Good as a Girl: A Memoir

At the age of eight Ray Olderman vowed to his mother that he’d be good as a girl. His mother badly wanted a girl and had just given birth to her third son. In this funny and poignant story, Ray tells us how he carried the vow throughout his highly varied life and career. We follow his search for the “secret” of how to relate to women and understand the way they see the world—to please his mom. The story takes us on a rich ride through Ray’s experiences from the late 1940s until his mother’s death in the 1990s. Along the way he forms many friendships with women who help him in his quest.  

Good as a Girl offers a unique perspective on class and gender issues. As the years go by, Ray offers his own class-changing view of American social and cultural history. And because he was good friends with girls and women from an early age, he has a different story to tell about gender relations.

Reviews of "Good as a Girl"

“By his own admission, Olderman was born confident. Confidence has served him well over a life which led from an early life in the factory world of Bridgeport, Connecticut, to a tenured position at a major university. America pretends to be a classless society, but most people born into an economic or educational level, simply stay there. I cherish a book that describes experiences on both sides of the tracks, and what it’s like to make that journey. An avalanche of funny, real stories are told in a style, like Vonnegut, that draws you in with signature phrases. A fun and insightful read, highly recommended.”

“I burst out laughing many times reading this memoir. Vivid scenes of growing-up, making mistakes, gender and class insights, US Army survival, academic snobbery, and the courage of saying what one believes. Hardscrabble jobs, theater, intellectual surprises, and awakening to new cultures and ways of living tell the story of a man who was not afraid to reflect.”

“Ray Olderman’s memoir is a deeply moving and hilarious wise guy account of Ray trying to show his mom (and dad) that he can be as “good as a girl” when he discovers that his mom is disappointed he is her third son, not the daughter she wanted. I especially liked the stories about his time in the military (Catch-22-like) and academia (professorial warfare), his stint as an Arthur Murray dance instructor (the rumba and the cha cha cha), his early days growing up In Bridgeport , Connecticut (learning to defend himself), and of course, his interactions with various women, all of whom teach him something, on his journey to meet the woman he’d eventually share his life with. I highly recommend this book to everyone. It’s a winner. The book will make you laugh and several of his stories will make you cry.”

From Patricia McConnell (animal behavior expert, author, and adjunct professor of zoology at UW-Madison):

Ready for a paradigm shift? This book has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with dogs, but it holds a special place in my heart because it was written by a man who saved my soul in college. Quite literally. I was taking his class in literature at UW-Madison and working part time at the Primate Center. Long story, but at that time, the housing conditions for the monkeys at the Center were profoundly different than they are now. And pretty awful. When I went to the person in charge to talk about what I felt were abuses, he literally told me “There is no biological evidence that monkeys can feel pain.” Yup, that’s what he said, in the mid 1980’s. I had thought that perhaps I could have some effect on the way the monkeys were treated, but it became clear that my ability to do so was negligible.

I couldn’t quit, I desperately needed the money, and I mean desperately. I could barely afford to eat. And yet working there violated everything I believed in. I stopped sleeping, and had a hard time just getting through the day. Ironically, in my literature class we were reading a book about a man who thought he could change a corrupt system by working within it, but was eventually destroyed by it. I finally went to see my professor, Ray Olderman and told him I was living the life we were reading about it. And it was killing me. And I couldn’t quit, I was beyond broke and there were no jobs available at that time of year. He hired me on the spot, finding some spare money to help him with grading. I will never forget it, and will always be grateful.

And so, I admit to a profound lack of objectivity about Ray’s book. But here’s the thing. I loved the book. It’s funny and engaging and fascinating to read about a man who was raised to believe that being a boy was a disability. Talk about a paradigm shift! Ray’s mother had wanted a girl, and had no pretense that she was disappointed when Ray turned out to be a boy. And so, at age eight, he vowed to her that he’d be “as good as a girl”. We follow Ray throughout his life trying to understand the female perspective while negotiating the complexities of Madison, WI in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s during a time of profound cultural change.

If you’re interested in a delightful memoir about a guy who “couldn’t keep his mouth shut,” fought the system all of his life while doing all he could to understand women, this book is for you.

Other Books - Written as Raymond M. Olderman


Winner of 18th Annual Explicator Award.

Discusses the novels of Ken Kesey, Stanley Elkin, John Barth, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, John Hawkes, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and Peter S. Beagle

Several chapters have been reprinted in anthologies. The book is considered a seminal text for the study of post WWII American fiction.

“Olderman’s book is a first rate work of criticism which shows the applicability of the Waste Land myth to a series of  American novelists of the 1960s.” – Choice

“A valuable survey of some recent novels that reflect the dominance of fable over realism.” – Library Journal

“This book is brilliant. It is provocative, meaty, and a great delight to read and an even greater delight to ponder and review in one’s mind.” – Albuquerque Journal  

“A completely engrossing and fascinating book.” –L.A.Times

(Yale Univ. Press, 1972). Paperback, 1974. Japanese Trans., Hyoronsha Press, Tokyo, 1976. 


“This is an essential reference for anyone who must communicate effectively as part of their work or profession. Each 10-minute lesson is full of strategies that help you get your message across with clarity, style and grace.” –National Library Board – Book Reviews

MacMillan/ Spectrum, 1997


(Published by Demco 2005)