Category Archives: Memoir

David Sedaris proves himself to be a brilliant diarist as well as humorist

David Sedaris has become a legend when it comes to creative nonfiction. Whenever someone hopes to be an essayist, his name usually pops up as an inspiration – it’s almost a cliche now. What sets him apart from his myriad of followers and imitators is his ability to mine deadpan humor and comedy from some of the most tragic and unfortunate circumstances. His collections of essays – including Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day – have become canonical standards for the genre, and “The Santaland Diaries” has become a holiday classic.

With this in mind, I approached his latest, Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977 – 2002) with enthusiasm. Though many of the stories and circumstances will be familiar with those who’ve read Sedaris’ body of work, his astute observations, even in the truncated and terse form of a diary entry, still find the funny in either mundane or disturbing situations. It’s also neat to stroll through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and the 200s with Sedaris as he documents historical and cultural moments and milestones with the immediacy of experience them as they happen. Some of it is heartbreaking or chilling, as he recounts, almost off-handedly in 1981 that a new cancer was discovered that only affected gay men; or his reaction and grief in watching the Twin Towers fall while in Paris on September 12, 2001.

Other times, it’s neat to see Sedaris struggle and work, while slowly gaining a reputation as a comedic writer. It’s especially gratifying to read about his success, as they come hard earned. And the genesis of his two most notable essays, the aforementioned “Santaland Diaires” and “Me Talk Pretty One Day” are documented in the collection, and provide hearty laugh-out-loud moments. We also get the courtship of Sedaris and his partner Hugh, as well as the gradual ascendance of his sister Amy’s comedy career as well.

It’s hard to tell if any of these stories have been sweetened for publication. But really, it doesn’t matter, because it’s still a lot of fun to read these pithy, funny, and witty observations from a guy who has been responsible for some of the funniest work in the English language for the last twenty years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Comedy, commentary, Memoir, Writing

Andy Cohen’s new book ‘Superficial’ is deeper and more thoughtful

Andy Cohen’s second collection of diary entries Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries reads a bit like a solid descendant of Andy Warhol’s diaries. Like Warhol, Cohen’s tome is filled with entries of running into celebrities and his unvarnished opinions of those famous people. And while the title is self-referential and tongue-in-cheek, Cohen is surprisingly introspective and candid throughout the book. Even though he’s pretty free with his judgment on his celebrity pals, he’s often hardest on himself.

For most, Cohen will be reality TV’s ultimate carnival barker. A former executive at Bravo, he has since become a TV star in his own right, a sort-of 21st century answer to Truman Capote (though are less literate). He’s most famous now for the Real Housewives franchise. Because of him, women like NeNe Leakes, Brandi Glanville, Teresa Guidice, and Bethenny Frankel are household names. Cohen’s successfully shepherded these women into fame and has foisted them onto the public consciousness.

But as shown in Superficial, the housewives are just one part of a busy life. One thing readers will notice about Cohen’s life is that it’s busy. Yes, he’s not working in a coal mine, but for a rich privileged white guy, he’s got an exhaustive schedule of meetings, appearances, talks, TV and radio spots, brunches lunches and dinners, and vacations. Celebrities pop in and out of his professional and persona life – Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kelly Ripa are regulars in Cohen’s world. To his credit, though the book is heavy with names dropped, he’s not obnoxious about it.

In fact, despite enviable wealth, good looks, lots of friends, a rewarding job, Cohen’s approach to his life and work feels like a yeoman effort. Often Cohen sounds tired, irritable, and lonely throughout the book. He doesn’t grumble about his work, and he does have perspective, but often his tone reflects a “done with it” attitude. It’d be very lazy – though tempting – to suggest that he’s going through a midlife crisis; it does seem though that Cohen’s life is a less rosy than outsiders would assume.

And though Cohen’s public persona is that of an affable gay BFF, he’s a bit crustier in real life. He’s honest though about his moments of petulance – there’s the shockingly immature reaction to his “loss” at a silly lip sync show, in which he owns his “sore loser” status. Also, he owns his ignorance and naiveté about intersectionality and cultural appropriation when he obliviously (and quite stupidly) stepped into a controversy about race after criticizing Amandla Stenberg’s public statements about cultural appropriation (which he dimly reduced to a celebrity feud between Stenberg and Kylie Jenner over hair) It’s commendable that the author doesn’t try to pass himself off as perfect. Far from it. In fact, the Cohen we get is fully three-dimensional, and quite interesting.

Some will be disappointed by Superficial after finishing it: Cohen’s US Weekly public image, his association with trashy reality TV, and the candy-colored dust jacket of the book will lead readers to assume that this is a breezy, silly affair. And a lot of it is dishy, gossipy tea about celebs that orbit around Planet Andy, but there’s just as much of Andy Cohen, the hardworking, sometimes unlikable, sometimes lonely man who is looking for companionship and stability in his whirling, high-paced world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, celebrity, commentary, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Television, TV, Writing

Kathy Griffin’s funny new book is a case of not enough of a good thing

Kathy Griffin’s comedy comprises of tales of the comic’s dealings with celebrities, good or bad. Throughout her career, she’s had many confrontations with famous people, and instead of ruing and being moody about, she has taken the experiences and made a multi-Emmy winning and Grammy winning career. In her new book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins: My A-Z Index, Griffin has compiled a selection of celebrity encounters, good and bad, and laid it out in alphabetical order like a dictionary.

Because she’s somewhat trapped by the format of the book, some of the stories feel abrupt and some of the celebrities get such a short shift, you wonder why she included them in the first place. And the stories that do get more ink feel somewhat rushed, too, which is a shame because Griffin’s an ace at translating her quick-fire wit to the page. And when she wants to be – as in the passages devoted to late pals Joan Rivers, Jackie Collins, and Garry Shandling – she can be an emotional writer, too. Those readers who remember her first book, Official Book Club Selection, will know that despite her reliance on humor and wit, she doesn’t shy away from darker aspects of her life. Celebrity Run-Ins is different, though, much lighter in tone and content, so there are only a few spots that feel like a shift away from the general jocular tone of the book.

And that’s a shame, because the years since Official Book Club Selection, a lot has happened in Griffin’s life, including the deaths of several friends (including mentor Joan Rivers), the cancellation of her talk show, the embarrassing Fashion Police fracas, the end of her popular reality sitcom,  her win of a Grammy, a notable dust up with Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and a seeming end to her relationship with Bravo. Some of these events are alluded to in her book, but it would be great to read more about how she dealt with these difficulties, and how she sees them now, with perspective. Of course, none of these stories would fit into the rigid format she’s constructed, so hopefully she has another book in her.

That’s not to say that Celebrity Run-Ins isn’t funny or not worth picking up. It’s hilarious and often an astute look at our celebrity culture. What inspired the book, according to Griffin, is she realized with a start that she knew or worked with the principal figures in the excellent documdrama Straight Outta Compton. And the list she’s compiled is an impressive array of figures from sports, politics, film, television, theater, and music (her adorable bother, Maggie, a celebrity and fan favorite in her own right also gets a chapter). While expected names make appearances  – Gloria Estefan, Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, Chris Colfer – it’s the names of folks you wouldn’t necessarily expect like Suge Knight, Warren Zevon, and Marshawn Lynch that may be a pleasant surprise for readers (the Suge Knight story is very funny). And because she’s known for her brutal irreverence for celebrity (along with her devotion and obsession with it – she’s our Andy Warhol), some of the celebrities included – and I’m looking at Jon Hamm in particular – may want to skip her assessment of them.

Celebrity Run-Ins works best when Griffin is indulging in her love of gossip, Hollywood, and admiration for her subjects. The book hits various high points, most notably when she writes with great affection about Anderson Cooper, Cher (who gets dialogue written in funny phonetic spelling) Jackie Collins, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Fonda, among others. It’s in these passages that she combines her sharp wit with her big heart. It makes for fun reading that gets sentimental, but never gloppy. Her relationship with Cooper in particular is wonderful because the two have a sibling-like love for each other, and Griffin is forever subjecting him to her hilarious pranks, and he seems to be the perennial good sport about it all.

Hopefully there is a weightier tome in Griffin, yet. Her Twitter has posts that reflect her attitude and opinion on politics, race, age, gender, the election, queer rights, and culture. I’d love for Griffin to pen an essay collection in which she addresses Black Lives Matter, ageism, sexism, homophobia, Trump, Clinton, as she does in her stand-up and social media. But that’s for another time. For now, Celebrity Run-Ins does a commendable job in providing its readers with some laugh out-loud moments.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, celebrity, Comedy, commentary, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sitcom, Television, TV, Writing

Megyn Kelly’s ‘Settle for More’ is a jumbled but admirable effort

Megyn Kelly’s public persona is a study in contradiction: on the one hand, many see her as simply one of a giant roster of beautiful blonde talking heads on Fox News. On the hand, she’s a feminist hero, bravely standing up to the bullying tactics of Donald Trump. The truth is a messy in-between, which Kelly tries to present as an authentic human being instead of a two-dimensional figure concocted by a team of TV producers, image experts, managers, and hair and makeup people. In Settle for More, Kelly works to humanize the glossy image she presents so successfully on her various appearances, by sharing anecdotes of her childhood, her frailties and vulnerabilities, as well as her ambition and drive. She makes a convincing case for herself as a complex and complicated person with many sides to her. But often her rather stark limitations as a writer fail her, muddying the impact of her words.

Some of why Settle for More fails in part is because Kelly seems unsure of what kind of book she’s writing. As a straight-up memoir it doesn’t work because Kelly’s childhood and upbringing isn’t that interesting, and she doesn’t have the literary flair of a Sarah Vowell or a David Sedaris to inject her storytelling with anything amounting to interesting yarn spinning. She grew up in a solidly middle class New York State family, and went through a hellish year of bullying in junior high and suffered through the unexpected death of her father. To be sure, these are traumatic events, and Kelly’s perseverance is to be admired. But these experiences aren’t enough to warrant a book, at least not the one that Kelly’s written.

It’s when she writes about her professional life that Settle for More becomes far more interesting. Her career is fascinating in that she started off as a lawyer, but disaffected and unsatisfied, she decided to shift gears in mid-career and jump over to broadcast journalism. When she writes of her time as a female attorney dealing with condescension and sexism, Kelly’s work shows much more promise. Here we see the assemblage of the public persona and image of Megyn Kelly, and she does a solid job of showing the real person underneath. She shares anecdotes of sparring with politicians and fellow journalists (including an amusing bit about a terse tete-a-tete she shared with Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart), and she highlights some of the misogyny and sexism that she faced.

Unfortunately, because she’s part of the Fox News brand, she cannot indulge in any semblance of feminism – and she even indulges in some stupid and simply untrue characterizations of feminism – and hedges her bets continuously throughout the book by stressing just how much gender doesn’t matter. This theme becomes tiresome and feels a little bit like overcompensation, as if she was worried that if she sounded too much like Gloria Steinem (whom she dings for wearing a “I had an abortion” t-shirt), her fan base may abandon her. In her quest to downplay gender, she comes off a bit desperate to be “one of the guys.”

But despite her ambivalence toward gender issues, they are major themes throughout Settle for More. And why shouldn’t they? After all, as a lawyer and then a journalist, Kelly has succeeded in male-dominated industries that still operate in large part, on the boys club mentality. Throughout her career, she has faced obstacles that will be relatable to female readers, including sexual harassment and unwelcomed advances by colleagues and superiors. The most notable – and high profile – passages in the book involve Kelly’s interactions with Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

Trump’s fights with Kelly were well-publicized. The now president-elect took to Twitter to slam Kelly’s questions during the debate, using typically boorish and sexist language (referencing her menstrual cycle). Kelly tells a riveting tale of rabid Trump supporters who take to social media with sexist and misogynistic threats and slurs. Surrounding herself with security detail, Kelly would become haunted and hunted by Trump’s supporters, and became an unlikely hero of the left, while the right thought of her as a turncoat. What’s important about Kelly’s account is that she is taking control of the narrative, instead of allowing for the media to shape it, and her writing does a solid job in complicating the reductive assumptions people came to, when the Trump fracas was dominating the media.

Her disclosure of her experience with sexual harassment at the hands of Roger Ailes is also important in that highlights an important issue that too many people disregard, minimize, or trivialize. Many question Kelly’s timing and motives for her candor – some will go the predictable route of victim-blaming, victim-shaming, misogyny, and dismissal, which is why it’s so vital that we continue to hear stories like Kelly’s, and that we continue to encourage victims to speak. Our job as readers isn’t to question why or how Kelly dealt with her experience of harassment, because there is no one right or ideal way of responding to sexual harassment. Our job is to hear Kelly’s story and listen.

If Kelly had focused on her career when writing Settle for More, she would’ve had an above-average book. If she focused on gender issues, and stopped hedging her bets when it comes to gender identity and gender politics in law and journalism, she’d have a great book. Unfortunately, Kelly chose the traditional memoir, and as a result, she merely has produced a competent book, with flashes of great potential.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, celebrity, commentary, Memoir, Nonfiction, politics, Television, TV, What I'm Reading, Writing

Amy Schumer bares her soul in the hilarious and heartbreaking ‘Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo’

Amy Schumer is one of the buzziest comedians working today. Due to an exhausting work schedule, she finds herself in an enviable position, one that few stand-ups can claim: not only is she household name, but she’s branching out – along with a hit sketch show, she’s also got a $100 million film under her belt, and has become one of the most influential comedians. Unfortunately, this bright-hot fame has its downsides: her politics have been shoved into the public eye after two women were shot and killed during a showing of her movie Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana; she also is a constant target for online haters and trolls, picking apart her politics, her looks, and her intelligence; and recently, she’s gotten flak because a writer/friend on her show released a string of sexist tweets regarding rape and victim-blaming. But this kind of up-and-down seems a consistent in Schumer’s life, as she chronicles in hilarious and heartbreaking detail in her first book, Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.

Part memoir-part essay collection, Girl is an intimate look at one of comedy’s brightest and smartest acts. She writes that her book is not a how-to manual or an advice guide, but like Kathy Griffin’s memoir, Official Book Club Selection, Schumer’s book works as evidence that a hard work ethic is the most valuable tool one needs to make it in show business. And Schumer is a hard worker. She writes of paying her dues in clubs before “making it” so to speak, by appearing on a reality show (Last Comic Standing), only to  bomb consistently on the show’s tour. But she keeps plugging away, working hard on her craft, creating a strong and distinct comic persona. Girl doesn’t undo that persona, but it adds more layers to it.

The most surprising thing about Girl is how disarming and vulnerable Schumer allows herself to be; for most comics, the microphone is a symbol of power – for female comics, it’s even more potent and subversive because of societal standards of female gentility. On stage, Schumer presents herself as a joyous and witty Wife of Bath for the 2010’s – sexual and liberated. She’s also presented as a lustful life of the party – one who can probably drink even the hardiest party animal under the table. Her willingness to embrace this loud and raucous side of her is what makes her such a powerful comedian – she lays claim to territory that is rightfully her’s, even if prudes find her distasteful and inappropriate. But in Girl, Schumer also allows the more sensitive side of her to shine – one that may not be as loud and dynamic as her stage persona, but one that is equally potent.

Despite the f-bombs and the hilariously lascivious tales, Schumer is a deep thinker and an intellectual. She approaches her comedy from a very smart place, and that translates to her writing, too. Also, she allows herself a larger, wider breadth, to explore introspective and sometimes-darker parts of her story. She’s very upfront about being a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence, and bravely shares these deeply personal stories with her readers. As evident with the recent racist/misogynist online attack of Leslie Jones, women are still reduced and dehumanized – Schumer’s candid approach to her story gives a huge spotlight and megaphone to an issue that is still sorely misrepresented by the media and law enforcement. And just as personal and profound is her grief over the deaths of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson, the two women who dies in the screening of Trainwreck. Schumer puts on another guise, that of policy wonk, as she details why our current gun laws are too lax, and lays out the tragic consequences (there’s even a helpful part in the appendix in which Schumer shares the names of those in congress who benefit from the gun lobby).

But these departures from the funny don’t feel inorganic or forced. Instead, they present a complicated, complex, and very interesting woman. One who is devoted to her family and friends. Her family life can be described as difficult and she works out some stuff about her relationships with her mom and dad (who is living with MS). She loves her sister (a writer on Inside Amy Schumer and a very funny lady in her own right) and their relationship looms largely, as it seems to influence a lot of her work. Her writing about her mother is fraught with tension – at times her mom comes off as self-involved and self-destructive, this is especially true in the passage that deals with her mom’s infidelity, one that destroys her family when it comes to pass that Schumer’s mom and her best friend’s dad leave their respective spouses and marry each other. But Schumer is equally honest about her dad, whom she admits to idolizing, but who also had affairs and a string of wives (which resulted in the phenomena of a string of temporary step-siblings, too).

What is so remarkable about Girl is how assured its voice is. This book does not feel like a debut, and in reality it really isn’t, as Amy Schumer has been telling her story for years now. It’s just different now because she’s committed it to paper. What elevates Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo from the library of similar books-by-comedians is that its author has a strong and highly-developed literary voice. One that will make readers laugh out loud, but one that can also bring readers to tears. The book is a fantastic read that brings together all sorts of issues including feminism, rape culture, comedy, gun violence, politics, sexual politics, self-esteem, and family. Like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, and Kathy Griffin before her, Amy Schumer has masterfully created a literary persona: one that is wise, funny, bruised, and resilient. I can’t wait to read her next book.

Click here to buy Amy Schumer’s Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo on amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, celebrity, Comedy, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, politics, Sitcom, Television, TV, Writing

Tyler Oakley shares with the bracing ‘Binge’

The YouTube celebrity – is there a more 21st century concept than that? The Internet’s done a lot for the world, but one of its biggest contributions is the democratization of celebrity: with a decent Webcam and a YouTube account, anyone can be a star. DIY celebrity isn’t a new concept: punk music was all about getting out and creating music without the need for training or traditional outlets. But what makes the YouTube celebrity different is the reach a Vlogger can attain. Tyler Oakley, a wildly popular figure on YouTube, has more than 6 million devoted followers. Oakley uses his platform as a way to share stories of his life, his friends, and as a way to market his brand of witty comedy. With his first book, Binge, Oakley takes apart the smiling, genial celebrity and shares some harrowing stories of poverty, addiction, abuse, and redemption. Like with his videos, he finds a way to connect with his audience through humor and empathy.

What sets Binge apart from other celebrity memoirs is Oakley has a clear and identifiable voice. He’s a champion of the underdog, having felt like one throughout much of his life. This humanity works its way through all of his stories, making them compelling and urgent. Like many funny people, he exposes the pain, angst, and sense of isolation that he felt during his adolescence, and he writes that he’s stronger for it. This book isn’t a tale of regrets but of survival – it’s a book that celebrates misfits and weirdos and imparts a message of hard-won appreciation of life.

As a queer adolescent in the Midwest, Oakley struggled with weight, his sexuality, and his family’s unstable financial situation. He’s honest and candid about how he and his siblings had to do without, and how that made him feel when he compared himself to his peers. Financial insecurity plagued Oakley during college, which explains his strict work ethic. Having a job since he was 15, he’s careful to remind his readers that despite his celebrity being largely created by him, it was the result of hard work and smarts. Behind the giggly videos and silly challenges is a guy who knows his craft – he understands social media, and was often outpacing his superiors at work (there’s a great story of how a Google exec vetoed his hire because he was too creative for Google). He’s honest about how draining zipping throughout the country can be, but he’s careful to balance these passages with moments of gratitude and joy. So even though he was mobbed by a crazy crowd of kids on his birthday, he also got to meet Michelle Obama. Oakley’s clear on how he’s essentially two people: the private individual and the popular public figure.

For those expecting just laughs, Binge will offer something more profound. He shares his experiences with eating disorders, Internet addiction, and in a particularly disturbing chapter, physical abuse. He also writes about his difficult relationship with an at-times emotionally-distant father who was estranged from Oakley for years after discovering his son was gay. But he’s not bitter about the years of estrangement, he’s clear-eyed, honest, and wise. He’s also understanding enough that he can forgive, and his father ultimately becomes a sympathetic figure. The passages about his struggles with eating disorders is also important because few men are open about struggling with weight and body image – and the gay community in particular, is pretty unforgiving when it comes to objectifying male beauty and setting unrealistic standards of male beauty. Oakley’s work on anorexia is important because he pinpoints that eating disorders aren’t a form of extreme and dangerous vanity, but often come out of a need of control, usually born out a severe lack of control. Young viewers – Oakley’s audiences – may come away from his stories with a deeper understanding, more empathy, and maybe inspiration if they are struggling with these issues themselves.

So, many may be asking, given that it’s Tyler Oakley, is Binge a funny read. Yes, very much so. Despite Oakley’s celebrity, he still manages to write about his experiences in an awed, appreciative voice, as if he sometimes can’t believe he’s doing some of the awesome things he gets to do. Some of the funniest moments in Binge are when Oakley writes out rules and suggestions for a perfect world (for Leap Day, Oakley suggests instead of indulging in wacky antics, we should get rid of the gender wage gap, racial profiling by the police, and biphobia, among other societal ills – I’m all for it!) His encounter with Michelle Obama is great and he really captures the shit-in-your-pants feeling of meeting the First Lady of the United States, while trying to avoid any breaches of protocol or security.

What makes Binge such an impressive read is its wide reach: his tween and teen audiences will likely lap the book up, but there is also a lot for older readers as well. Underneath the confessions, the jokes, and the anecdotes, is a smart treatise on American pop culture and celebrity in the 21st Century.

Click here to buy Tyler Oakley’s Binge on amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Book in a Month, Celeb, celebrity, Comedy, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

‘Travels with Casey’ is a fun, informative read

Why do people love their dogs so much? Is a dog’s love unconditional? Do we anthropomorphize our pets? These are some questions that people ask when thinking about their relationships with dogs. Writer and journalist Benoit Denizet-Lewis, like many dog people, has questions like these himself. He and his Labrador-mix Casey have a relationship that leaves him feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps taken in by the cliche that a dog’s love for her owner is unconditional, he feels that somehow he has let his down down. The solution? He decides to travel throughout the United States for four months in a rented RV. The result is this charming book Travels with Casey.

At once a travel narrative and a treatise on people’s interactions with dogs, Travels with Casey is a fantastic read, with a lot of useful and interesting information as well as some fascinating characters that the author meets on his travels (both four-legged and two-legged). Well-researched, Denizet-Lewis looks at the history of domestication of dogs, and how people interact with canines. He visits farmers who employ their dogs to herd their cattle and he visits New Yorkers who treat their dogs as surrogate children. In both disparate cases, the owners prove that however different their dogs’ roles are in their families, there is a common thread of affection and love. In fact, lots of people love dogs in Travels with Casey – in one poignant example, the author lands in East St. Louis and travels with a man who rescues strays; and in another passage, he interviews staff at a kill shelter, undoing the myth that all kill-shelters are run by monsters. Though Travels with Casey often feels light and breezy, there is a serious message at its core: dogs should be treated with respect.

Denizet-Lewis himself learns this first hand when he rescues a reservation dog who was dying from a uterine infection. Though the decision was potentially a disastrous one – after all, Casey’s nine-years-old, and there was no telling how he would bond with his new sibling – it ends up being an important and compelling thread in the book. As the author travels through the states, he learns more about his new dog’s nature, and how it contrasts with Casey – these differences highlight just how individualistic dogs are.

Because this is a personal narrative, there’s quite a bit of Denziet-Lewis in the book – and all of it is interesting. He has a funny, wry sense of humor, and he’s got a journalist’s eye for details – especially when writing about the more distressing or difficult passages, like the aforementioned kill-shelter, which featured a macabre vision of a conveyor belt, shuffling dead dogs away in plain view of caged dogs awaiting a similarly grim fate. He doesn’t maintain complete objectiveness (he found the parade cruel), but he also maintains a healthy fairness to everyone in his book (even a paramour who jumps ship and leaves a Dear John note and his emotionally-distant mother).

Inspired, in part, by John Steinbeck’ Travels with Charley in Search of America, Denizet-Lewis puts together a highly readable and highly enjoyable collection of anecdotes and stories that engender sympathy and empathy from his readers – even though who may not be dog people (I’m a cat person myself, and I found myself unable to put the book down). When writing about the suffering some dogs face, the author comes across as justifiably righteous in his anger; in Travels with Casey, we read about dogs who are starved, shot, abandoned, and mistreated.

But not all of the stories are sad and tragic. In fact, a lot of them are fun – and some are just strange. For example, in New York, Denizet-Lewis visits a dog park, and describes with hilarious deadpan humor the machinations, intrigue and cliquishness that takes place among the humans. The Westminster Dog Show also provides a startling contrast to his description of finding a stray, matted dog abandoned by the side of a gas station. And his interactions with his own dogs provide the reader with some heart-warming and funny reading, as Casey becomes a more dominant character as the book progresses.

Though a light and breezy read, Travels with Casey does impart an important moral: treat your dogs well. It’s couched in an extremely well-written and engaging tome that will please all readers, dog-lovers or not.

Click here to buy Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ Travels with Casey on amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, commentary, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing