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The Boys of My Youth

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  4,454 ratings  ·  505 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 hardcover editio ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published January 29th 1999 by Back Bay Books (first published January 1st 1998)
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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Nicole Harkin
Jul 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommended to Thomas by: Lisa
Published in 1998, The Boys of My Youth received much acclaim and elevated Jo Ann Beard's reputation in the memoir/essay genre. Her most well-known essay, "The Fourth State of Matter," first published in The New Yorker in 1996, offers an incisive look into tragedy, grief, and the gift and curse of time in relation to oneself and one's relationships. I also appreciated her essay "The Family Hour"; when Beard has a plot, she can write well and weave cool insights into the framework of her stories. ...more
Jul 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 22, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: oldfavorites
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
Vincent Scarpa
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Just finished my annual reread of this, one of maybe ten books I'd rather die than be forced to live without. I stand by what I've said for a long time: there may be writers who write better books, better essays, better stories, better poems, but NOBODY writes better sentences than Jo Ann Beard. [And, for my, .02, no one writes better essays than Jo Ann Beard, either. Not even close.]

Every single essay here feels like a lifetime achievement, a life's work. To single out any one is silly. JAB is
Apr 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Emi Bevacqua
May 01, 2014 rated it did not like it
From the preface author/narrator Jo Ann Beard rambles to us, in no particular order and in an obscure jumble, about the boys of her youth -- and also her family and friends and pets, and a random wild animal. For the first quarter of the book I didn't know if she was autistic, senile, or hallucinating. She's in a crib, she's grown, she's a kid, she's at her home, she's at her grandma's, she's unborn, she's a teen; she is Kansas, she is Kansas, she is Kansas, she is back in Iowa, she is growing u ...more
Simon Smith
Jul 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies
i hate when i read a sample on amazon and those first few pages are so good but when you get the book in your hands you find that each subsequent page is a little more literary than you blah, or uppity or just fanciful. Not that it's bad at all. I understand all the accolades Beard received and I LOVED Inzanesvile but this one i couldn't read more than half. I just hoped the next essay would be better but it was just more poetic stuff. Boo!
Heather Elton
Sep 06, 2014 rated it did not like it
I didn't get the hype of this book at all. I was half reading...half day-dreaming the entire way through...and the day-dreaming was usually about my "to do" list and nothing about the boys of MY youth. Many great reviews on this book so many have enjoyed it but just wasn't my cup of tea...
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Have been promising myself to read this and not just because of her name! And it is wonderful, memoir written like fiction, yes, about the boys of her youth but also ones set in her adulthood as she goes through separation and divorce, and in The Fourth State a terrific low key account of (view spoiler). Didn't quite get on with 'Coyotes' (partly set in the head of a coyote), but the rest were d ...more
Angela Blount
Aug 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, poetry

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
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-for-school
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
Daniel Sevitt
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Quite the most spectacular collection of essays I have come across. The writing is outstanding, the truths manifest and unflinching. There were moments here, as the author recounts the last days of her mother, that I was reminded of Knausgaard's precision memory, but, of course, these essays predate his series by 20 years. I don't know when I will read anything this good again, but I will keep looking.
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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! )
This book makes me giddy, I love it so much!
Jody Forrester
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Karen Brown
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wow. I am so late to the Jo Ann Beard party (this was published seventeen years ago!) Her prose is spare, yet beautiful. Her voice is intoxicating and you'll find yourself devouring every single essay. I briefly considered skipping her piece entitled "Coyotes", solely because I had loved every single preceding story and didn't want to change the upward trajectory of my experience. The title seemed to indicate that this wasn't in my wheelhouse. That would've been a big mistake.

Her description of
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
So good. SO GOOD! It took me about 50 pages to get in to the groove, but then I never wanted it to end.
Jun 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
i found this collection such a difficult balance between fragile paranoid neurosis that spoke to my garbage millennial soul and unapologetic baby boomer swagger that rubs me the wrong way wherever i encounter it. beard is such a master of craft and tone that i feel like sometimes this has to be intentional, but i'm sure she of all people would understand a reader being frosty because they need to deal with their own shit.

anyway my first thought after i finished the book was "jeez i hope jo ann b
Cassie (book__gal)
May 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Every once in a while as a reader, you come across a writer whose work feels so palpable. The kind of writing that gives you that slight lump in your throat, the hairs on your arms stand up just a bit straighter because you know exactly the indescribable feeling that she is describing so well. This is the way Jo Ann Beard writes about childhood, divorce, love, family, loss. ⁣⁣⁣⁣
The Boys of My Youth is a collection of essays that act as snapshots of Beard’s life, from infancy to midlife. Ofte
Donna Everhart
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Luann Ritsema
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, essays
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.
Patrick Strickland
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book after reading the perennial essay recommendation, "The Fourth State of Matter," and the whole collection is great. There are a few where I just don't understand how her memory is so clear, for instance when recounting incidents that took place when she was around three years old. That makes me a bit suspect of how many liberties are being taken, but in any case, every essay in this collection is good and reads like it could be fiction.
Gloria Savatsky
May 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
I have no idea how this book has such a high rating. The writing is fine but there is nothing to draw the reader in. The story is jumbled at best. The best part of this book is the end. As in, I am relieved to be done.
Sep 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Self-involved, bad writing, boring stories. As a fan of memoir/ narrative non-fiction, I was disappointed by this book.
Michelle Hart
Jul 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
I couldn't get into it and didn't finish. :(
Mar 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Inspiring. As in it inspires me to write more about my own childhood and adolescence and all the strange details that surface in memory, things I thought were long gone. Nothing's ever really gone.
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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.

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