A guidebook for young men, delivered in the form of lessons from an older man.
La Cerva’s (Worldwords: Global Reflections to Awaken the Spirit, 2000, etc.) prettily designed nonfiction work follows in the very long tradition of the enchiridion, a handbook of life advice along the lines of works made famous by Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. In such books, an older adviser gives advice and imparts wisdom to presumably younger readers, usually in the form of aphorisms or quick anecdotes. La Cerva organizes his own example around large conceptual groupings like “Being a Man,” “Parents,” and “Demystifying Emotions.” His short, accessible chapters address emotions like anger, fear, and sadness, and they attempt to untangle and simplify complicated subjects like sexuality, love, and fatherhood. The author surveys a wide spectrum of challenges faced by young men in the 21st century, and although he assures his audience that their real journey is interior, his chapters are nevertheless full of pragmatic advice on how to conduct oneself at work, at play, in relationships, and in a family. This advice can often be refreshingly counterintuitive; e.g., the author instructs his young readers that they need not always avoid arguments: “Greet those clashing, challenging moments of disagreement with the larger conscious perspective that they can be compost that nourishes the garden of your connection,” he writes. He’s likewise direct on the crucial subject of habits—not only inculcating good ones but being constantly aware of bad ones; “cease clinging to the fixed points of your perspectives and behaviors,” he admonishes, laying down a hard line, for instance, on addictions of any kind.
The tone of all this is bracingly, invitingly optimistic. La Cerva wisely avoids lecturing, opting instead for a stern but empowering voice throughout. One of the inherent strengths of this kind of book comes about as a result of adopting exactly this mentoring tone, and La Cerva does it to near perfection, always being positive with his readers but never coddling them. He urges readers to acknowledge frankly their own biases and weaknesses as a first step to countering them and dealing with them, starting with the biggest of these, fear itself. “Fear is always a guest in the living room of your emotions, and you have the power to ask it to quiet down or leave,” he writes. “But first and foremost you must acknowledge its presence!” Such lines are typical of La Cerva’s prose, which is energetic and evocative, clearly designed to stick in the memory. “Don’t surrender,” he writes in one such passage, “your vivacious style to the dungeons of mediocrity by being a slave to convention.” Young male readers might feel slightly shamed by the author’s blunt assessments of their potential shortcomings, but they’ll never be discouraged by the advice laid out in these pages—and they might gain some great guidance in the process.
A wisdom-packed modern masculinity handbook that fits easily in the pocket.