Book Review for “Things My Son Needs to Know about the World” by Fredrik Backman.
As a change of pace for Backman, this is not a book of fiction, but rather a type of memoir, which is also something that could be considered an advice book. The publisher calls this a collection of “personal dispatches from the front lines of one of the most daunting experiences any man can experience: fatherhood.” But whatever you call it, my regular readers will know by now that I’ve been a fan of Backman’s work since I read his first translated novel, “A Man Called Ove” and he’s been on my “Top Five” lists every year since then, often grabbing the #1 spot. Since then, Backman’s publicist has come to know me, and I’m on her list of bloggers that gets first crack at his work, and I totally adore her for it! I actually wrote to her asking about his next novel, but apparently that’s not quite ready yet, so she offered me this book.
Well, I’m not someone who reads a whole lot of non-fiction, and to be honest, I wasn’t actually looking forward to reading this. In fact, I almost decided to not bother reading and reviewing it; sometimes things like this can be a touch self-absorbed and daunting. But then I figured, hey, it is Backman, right? How bad could it be? Well… You will need to pardon me for my skepticism, and please accept my sincerest apologies because, as opposed to my initial expectations, this book was not just great, it was absolutely fabulous! It was everything and much more than you’ve come to adore about Backman and his unique writing style.
The essence of this book is that Backman is a new father to a young son, and men being what they are, they do tend to feel overwhelmed when it comes to fatherhood. Now, some men get that way mostly with daughters, but when it comes to sons, things can be a touch different. This isn’t a bad thing, but you must admit that a father’s relationship to their son is often different than how they behave and treat their daughters. For some reason, they feel that they need to instill certain things in their boys that it might not occur to them would be important for their daughters. Don’t get me wrong here, there’s nothing misogynistic in this book, in fact, one of the things that Backman writes about is how women aren’t just equal to men, but in some ways are far superior to them. With this, he also stresses the ultimate importance of respecting women, as his respect and admiration for his wife comes through throughout this book.
This also comes across when Backman talks about things like football and sports. While Backman doesn’t want to insist that his son be interested in these types of things (he might like to dance instead, which is fine), he does want him to understand them just enough so that he won’t become the brunt of humiliation from other boys when he’s growing up. This reminds us that as much as we want equality of the sexes, old gender tinged habits die very hard; reality dictates we learn how to react to gender bias and stereotypes consciously, rather than instinctively. This is probably the most difficult part of this book, as we see Backman struggle with what he knows is the way of the world vs. what type of man he wants his son to be. I also appreciated how he apologized to his son for messing him up and leaving him with a world that is less than perfect. It is something I’ve told my own children, often, and I always ask their forgiveness for this, since I simply did my best out of the all-encompassing love in my heart; I just never knew any better.
However, if this makes you think that this book is a serious, heartrending work, full of philosophy and ethics and the like, you would be completely and utterly wrong. This book is absolutely hysterical, and I couldn’t read it in bed with my husband next to me, since my guffaws and laughter would have woken him constantly. Backman goes from simple self-effacing to bald-faced confessional when describing each and every one of his mistakes in his parenting of his son, all in candid and hilarious detail. For example, there’s an incident with him putting his son in the stroller into the elevator of his building and then realizing he’d forgotten something in the apartment that will have you literally laughing out loud (but there were also a couple of places where I also got a touch teary-eyed as well).
In short, there is no Ove here, no Britt-Marie, no town struggling with their hockey team or the consequences of rape, no dying grandparent trying to make amends or connect with their grandchild. This is pure enjoyment and fun, with some insightful wisdom and poignant touches to keep it from falling into the ridiculous. For all of this there is no rating I could give this book other than a full five out of five stars, while I warmly and wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone – parents, grandparents, and even childless people, because you were a child of someone, and maybe this book will help you understand your parents or grandparents better.
Atria Books released “Things My Son Needs to Know about the World” by Fredrik Backman on May 7, 2019 (although there are later release dates listed on some sites with Simon & Schuster listed as the publisher). This book is (or will be) available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), Wordery or The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.