By the popular Vice contributor, a collection of full-throated appreciations, elaborate theories, and unflinching recollections
Joel Golby's writing for Vice and The Guardian, with its wry observation and naked self-reflection, has brought him a wide and devoted following. Now, in his first book, he presents a blistering collection of new and newly expanded essays--including the achingly funny viral hit "Things You Only Know When Both Your Parents Are Dead." In these pages, he travels to Saudi Arabia, where he acts as a perplexed bystander at a camel pageant; offers a survival guide for the modern dinner party (i.e. how to tactfully escape at the first sign of an adult board game); and gets pitted head-to-head, again and again, with an unpredictable, unpitying subspecies of Londoner: the landlord.
Through it all, he shows that no matter how cruel the misfortune, how absurd the circumstance, there's always the soft punch of a lesson tucked within. This is a book for anyone who overshares, overthinks, has ever felt lost or confused--and who wants to have a good laugh about it.
Okay so this essay collection is a bit of a mixed bag, but Joel Golby is very, very, very funny—like, ludicrously funny—with a voice that's sharp and strong and snarky and delightful. He's also a very specific kind of 30-something white dude, which comes out in ways that are sometimes delightfully fun and sometimes eye-rollingly awful. He's a Vice writer, so I mean, that should tell you most of what you need to know.
In the better of these essays, Joel is the kind of writer whom you just want to describe the world to you—basically any aspect of it. I learned more than I ever expected to about Twitch, that site where you watch people play video games, such as the fact that you can spend hundreds of dollars to send specific emojis to your favorite players, and also the idea that for certain boys, the time they spend in their tween years playing video games together is as close to emotional bonding as they are allowed to get.
It was fantastic to read about Joel's trip to a camel festival in Syria ("camels are freaks, basically, absolutely irregular boys, and not as you thought before just lumpy horses"), and another to Barcelona to meet a sex robot maker ("the majority of sex doll enthusiasts are extremely 'adult lizard collector' and a lot of them do not really have full control over the amount of sweat they pump out of their bodies"). I was gutted by various essays about Golby's dead parents, as well as when he waxed very sort of machismo-romantic about his hometown and his youth. I even loved his long treatise on which Rocky movie is the best Rocky movie, despite having never seen or wanted to see a single Rocky movie.
Between all those long and interesting essays is a lot of silly filler (though much of it is hilarious!) about his attempts to grow a mustache or wear a leather jacket, his tips on going to dinner parties, why he wears an eye mask like a serial killer, and why every adult man, regardless of personal girth, wears an adult size large t-shirt. I could have done without his bizarre fantasia about fistfighting a life-size M&M, not to mention his very gory, violently detailed fantasies about murdering every landlord he's ever had. Calm down, my dude.
But anyway okay, because humor is subjective as hell, here are some of the lines that made me laugh literally out loud, often derangedly and on the subway, to the point that I got Looks, so that you can decide for yourself whether you'd like to have this for nearly 300 pages.
On Twitch: "Go to TV and say: 'Hey, I've got a half-hour video of a lad chewing gum and urgently whispering to himself. You uh... you want that?' And TV will say: 'No thank you.' But the internet has carved out its own weird niche of antimedia. Some people just like watching people do mad and boring shit."
On surgery: "Major surgery is this: medicine puts you into a deep and painless sleep that allows doctors in masks to open your body up with knives. Are you kidding me."
On a very bad winter in a cheap apartment: "The house got so cold, it was colder than just being outside. Somehow the boiler broke so bad, it reverse-engineered the entire place into a refrigerator."
On foodie culture in the young: "Millenials, doomed, almost entirely, to live in worlds without formal long-term spaces for them, without home ownership and many without cars, plow their energy and resources into expensive hobbies instead, a brief taste of luxury before the grave, like by getting some really expensive maple syrup and having a lot of opinions about olive oil."
On some character from Rocky "He's a real breathe-fire-and-shit-out-more-fire kind of guy, with this primal scream he does, as if Mr. T was yelling the sound 'auGH' into a cavern that goes deep into the earth."
On grievous bodily injury: "If someone stomped half the teeth out of my head I would just die out of politeness both to the stomper and myself—who, truly, wants to get up from that."
On not drinking as a teen: "Dad died at the age everyone at school got into alcohol, so he stole my formative drinking years away ('Hey, wow, a great long chug of the poison that killed my dad—thanks!' No.)"
On self-fellatio: "I was at university the last time I tried it—my method was to bob my head down towards my crotch at great pace, like a sudden cobra strike, hoping to catch my body off guard and accelerate straight from head to dick—but sadly, obviously, it didn't work. I had a realization there, stripped to my pants in the gray light of my bedroom: talk to some girls maybe, go outside, maybe convince someone else to take this job on."
The low rating I am giving this book is partly my fault. I should've read some of Golby's articles on Vice before requesting this, that way I would have quickly found out that I likely would not get along with the tone of the writing in this collection.
But the tone was only part of the problem - often the subject matter was puerile (I'm thinking specifically of the essay where Golby talks about *that* thing Marilyn Manson is supposed to have had ribs removed to be able to do, and how he spent a lot of his childhood wishing he could do that too), or just incredibly mundane. These are the kind of essays you may find funny if you know Golby personally, but most of them contain oddly specific and unfunny lists filled with rants about topics which don't hold the readers interest. For example, one essay innumerates all the properties Golby has rented in his lifetime, the price of the rent and the gripes he had with said house and/or landlord. Who wants to read about that?!
Recommended to fans of Vice, and probably nobody else.
Thank you Netgalley and Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group for the advance copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Generally hilarious. With this wonderful collection of essays, Captain Golby rams the Titanic of polite society into the iceberg of taboo. His frank crudeness and naked honesty, paired with his British wit and knack for nihilism, will keep you laughing and entertained throughout. Definitely recommend this one to people who keep it real. Definitely don't recommend this one to people who eat dinner with more than one fork.
I hate Joel Golby cause he made me write my first Goodreads review. I hate Joel Golby because his writing is so good I get disappointed in my own. I hate Joel Golby because he made me have a Big Think about drinking.
"How do you think Pitbull fucks? I think Pitbull fucks like a snake spliced with a wolf. Pitbull fucks like a Ferrari driving up a skyscraper. Pitbull fucks like a double espresso poured into a fire. Pitbull fucks like a Gatling gun hanging out of a police helicopter. Pitbull has never ever had to Google 'what toner is best for oily skin?'"
Well, this book was not quite what I was looking for. I think I started this reading needing a type of book and found myself with another genre. I like reading memoirs and essays, sometimes it's a genre I like to read to distract from fiction. Unfortunately, I read this book I think at the wrong time.
However, it wasn't a bad book at all. It's a funny book tho! I chose to read the book and listen to the audiobook at the same time, and I admit it was a good experience since the narrator was the author himself. Some of Joel Golby's life experiences I could identify with in certain ways, the way the book is written it feels like the author is in the cafe with us telling his memories. It's a perfect book if you're looking for something light and fun with some more serious moments. If you like memoirs, you will surely love to know a little more about the author.
Unfortunately it didn't work well for me, there it is, it wasn't the book I needed for the moment. It was recommended to me with a certain purpose, but it wasn't what I needed. Another time I'll reread it again and who knows I'll get more out of it.
I'm trying to be blunter with my star ratings which is why this is a 2. In previous years I'd have settled for a polite but unenthusiastic 3.
I just didn't really find a lot of this interesting. It's mostly about Joel Golby, which since I'd never heard of him before reading it wasn't what I was expecting. Most of the essays are about nothing much really, and the really personal ones I just found a bit bleak.
Weirdly, the author and I grew up in the same town and went to the same schools. He wrote an essay about Chesterfield, our shared hometown, which I found quite entertaining but I have genuinely no idea why you would want to read it if you weren't from there.
I have this theory about books and theatre. For some reason, my theory goes, people find things funny in a book or on the stage that otherwise they wouldn’t. Like somehow expectations are so much lower in these formats, that any idle witticism is met like one of John Mulaney’s funnier bits.
Well, this book is funny. But really truly funny. Not book funny. Funny funny.
Golby is above all honest - his stories are real, his language relatable and his tone exactly what it should be in this shit-show we call 2019 (or 2018 when he wrote it). I especially loved his essays on the barbarism of monopoly, fighting M&Ms, his irrational fears and his long (I mean LONG) list of how he would like to see landlords meet their demise.
I have no problem at all recommending this book. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
Scanning the reviews, one particular unhappy customer called the book ‘puerile’. They intended it as an insult but actually, it’s the truest thing they said about the book they never finished.
Brilliant x 5 is a collection of essays that cover the gross, the profound, the banal, and the tragic. Joel Golby talks about things most boys who grew up in England will relate to, things reminiscent of Vice’s old-school unique brand of ridiculous absurdism (Taking acid at a dog show anyone?), and things that most 20-30 somethings will grimace, guffaw, or groan at.
What I’m trying to say is that this book is not high literature. It’s gross. Like really really gross. The particular reviewer I mentioned referenced a chapter on Marilyn Manson and taking self-pleasure to a new yogic level. They were disgusted, hence ‘puerile’, and for those who didn’t grow up in sweaty, smelly, spotty circles of teenage boys, it will be. That’s because growing up a boy IS gross, weird, sweaty, and spotty. That coming of age process is unpleasant and problematic and filled with moral potholes that many of us fell into and some of us sadly continue to fall into. Golby’s book captures that pre-teen angst perfectly which is why calling it ‘puerile’ is the best description possible.
What that reviewer sadly missed, having put the book down before the end, is the hilariously accurate depiction of playing Monopoly, a gauntlet of horrors for any family get together. They missed the chapter where Golby talks about going home, the nostalgia of boyhood, the carefree summers spent eating sweets and chatting shit. They also missed the final chapter on drinking, loss, self-care, and adulthood - a truly powerful end to what is a difficult story of growing up in exceptional circumstances.
In short, yeah I liked old Vice (and some of its stuff now I won’t lie), I like some gross humour, and yeah I was a boy growing up in England so maybe this book is meant for me and not you. But to disparage a story because its author wrote for a magazine you don’t like or the humour is off-brand for you is a sign of bad literary criticism and a closed mind. Don’t slam something as childish or boyish - boyish shouldn’t be an insult.
summary - this book is about boyhood. It’s written like a boy wrote it so expect some grim turns of phrase. Take it with a pinch of salt and read it for what it is - one bloke’s funny take on what growing up is really like.
I really thought I was going to like a bunch of essays written by Golby and then I saw that caitlin Moran and russell brand had commentary printed on the dust jacket and I was like oh no but then I saw sharon horgan and was like oh ok and then (and this is properly on me) realised he writes for vice and that probably set the tone for me reading this and thinking like even a self-aware reasonably woke lad is still a lad and I found it hard to muster much enthusiasm from there on in. He is the type of writer I fear I would be which is that you just want them to write about heavy miserable shit without using self deprecating humour so liberally like I genuinely loved the writing on his dead parents because that is so interesting to me. But just like idk lads writing about liking fucking to me is just a bit grim and I dont want to read about you liking fucking in terms of ironically writing an essay on how unhorny a sex doll makes you!! Dont pointedly use the word sex worker in one essay then use p********* 2 essays later it makes u seem really surface level woke and like I got sucked into this woke guy nonsense like a real chump.
Hilarious and poignant but slightly let down by a couple of weaker sections. The chapter where Golby considers the meaning of home ('Home is the smell of being dry beneath an underpass, watching outside as it rains.') resonated, and he writes affectingly about his childhood, his dad's alcoholism and the premature loss of both of his parents throughout. I found myself skipping through the Rocky and M&Ms parts, though, which were too zany for me. In fact, I wonder whether the book would have been improved by a more robust edit - the two aforementioned sections could have gone for starters, and the repetition in the Big Tescos section and mistaken reference to Chesterfield FC as being a part-time club were other things I spotted. I'll definitely be seeking the author's work out again, though.
This book is very honest, and often powerful and moving, and sometimes funny, but I didn’t like it very much. Golby is an affable narrator, and he’s extremely disciplined when it comes to structure, but he’s a little sloppy with word choice. The major problem, though, is that this book wasn’t written with me as the target audience. It does give me a glimpse into a world very different from my own, but it’s not a world I particularly want to spend time in.
Obviously I can't be subjective, but it's fucking great, and opens up the Millennial conversation beyond the affluent middle class, and uh, really fucked me up a few times! I've now bought an eye mask and a very specific beard trimmer. I am maybe too suggestible.
The topics covered in these essays are precisely what you would think a white British middle class male would write about. Painfully predictable. Occasionally funny. If the not so good essays were to be taken out, this book could have been whittled down to a pamphlet.
Joel Golby has been doing the lord's work in Vice UK with his “London Rental Opportunity Of The Week” series for a few years now. Giving me a healthy way of channeling my frustrations against London’s rental market and it’s blazer wearing extortionists. He’s a really funny writer, and as a same generation, same city resident I find the stuff he writes about often relatable.
This book is a collection of essays, that is a bit broader than just hating on rental agencies/landlords (but don’t worry, a huge part of the book is still dedicated to that). It takes up some serious stuff like coping with the death of your parents, alcoholism; Some less serious stuff: like a surprisingly long tribute to pop-rapper Pitbull, highlights from childhood football games and monopoly metagaming.
This book was definitely entertaining at times and I already did recommend at least some stories in it to my friends and family. However, I couldn’t stand the landlord chapter at all. At first I skipped through it in parts and then entirely. This book left me generally confused about how I could have such an ambivalent view of a person. The author was somehow funny and relatable and I felt sympathy for him, while on the other hand he seemed self absorbed and entitled and I think I just could not stand him in real life.
If I could I would probably still give it 3 and a half stars simply because I did impress people with my new knowledge about Wayne Rooney and sex robots.
The thing is, I absolutely love Joel Golby’s writing, but this was a mixed bag for me. Some essays are absolutely wonderful, and others just aren’t for me. That’s not to say that any of these essays are bad, but that the subjects they approached simply didn’t interest me personally. I also failed to finish this book simply because it burnt me out a little (I feel Golby’s writing is perhaps better suited to his more conventional short essays as opposed to them being put into an entire book), but alas, there is still some beautiful and hilarious essays in this book that I’ll undoubtedly revisit again and again.
Reading this is what I imagine being friends with the author must be like: he can bore you to tears by banging on for hours about something you have zero interest in (Rocky! Football! Lads banter!) and even reading those pieces ironically only gets you so far. But then he gets to something of and with such raw emotional brilliance and insight that you get a glimpse of why he might be just the best mate in the world.
Joel has one of the best personalities i have ever come across to write a biography. He had very funny, interesting views on life. Sometimes the descriptions of certain things went on for too long, specifically the chapter about the rocky movies, like sorry but i don’t need someone to go on about a movie they love for an entire chapter of a book thank you very much. However i never saw the movies so that’s probably why it didn’t make sense to me. Overall this was an amusing read and it was fun to not read a serious story for once. I enjoyed this more than i thought i would. It was also very fun to listen to the audio book version because Joel read it himself. I always enjoy hearing the author’s voice and “hearing” the book like they would read it.
Coal-black humour runs through this collection of essays, on everything from being an orphan at 25, the various ways you might fantasise about killing your landlord, to the virtues of Rocky IV. Really compelling and really well-written. And I actually cackled OUT LOUD. That NEVER HAPPENS.
Pretty dang funny, written in that millinieal internet-savvy pop-culture-snarky manner that I love. A few essays I felt the need to immediately share (the dinner party one stands out to me). And a few I was eager to finish up.
This book is so damn funny and great. I cry-laughed so hard reading several of the chapters that I was getting weird looks from strangers in the ferry lineup. This guy writes like a male, British, slightly more raunchy version of what goes on in my head. Fan-f*ing-tastic read.
I got to page 176 and officially gave up, I dont really care to try and finish it, and would much rather just read something better. The PCM chapter was funny, the rest was tedious at best and the Wayne Rooney chapter officially made me give up, could care less about football if I tried, he just keep going. So yeah, not for me.
i finished this one pretty much out of principle. i’m not adding a rating because i do think that joel is a good writer, but he’s not necessarily a writer for me. i do think he’s very funny, the subject matter just fell a bit flat for me.
such a fun read. some hard hitters, some skips but overall i thoroughly enjoyed some good old english wit (re: “i will never be as tough as pitbull”) combined with emotional torture (re: “things you only know when both of your parents are dead”). happy new year and let’s hope that this will kick my ass out of the everlasting reading slump!