'The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange' and 'My Lobotomy'
When The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange arrived at PW, it was tossed in the rejects pile immediately. Yet something made me retrieve it--perhaps a sympathy for the boys at college who huddled over a board for hours, emerging only to go to the bathroom to shave their odd facial hair. I'm glad I took the chance. Mark Barrowcliffe's book is a brilliantly funny memoir about adolescent awkwardness in the 1970s. Growing up in Coventry, England, Barrowcliffe was on the edge of cool when, quite accidentally, he discovered D&D. It could've been punk. It could've been hash. It could've been candle-making. But it was D&D that consigned him to years of nerdery, obsession and concomitant embarrassments, like an affection for the band Hawkwind. Barrowcliffe is hilariously self-aware, and offers his book as public service: "I hope to provide an answer for anyone who has ever looked at a man and thought, 'Why is he such a wanker?'" Though much of the book includes particulars of D&D, making it a must-read for gamers, the former standup comedian is so genial, his memoir will appeal to a wide audience. Howard Dully's My Lobotomy is also a childhood memoir. Unlike Barrowcliffe, Dully grew up in a poor, white America where infractions were punished by beatings with two-by-fours. While his brothers and stepbrothers did well in school and got along with his father and stepmother, he couldn't behave--at least not to his stepmother's satisfaction. She ultimately took him to Walter Freeman, the founder and carnival-barker-style promoter of the lobotomy, who was easily convinced (as always) that little Howard would benefit from a procedure we now know was inhumane. This tragic story is also that of the colorful Freeman, a Philadelphia doctor who was unable to understand his own limitations. Dully and his co-writer were able to obtain the transcripts of Freeman's meetings with Dully's family, a sad chronicle of negligence. Dully tries, as he gets older, to reconcile with his father, a losing battle. But it is Dully's story as an adult that is the book's triumph.