The below piece is a submission for Book Riot’s Our Reading Lives
I am connected on Facebook with the majority of my friends from high school, but my actual communication with them is fairly rare. While most of them are still somewhat close with each other, I was left on the outside due to moving across the country for a number of years, devoting a great deal of time and attention to other relationships, and the fact that I was regarded as a pretty serious oddball from ages fifteen through…well, I guess I still am.
I was happily surprised earlier this week to discover that one of my core friends from high school had posted a photo of a book I had given him back then, which he had loved and shared with the rest of our social circle, many of whom bought their own copies. The book that had engaged us so much during the height of the TRL and WWF Attitude era was Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys.
While I don’t like to generalize, teenagers typically don’t connect with the work of a guy who “turned 40” when they were seven years old. However, there are some artists, like the Beatles, John Belushi, and Gallagher, who transcend generations, and I honestly feel Dave Barry belongs in that rarefied ring of honor.
I cannot speak for my friends from high school, but Dave’s writing has served as an insightful introduction to mature topics (both “Hollywood mature” and actually mature) supplemented by bladder-busting humor. I read Guide to Guys when I was first trying to make sense of my own awkward personality and stop-start maturity. Dave’s wisdom in this book changed me from anxious, spacey, confused nerd to…an awkward, spacey, confused nerd who knew that I would be okay.
Guide to Guys’ “Hardware Store Problem” anecdote illustrated one of my major insecurities. My father designed and built my family’s first house, but those skills didn’t pass on to me. I can’t process or assemble complex items, and Dave perfectly described my problem, “Guys are supposed to understand, automatically, as though mechanical aptitude were a growth stage in male puberty. One day you wake up and discover that your armpits are sprouting little hairs; the next day you wake up with the ability to repair a transmission.” The “Hardware Store Problem,” which painstakingly details the embarrassment resulting from failed home repair, comforted me and also made me realize I had other skills that would make me a strong, functional adult.
I also learned valuable lessons that I carried with me as I matured from Guide to Guys. Writing about the communication disparity between men and women, Dave wrote, “A guy in a relationship is like an ant standing on top of a truck tire. The ant is aware…that something large is there, but he cannot even dimly comprehend what this thing is. And if the truck starts moving, and the tire starts to roll…right up until he rolls around to the bottom and is squashed, the only distinct thought that will form in is tiny brain will be, and I quote, huh?” Once I was able to somehow attain a relationship, I made it a paramount priority not to be that ant. I listed, and observed, and contemplated, and took everything all elements of my relationships seriously, and eventually I met my wonderful wife who did the same for me.
Dave Barry has covered a wide variety of complex subjects in his extensive catalog, ranging from family planning and parenting to the aging process. These are frightening topics, but Dave has given me a valuable perspective on these life stages, namely, “they are normal, and they are also a bit silly.” I am expecting my first child this summer, and will be looking to buy a house in the near future. When those major events approach, I know I will be able to turn to I’ll Mature When I’m Dead (“you will have frequent fantasies – elaborately detailed, very explicit fantasies – about napping”) and Dave Barry’s Money Secrets (“real estate is an exciting field, offering many exciting opportunities for a financial novice such as yourself to screw up”). The greatest lesson I’ve learned from reading Dave Barry, is that when confronted with life’s challenges, you need to laugh in their faces, and P.S., don’t forget to fart.