Books

(Not That You Asked)

by Steve Almond

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One of Steve Almond's earliest influences was Kurt Vonnegut, and although his writing has an entirely different flavor, Almond is nonetheless trying to do the same work. Before you remark upon how insightful and sharp this literary analysis is, it'd be fair to note that Almond pretty much says this himself in his latest collection, (Not That You Asked). His 50-odd-page exploration of the author's life and work is the book's second essay, and sets the tone for everything that follows.

And what follows is often laugh-out-loud funny, interlaced with touching moments of raw humanity and anguish over what we, as a species, have become. In the chapter "How Reality TV Ate My Life," he picks apart his near miss at appearing on VH1's Totally Obsessed, and the ridiculous lengths he went to in order to make himself into what they wanted.

"Demagogue Days" documents Almond's attempt to take a stand by resigning from his adjunct position at Boston College when they contracted Condoleezza Rice to speak at commencement. In addition to receiving eloquent email missives from representatives of the stalwart right ("I support Condoleca Rice [sic] as a brave and magnificent princess who is trying to save the world."), he also was noticed by talk radio and Fox News. He held his own on Hannity & Colmes and was actually cut off and dropped during a live interview—immediately after rendering Hannity speechless with a Fox-style jab at Bill O'Reilly.

Almond's a funny guy. He's smart, sharp, and accessible in a way that makes non-literary types recognize themselves, and literary types just slightly undervalue him. A self-proclaimed narcissist (what decent writer isn't?), he's at his best when he's sifting through the pieces of his life and trying to make sense of them—from Oprah to waxing his chest hair to fighting with lit bloggers to becoming a father. Like Vonnegut, Almond has an abiding love and fear for the human race. Making us laugh about the stupid, cruel, and loveable things we all do, he is trying to help us make our time here matter, the best way he knows how.

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