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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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‘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.

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‘The Women of San Quentin: Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons’ tells a very important story

Awful but true, trans rights are still being debated. Bathrooms, showers, and changing rooms have become political footballs for right wing conservatives push for legalized transphobia an discrimination against trans people. People still argue that genitalia and DNA determine gender, ignoring social scientists, psychologists, and trans activists who insist that gender and sex are two different, though sometimes, related ideas. The importance of this debate is that there are institutions that are gendered, and if a trans woman is placed in a cis male-dominant situation, often her safety is at peril. No where is this most true than prison.

Writer Kristin Schreier Lyseggen takes on the unenviable task of telling the story of trans women who are locked up in men’s prisons. Though a journalist, she eschews objectiveness, allowing for her emotional reaction to her subjects to shine through – this choice is compelling, and her indignation at the treatment the women face makes the book a rallying cry for the dignity of some of society’s most vulnerable members.

Lyseggen’s work takes her throughout the country, and even Thailand. The prisons she visits are grim, as are the stories of these women. The stories are filled with difficult histories that include violence, rape, sexual abuse, and homelessness. Predictably, The Women of San Quentin is a serious read, but it’s not hopeless. The women are participating in this project, and Lyseggen puts their voices up front and center.

Not just an indictment on transphobia, Lyseggen’s work also takes a hard look at our penal system. The subjects featured are women of color, and a large part of The Women of San Quentin takes on the idea of intersectionality. Socio-economic conditions also play a huge part in how these women’s lives became so difficult.

Of course, the biggest struggle for the book’s subjects is prison life itself. The women featured each have accounts of transphobic attacks that took place in the jails. But some of these women were able to take their experiences and work for social betterment. Janetta Johnson who suffered seemingly insurmountable issues and problems, but managed to become a leading activist after being released from jail. After her time in jail, Tanesh Nutall found satisfying work at a San Francisco AIDS agency and homeless shelter, and was able to build a life, marrying a man and having grandchildren.

One of Lyseggen’s biggest strengths as a chronicler is that her presence in each woman’s story doesn’t feel intrusive or self-serving – this is nothing like the fictional The Help, that has a cis white woman who “rescues” black women, or grants them their voice. She writes of her frustrations with the prison systems – particularly when it comes to visitation or contacts – but the spotlight remains firmly on each subject. And Lyseggen is very compassionate about the women she’s interviewing, but she doesn’t shy away from their troubles. Donna Langan for example, has a fascinating and compelling story of a past of right-wing extremism and racist violence before her incarceration. But Lyseggen doesn’t judge, nor does she excuse – that’s not her role, nor is are the women’s crimes the point of the book.

Because regardless of how people feel about the criminal justice system and the prison system, prisoners who are trans are becoming more vocal and visible. The most famous example being, of course, Chelsea Manning, and her presence is felt throughout these women’s stories. Manning’s treatment is depressingly consistent among the women in the book: abusive guards, restriction of privileges, retaliation for complaints. It’s because of Manning’s high-profile crime that her story is known – and the women in Lyseggen’s book understand that due to their race, poverty, and gender identity, they’ll never have the attention. And one of the takeaways from the book is the despite troubling obstacles and institutional discrimination and oppression, these women are more than capable of telling their story.

Click here to buy Kristin Schreier Lyseggen’s The Women of San Quentin: Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons on amazon.com.

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‘Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs’ by Johann Hari – a review

I first heard about Johann Hari, and his book, Chasing the Scream when watching Bill Maher’s Real Time with Bill Maher. On the program, Hari talked about the War on Drugs, and sought, in the limited time he had, to debunk with both factions on the left and right thought about drug addiction: essentially, drug addiction isn’t a moral failing, nor is it solely a chemical issue, it’s more environmental. He also went further, talking about a famous study done to a rat addicted to drugs, explaining that if rats are given the choice of drugs or a fulfilling life with other rats, then they would choose the later. Maher, a known opponent of the War on Drugs, impishly suggested then that people could take heroin and not be addicted, as long as their environment was ideal. Of course, this brought laughter from the audience, but then Hari pointed out that when people leave the hospital after surgery, they are often prescribed drugs that are essentially heroin in its pure form, and few will develop addictions.

All of this was intriguing, which is why I found Chasing the Scream such a fascinating book. Admittedly, I went into this book with my sympathies and bias in Hari’s favor, but even I have to admit that some of Hari’s findings stunned me. And though I’m also critical of the War on Drugs, I didn’t know much of its history, outside the Reagan Administrations’ championing of it, and I didn’t understand the extend of its ruinous effects on society.

To build his case, Hari lays down an historical context to the War on Drugs, going back to the racketeering days of Prohibition. And while there are no villains in this story, Harry J. Anslinger would inspire boos and hisses for his pioneering work in the criminalization and prohibition of drugs. He sought to restrict marijuana, tapping into racist fears of the 1930s, exploiting race panic, including the image of sexually predatory black male, who will rape and murder white women if high. One of his victims included jazz legend Billie Holliday, who suffered through years of drug addiction as well as grueling punishment from the government. Ruthless gangster Arnold Rothstein is also profiled to highlight the danger of drug prohibition and its creation of gang warfare.

Ansligner and Rothstein are relatively obscure figures and Holliday is a musical icon – neither comes to mind when thinking about the War on Drugs, which is what draws the reader in initially. But Hari doesn’t just focus on historical figures. Through countless interviews, he profiles a diverse group of individuals, all scarred somehow by the War on Drugs. Some of the tales are heartbreaking and poignant, as a few of his subjects die before the book’s publication. Some like Chino – a trans man who struggles through a disastrous childhood of abuse, rape, drug addiction, and gang violence, emerges as an activist for change and social justice – are inspirational.

Hari’s research highlights major holes in the War on Drugs – namely that the prohibition of drugs encourages addiction. For most readers, such a claim would feel counter intuitive. But his findings support much of what he’s suggesting: because drug prohibition creates an grossly inflated profit on the sale of drugs, unscrupulous, violent, and dangerous gangs try to control the trade. And because the justice system views drug addiction in a punitive manner, addicts are often severely punished, jailed, and often tortured in such ways that relapse or death seems inevitable  Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio and his infamous tent city is a particularly disturbing and ghoulish example of the abusive methods in which states and counties in this country deal with drug problems – Hari shares a story of a prisoner who is essentially cooked in a cage in the hot Arizona desert.

Though not a travelogue, Hari’s work takes him to different parts of the world where drug addiction is a problem, and he interviews a diverse group of people, each of whom is looking at the War on Drugs as a failed disaster. In Sweden and Portugal, he witnesses new laws that work toward decriminalization, and he goes to Vancouver and writes about an addict who mobilizes his peers into demanding rights and treatment from their government. These stories place human faces on the War on Drugs and highlight was a catastrophic failure it turned out to be.  And in Colorado and Washington, he talks to two activists, both working hard toward the legalization of marijuana, but both coming from vastly different ideological backgrounds. It’s the diversity of the subjects of the book – conservatives, liberals, activists, doctors, politicians that really emphasizes just how wide-reaching the problem of drug addiction is.

Though Hari claims that his book is targeted toward the moderates – those who don’t fall too far left or too far right, Chasing Screams is a hard sell for those who take a conservative view of drug addiction. Some will claim that Hari and his subjects favor a touchy-feely approach that is doomed to fail. Some also will claim that Hari is essentially arguing for government-sanctioned crack houses. But Hari acknowledges that this discussion is far more complex than merely, “drugs should be legal, full stop.” As someone whose life has been marked by addiction, Hari knows first hand its consequences, and as a devoted uncle to young children, he fears for his nephews’ and niece’s safety. As a result, he does an admirable job in sharing his own prejudices about drug addicts as well as his preconceived ideas of drug addiction. Even if Chasing the Scream feels a bit like the proverbial preaching to the choir, those sympathetic toward Hari’s cause should still read the book, because it does highlight many unknown, yet tragic consequences of the failed War on Drugs. In light of ongoing discussions of our cracked justice system – particularly in light of the recent deaths of black men at the hands of the police – Chasing the Scream will be one of the most important books you’ll read.

Click here to buy Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs on amazon.com.

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Kent Russell explores masculinity and gender with ‘I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son’

Reading Kent Russell’s I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son, I kept thinking of one thing: the old military commercials where some kid – usually black or Hispanic – announces that he’s enlisting, and he’s up against some vague protests before the parent accepts the kid’s decision. I think about those commercials because Russell writes about  his father – a war vet – who discourages him from enlisting. In the commercials, the parents, though initially hesitant, are happy and proud that their kid is enlisting. In reality, I can’t imagine how many parents would be filled with dread and terror at the thought of their son or daughter going off to war – given just how corrupt and damaging the last two or three wars were to this country and our brave veterans.

But Russell’s Timid Son isn’t an anti-war screed or polemic. Instead, it’s a look at masculinity and how our culture approaches ideas of manhood. The essays collected take Russell on various journeys, some emotional some physical to places that act as Petri dishes on masculinity. He writes of his adolescence, growing up around different models of manliness and masculinity – the three main models of manhood in his life are his father, grandfather, and a childhood friend, an Iraq war vet. In comparison to these guys, Russell is positively effete with his sensitive scribbling, but he’s an observant and articulate commentator on how concepts of masculinity and gender play out in the real world, where men, who are taught to be stoic and resilient, have feelings of fear, doubt, and regret.

The title refers to a quote from legendary frontiersman, Daniel Boone, who allegedly said the line at his son’s funeral. Boone was reportedly unhappy with his son who did not enlist. Boone is a fitting figure to reference in a book on masculinity because the man is a myth of masculinity and ruggedness. But as Russell’s book highlights, there’s more complexity to masculinity, even if its tempting to be reductive. The most notable examples in the book are the Juggalos (fans of the rap group, the Insane Clown Posse) and a gentleman from Wisconsin who claims to have developed an immunity to venomous snake bites. In both instances it would be very easy to be condescending and insulting – the Juggalos, in particular, are often derided as poor white trash, while the snake charmer from Wisconsin could simply be seen as a kook. But Russell doesn’t stoop down to bullying or teasing: instead, he writes about the Juggalos with a measure of respect. He doesn’t romanticize the subculture, nor does he pretend that the Juggalos are misunderstood or unappreciated connoisseurs of alternative culture; instead he reports on the phenomenon with a journalist’s eye and with a solid measure of compassion. He doesn’t dismiss the seamier aspects masculinity and our culture with high-minded snobbishness.

The same level of fairness goes into how  he writes about his father, as well. The relationship between Russell and his dad could’ve been easily whittled down to a grizzled, taciturn, macho dick who can’t relate to his dad. But Russell isn’t interested in facile, one-sided characterizations, and instead, Russell’s father is someone that has moments of sensitivity, wit, and compassion. It’s clear through the work, that his father has had a major impact on his life and  his outlook on what being a man means. But this isn’t a weepy “daddy never loved me” tome. Russell indulges in fanciful wordplay, but he doesn’t indulge in self-pity. Instead, he revels in the eccentric and prickly relationship that he shares with his dad.

And through it all, Russell remains a funny and vital voice. Even when the stories take dark turns – his passages about his best friend’s struggles with PTSD are particularly disturbing – Russell’s smart voice shines through. He doesn’t belittle the more serious parts of his story with humor – instead he enhances the reader’s empathy and interest with it.

Click here to buy Kent Russell’s I Am Sorry to Think That I Have Raised a Timid Son on amazon.com.

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