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Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  2,599 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
A child of the 1950s from a small New England town, "perfect Paul" earns straight A's and shines in social and literary pursuits, all the while keeping a secret -- from himself and the rest of the world. Struggling to be, or at least to imitate, a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy and unrequited passion, Paul ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 25th 2004 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1992)
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Jun 23, 2011 Whitaker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I came out at 17. I came out when I fell for a man 11 years my senior. I fell for a man who, in relation to me, was in a position of authority. It was one of the luckiest things to have ever happened to me in my entire life.

There are many who will read this and self-righteously pronounce it to have been damaging. How very wrong they would be. Damaging is what my life would have been like if I had not met this man. That life is the life that Paul Monette has written about in this book: A life of
May 25, 2015 Lena♥Ribka rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all humans-gay,straight,men,women
Recommended to Lena♥Ribka by: Ije the Devourer of Books

To say that I love this book would be a pathetic understatement.

I do not rank myself among lovers of memoirs, and here I am, having finished my next non-fiction book by Paul Monette, and desperately trying to find the right words that could do justice to Monette's life and his amazing personality.

In Becoming a man Paul Monette told a life story of growing up, coming out, finding himself. It's a long painful process, full of fears, angst, shame, suffering from low self-esteem, self-hatred,doubts
Ije the Devourer of Books
There are not enough stars for this book.

I don't even know if I can ever review this meaningfully and fully capture my reading experience. This book won the National Book Award for 1992 and I am not surprised because it is simply amazing but also deeply haunting and painful. This is one story, a true story that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This is more than a coming out story, it is indeed a life story or half a life story as the author describes it and I am grateful that the author
Jul 08, 2013 Jordan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Jordan by: Queer Life Writing 410
Thus in my own crippled way I had no choice but to keep on looking in the wrong places for the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing. For that was the image in my head, though I'd never read it in any book or seen it in any movie. I'd fashioned it out of bits of dreams and the hurt that went with pining after straight men. Everything told me it couldn't exist, especially the media code of invisibility, where queers were spoken of only in the context of molesting Boy Scouts. Yet
Feb 23, 2009 Sara rated it did not like it
This is one of those books that I went in wanting to like. Resurrecting texts from former classes, hellbent on actually reading the books that I was introduced to during my 4 years at college, I picked this one off the shelf, remembering some of the discussions we had about it in my Gay and Lesbian Lit Class.

Monette's story started out a bit dry, but I figured that he had to "set the stage" before he could really get into "it"--his feelings, his experiences. Unfortunately that passionate jolt n
Jan 08, 2015 Jesi rated it it was amazing
My god, this one hit me where I live. I picked it up completely at random, without realizing that it was a memoir about being deep in the closet and deeply depressed at Yale. It feels wrong to describe a book this raw as "beautiful," but it truly was. I kept thinking, while reading this book, of a passage I read once but have not been able to find again (Sedgwick? Butler?). I know I'll paraphrase it badly, but it was something to the effect of: the pain of coming out (to ourselves, even more so ...more
Jan 10, 2015 Kylan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
First published in 1992 and yet, here in 2015, in a small town at the bottom of the world, I read the words of Paul Monette and am in shocked awe of how much I see my own life in his. I think if I read this at an earlier age I would have thrown the book aside or dismissed it completely; obviously still in doubt about my own guilt. But now, at 33, I'm glad to have come across it and read it.

The impact of his words are so real it actually hurt to read them. But then, I guess, that is the reality
May 13, 2013 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
This is the first work of non-fiction I have read since I began writing my novel just over five months ago. Since my novel is about a gay man in his late teens I have focused most of my recreational reading on other works of fiction where the protagonist is gay and/or coming of age. I chose to read Paul Monette’s 1992 agonizing, painful yet beautiful memoir which won the National Book Award for non-fiction because it is not only an important piece of 20th century literature but also one of the m ...more
Annette Gisby
Apr 03, 2014 Annette Gisby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, Paul Monette strives to be what everyone expects him to be: a straight A student, polite, kind, normal and straight. But even as a child Paul knew he was different, but he did everything in his power to push that difference deep down where no one could see it or even suspect him of being queer. He lied to himself, to his parents, to everyone around him so that he could fit in and not be singled out for the bullies and the haters.

I can hardly imagine how hard it mus
Sep 21, 2011 Darkm rated it it was amazing
This book was very hard to read, and still, it was worth every feeling it summoned.

It's the autobiography of a man who had to hide his true self, it's a journey through the pain of hiding, through the pain of pretending.
His closet and his fears are the same of each person who has to hide, no matter the reason behind it, and it's so very true.

Together with the pain this book summoned in me an incredible amount of anger. No one should go through all of this for his sexual orientation, it's horribl
Jul 06, 2008 Scott rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book about 5 years ago because one of my favorite authors, Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss) wrote an introduction to it. It is the biography of a man growing up gay in the suburbs, prep schools, and universities of 60s and 70s-era New England and it perfectly describes what it's like to live in the closet and try and fit in or pretend you're something you're not. I'm re-reading it, out loud this time, to my boyfriend - and every 10 pages or so I get choked up and can't go on because ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay, memoir, first-edition
A beautiful, classic, poetic - nearly tragic - journey to exit the closet. This is the absolute best of all coming-out stories, not necessarily for its particulars, although they are universal and heart wrenching, but for its sheer literary excellence and intelligence. What came later in Monette's life was the real tragedy, similarly masterfully detailed in his book Borrowed Time, but that is indeed the other half of his life story.
Jun 03, 2009 Charlie rated it it was amazing
This is an incredibly well written memoir. I picked it up on a whim based on the advice of the bookseller. Just calling this a coming out story wouldn't do it justice. It far more complex than that. I like it for its depiction of the New England upper crust in the 50s and 60s (Philips Academy, Yale etc) and his fine-tuned description of the people in his lives. It's the perspective of an outsider looking in.
Aug 18, 2016 Julene rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
The only reason I gave this a four rating instead of a five is that the last quarter of the book is painful to read, he goes through contortions, decides he is bisexual and tries to have sexual relationships with women, and although he has strong emotional ties with women it is painful to witness to so much trying to be anything but the gay man he obviously is. And by then it is the 1970s. But through his life he "was exhibiting a sensibility..." He was the only one at his prep school in Andover ...more
Apr 30, 2015 Jade rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
I'm so glad Mr. Monette found happiness. I only wish he had gotten to live longer and write more beautiful words. Everyone should read his book Borrowed Time also. It's truly stunning.
Adam Dunn
Jun 03, 2012 Adam Dunn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: glbt
I finished this book tonight and I cried. I cried because I had never before read such powerful, proud words on what it means to be gay.
Monette contracted the HIV virus and with it a clarity I have never seen before. He knew at that time that it would be the cause of his death and that combined with all the events of his life up until that point, it made all the pieces fit together in a way that staggers me.
Monette with his verse is able to still maintain the smarts from his earlier work, and y
Steve Woods
Aug 14, 2014 Steve Woods rated it really liked it
This book was painful to read, not because it was poorly written but because of its intensity. The story of a young gay man trapped in the smothering closet imposed by the societal mores of the 50's and 60's when he grew up. The pain and loneliness of separation and of being different were so palpable they literally tore at my sense of stability. Not least because I am so familiar with that condition from my own childhood and adolescence. The performance this poor boy put himself through to hide ...more
Aug 13, 2013 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating memoir of Monette's first twenty-odd years of life, growing up a closeted homosexual in the 50's-70's in the USA. I could identify with so much of Monette's feelings of invisibility at an all boy's school, trying to pass as straight, and then realising what psychological damage this does through therapy sessions. I never went so far as to have relationships with women, and obviously I grew up in a supposedly more enlightened UK in the 80's-00's, but I still empathised. Monette writ ...more
Jul 03, 2013 Jim rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone
This is an autobiography, a writer’s autobiography, which fascinated me because not only was the writer (Paul Monette) a gay man, but one I already admired from his amazing memoir of AIDS, “Borrowed Time.” I remember looking for some hint in these pages of how I should live my own life, what experiences I should have as a gay man in Los Angeles, how I should think about them, how I should write about them. As much as a kind of blueprint for an existence as a window into someone else’s remarkable ...more
Mar 09, 2009 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
I read this book when I first came out. brought me to tears at the end. Although the majority of the story is depressing and sad (filled with self-loathing, death, AIDS, etc). The struggle Paul Monette vividly expresses is one almost anyone can relate to (gay, straight, etc) of accepting oneself and one's journey in life. It is the final pages of the book, his body ravaged by AIDS when Paul is realizing he will soon die, that he expresses his profound realization that he is a normal human being ...more
Jul 17, 2015 Louis rated it it was amazing
No matter how hard I try, I won't be able to adequately convey my feelings about this book and the man who wrote it. I won't list all that I admire about it and him; I won't attempt words to describe the effect of his prose, or anything about his breadth of reference and depth of perception; I won't say that after countless readings I've pretty much assimilated every word of his story into my being. All of that simply wouldn't do. I will, however, tell you that no other author has ever spoken so ...more
Mar 25, 2014 multitaskingmomma rated it it was amazing
Original Blog Post:

There is something about reading memoirs that hits me at a very personal level. There is a different tone set to the writing, no matter what the topic may be. Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story is the memoir of one Paul Monette, a gay man living in a society that had no scruples to labelling him a liability to the human race. He is also the man responsible for novelizing such popular movies like 'Nosferatu the Vampyre' (1979), 'Scarface'
John David
Paul Monette’s early life is marked by both the astounding conformity and pent-up rage that one might expect to find in the Bildungsroman of a young gay man growing up in mid-century America. His ability to “pass” for straight comes at a cost – to wit, the inability of ever having to admit to anyone that he’s not. From the time that he’s a small child, Paul seems tragically torn, more so than even many other figures in well-known gay-memoirs who came of age at about the same time in American his ...more
Christopher Ashcraft
Mar 22, 2016 Christopher Ashcraft rated it it was amazing
A great, heartfelt, and soul searching book about coming to terms with one's sexuality and the search for the great love of one's life. I won't go into details, but it's a good reminder of how far we've come...yet there is something to relate to for anyone who has ever been in any stage of the closet.
David Guy
Sep 28, 2013 David Guy rated it really liked it
I had never understood what it was to be a closeted man until I read this marvelous memoir. I'd always thought it was just a gay man who kept quiet about his sex life. But Monette shows us just how conflicted and difficult his young adulthood was, despite the fact that he knew from childhood that he was attracted only to men. This is an eye-opening book, about a man who struggled against who he was for many years, then finally allowed himself just to be who he was.

Mar 11, 2013 Fariza rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Fariza by: Nicol
A gift from a friend. Sometimes you've tried to understand peoples but its just made you more confused. What they need is not an agree from you but a belief that human were created to be different with each other. The conclusion is "I don't know".

# My favorite quote from Paul Monette
"What love gives you is the courage to face the secrets you've kept from yourself, a reason to open the rest of the doors. "
Sep 23, 2012 Lee rated it it was amazing

Love love love this book. Beautifully written - made me run out and buy Monette's other books. I've read it several times and get something new from it each time. Heartbreaking, nostalgic, bittersweet, humorous, tragic, everything. Much of what Monette describes will resonate with everyone who has ever struggled with coming out. At the end, through the struggles and disappointment, doubt and pain, there is triumph which makes the long journey worth it.
Apr 23, 2008 Heidi rated it it was amazing
I started reading Monette's fiction 20 years ago as a baby dyke in a small town, and it made me feel brave to buy them at the local bookstore. But they were beach reads, entertaining but not memorable.

Then I read On Borrowed Time and this memoir...and Paul broke my heart. As it should have been broken. I wish he had lived to see where things are at now, with treatment and civil rights -- still a long ways to go but better than 20,30 years ago.
Pam Thomas
Apr 25, 2014 Pam Thomas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: becoming-a-man
Being in the closed as the author puts it, who experiences self hatred and internal exile, living a lie since being a youngster for fear of reprisal from family and peers, so having to live as a straight man. This book allows the reader insight into how so many men have to stay in the closet and how they live in a angry world without sleep, but that eventually with a lot of courage he decides to tell the world I AM GAY. I loved it
Christoph Fischer
Mar 20, 2014 Christoph Fischer rated it really liked it
"Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story" by Paul Monette is a memoir that is both sober and emotional. With often painful honesty about his life in the closet and clinical analysis Monette understands to dissect his early life and present it to us very well.
I found many of my friends and much of myself in his writing, remembered the times and politics and could not help being stunned by the powers of reflection of this man.
Despite the sadness of what is written Monette manages not to sink in self pi
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BR-Ije+Lena 127 18 May 06, 2015 05:45AM  
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Documentary: On Brink of Summer's End 1996

Online Guide to Paul Monette's papers at UCLA:

In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

Monette was born in Lawrence, Massac
More about Paul Monette...

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“The problem with secret crushes: in the absence of requital the love turns bitter.” 15 likes
“But the fevers are on me now, the virus mad to ravage my last fifty T cells. It's hard to keep the memory at full dazzle, with so much loss to mock it. Roger gone, Craig gone, Cesar gone, Stevie gone. And this feeling that I'm the last one left, in a world where only the ghosts still laugh. But at least they're the ghosts of full-grown men, proof that all of us got that far, free of the traps and the lies. And from that moment on the brink of summer's end, no one would ever tell me again that men like me couldn't love.” 8 likes
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