his face are more familiar to me than my own. I understand that he wishes even more than I do that he still loved me.” 12 likes
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