"In Boys Themselves," wrote Beth Gutcheon in the New York Times Book Review, "his first book, he follows a diverse handful of students and a couple of standout teachers as a novelist would, to establish major characters, and the crises and themes of the year develop like plot lines."
I wrote this book, an intimate narrative of a year at an all-boy school outside Cleveland, at a time when anything all male was considered to be wrong, possibly illegal and probably dangerous. It was really just an excuse to write a school story, a story set in a fascinating and very human environment.
My first step was to finagle a magazine assignment to return to the CIA to watch a very difficult, at times bizarre, cooking test, called the Certified Master Chef exam, where seven chefs cooked in various styles for 10 days under intense scrutiny and evaluation. I thought the article would be a stopgap between finishing one book and starting the next. In fact, this was the start of the next, because I discovered that the test was based on a provocative, perhaps presumptuous, claim: that there is an objective truth to great cooking, that the greatness or lack thereof could be measured and translated into a numerical score, as certain as the temperature on a meat thermometer.
"There is a harmful premise here and this is that males are by their very nature toxic," says Richard Hawley. "Schools are not good because they are composed of boys. But a good school could not be better composed." "I see boys' schools at their best as an antidote to much of what has gone wrong with Western culture in the aftermath of this century's appallingly destructive wars and dislocations."
These words were spoken by the new headmaster of a private boys' day school on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, called University School, the high school I'd graduated from. The new headmaster was saying some provocative, maybe preposterous, things about all-boy schools at a time when such schools were converting to co-ed or dying out all over the country.