Sunday, April 28, 2019

Book Review: "Things My Son Needs to Know About the World" by Fredrik Backman

Over the last few years, Fredrik Backman has been one of my favorite authors, with Beartown, Us Against You, A Man Called Ove and And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer capturing my heart and winding up on my year-end lists of the best books I've read. So when I had the chance to get my hands on his new collection of essays, Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, I jumped on it, despite not having a child.

Once again, Backman's writing is imbued with tremendous heart, emotion, and utter charm. While he's certainly proven his ability to make his fiction utterly compelling from the very first page, this book proves his talent isn't exclusive to fiction, but you can see why his writing has made fans of so many of us.

In Things My Son Needs to Know About the World, Backman gives advice to his young son, about everything from love to finding the right friends to surviving a trip to IKEA. The essays are punctuated with humorous anecdotes of Backman's interactions with his wife, episodes where his parenting skills (and even his thinking skills) are called into question, and declarations of love for his wife and child.

"We want you to be better than us. Because if our kids don't grow up to be better than us, then what's the point of all this? We want you to be kinder, smarter, more humble, more generous, and more selfless than we are. We want to give you the very best circumstances we can possibly provide. So we follow sleeping methods and go to seminars and buy ergonomic bathtubs and push car seat salesmen up against the wall and shout 'the safest! I want THE SAFEST doyouhearme?!'"

These lessons are beautifully universal and have so much meaning. There's also a tremendous amount of humor in the book, humor derived from situations Backman has experienced, like getting a sofa for your first apartment. (" your first sofa secondhand. Not from IKEA. Buy one of those brown leather monstrosities as big as the Death Star...Buy the sofa you want, not the sofa you need...Because sooner or later you'll fall in love. And from then on, every sofa you own will be one long compromise.") He provides advice to live by, all saturated in the immense love he has for his son.

I don't have children, but I found this book tremendously appealing anyway. While some of the essays are more traditionally male-centric, there is a lot of the book that would apply to daughters as well. Some chapters are funnier than others, there's a lot of talk about poop and other messes, and sometimes the essays meander a bit before circling back to the core point, but I enjoyed this.

Things My Son Needs to Know About the World will make a sweet Father's Day gift, particularly for a reasonably new father, although "older" fathers will probably enjoy this, too. I think more than one guy will wipe away a tear—perhaps only in private. I'm looking forward to Backman's next novel (perhaps another Beartown book?), but this is enough to tide me over until then.

NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

This book will be published May 7, 2019.

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