This is one of those books to which the subsequent life of the author has given tragic and deeper meaning. I bought and read it in 2006 when it was published because I was a semi-regular reader of Sam de Brito’s newspaper column called “All Men Are Liars”. It’s a list of the pieces of advice he wished someone had told him in his youth rather than having to figure it out by himself as he went along. He divided it into two sections, one aimed at his “gorgeous daughter”, the other aimed at his “dashing son”, both of whom existed only in his imagination at the time of writing.
Sam de Brito died at the age of 46 in 2015, leaving behind a young daughter. It’s almost as if he knew he wasn’t going to make it, even before his daughter was born, so he left behind this book to ensure she’d have the benefit of his wisdom. It almost makes you want to cry just thinking about it.
Some of the advice is less vital than other pieces. “Fashion is important, so educate yourself,” he writes to his daughter. Some of it is hilarious. “Never throw a drink in a guy’s face. It’s not high drama. It’s cheap. Walk away. On the other hand, if he’s groped you, make sure the glass is nice and full.” Some of it goes deeper. “Read. Someone’s taken the time to distil their thoughts on life into a few hundred pages, and it’s sitting there for you to experience.” And others are absolutely crucial. “Compare nothing. Be it bust size, salary or your childhood. Comparison to your own will just make you smug or grumpy.”
And some of the highlights from the advice to his son include the sensible. “Respect cops… they’re the first people you call when the shit hits the fan.” The protective. “Drive a Volvo. At least until you’re twenty-five… Until then I want you in the Swedish shock absorber.” And the advice I hope all men ignore – “Do say, ‘I’m dropping the kids off at the pool.’ …It’s much funnier than announcing you’re ‘taking a dump’.” – after all, does anyone really need to know?
The book is well-written, witty and full of the common sense that those of us in our thirties and older will recognise and that those in their teens and twenties would do well to heed. If you were a fan of Sam’s other writing, then you’ll appreciate this, too. If you haven’t heard of him before, it’s a terrific and – despite its humour – sometimes tear-jerking introduction. If there’s one regret, it’s that we’ll never know to what higher heights Sam de Brito might otherwise have risen.
In a few words: short, stylish and sweet.
*First published on Goodreads 8 March 2016