Wellcome Book Prize Blog Tour – Amateur

I’m delighted to be part of the Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Blog Tour. Having followed this prize closely for several years now, and participating on the Shadow panel for my second year, I can truly say that this particular literary prize has opened up my mind to consider books outside my scientific comfort zone, and also the role of medicine, health or illness themes in fiction too. This has been particularly apparent in this year’s shortlist, which contains several books questioning gender, identity and mental health, and two novels. But my job today is to concentrate on one book…

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee

UK hardback cover

I reviewed this book a couple of weeks ago (HERE), having borrowed the hardback from the library. So, I won’t regurgitate my original review, but make some further comments and see what the other shadow panel members thought of this book.

Now out in paperback, I always find it really interesting to see how the book is re-marketed. The hardback (right) had a serious dark cover with a moving figure boxing and the strapline, ‘A true story about what makes a man’.

UK paperback cover

The paperback has a partial shot of McBee’s head, showing off one of his many tattoos, (his torso and arms sport plenty more). The strapline has changed too, now being, ‘A reckoning with gender, identity and masculinity’. So it plays down the boxing association and makes the overarching theme clearer, although McBee’s personal narrative of discovering more about his masculinity in this book is driven by what makes men want to fight.

I particularly appreciated his insight that boxing – be it training or in the ring – allows men to show friendship, cameraderie, and vulnerability, a less-toxic masculinity than when running the gauntlet of every day life in what’s still a man’s world. He also had to learn new positive attitudes towards women too when the testosterone made him feel so different, not to be sexist.

Amateur is such a sensitively written and thought-provoking book, despite – or perhaps in spite – of all the boxing within its pages. It challenged the way I think about gender and identity for sure, and I would be happy to see it win the Wellcome Book Prize this year.


What did the shadow panel think of Amateur?

Here are some quotes from their reviews (extracted with permission – thank you):

Rebecca: ” What I most appreciated were the author’s observations of how others have related to him since his transition. He notices that he’s taken more seriously at work as a man, and that he can be an object of fear – when jogging behind a woman at night, for instance. “

Laura: ” McBee breaks away from familiar narratives about sex and gender to tell a new kind of story about what it means to be trans, and about what it means to be a man or a woman.
“Amateur is incredibly thought-provoking, carefully and precisely written, and ultimately, very moving, and […] I’d love to see it win.”

Paul: “…there is more depth to this book than just his personal journey across the gender divide. He uses it to ask wider questions as to why men are as they are, how women’s perception of him changed and how culture and stereotypes should not always define who we are or who we aim to be. “


See also: The Guardian, Aug 2018 – My fight to be a man – article by Aaron Hickling on McBee and this book.

Source: Review copy of the paperback from the prize’s publicists – thank you.

BUY at Blackwell’s or Amazon UK via affiliate link.

3 thoughts on “Wellcome Book Prize Blog Tour – Amateur

  1. I heard extracts from this novel when it was read on Radio 4, in February and thought it was very good. Like you and your quoted reviewers, I thought it was insightful on so many levels.

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