"Jonathan Ames is one of the funniest writers in America," so says Jonathan Ames, who is actually writing this flap copy, which is the publishing industry term for the boastful fluff you read on the inner portion of most hardcover book jackets. So let the truth be known: Most writers write or at least rewrite their flap copy. And why not? They are writers after all. For the flap copy on my last novel, I had the audacity to pronounce that I was one of America's most talented young writers. My mother read that and was very proud, pointing it out to me. I then said to her, "I wrote that." But she was still proud; she probably didn't believe that I wrote it. In fact, she doesn't believe most of what I tell her, but that's probably because she couldn't take it if she did believe me. Which is a good way to describe this book, this comic autobiography: It's the kind of book one's mother shouldn't read, though there are several passages where I profess my great Oedipal love and desire for my mother, which she might find flattering. What else recommends this book, or, rather, what recommends me, since this book is about me. Well, I'm bald and ribald, I'm like Rabelais and Danny Kaye, sometimes I'm straight and sometimes I'm gay. Well, not really. I'm almost never gay, but it rhymed nicely with Kaye, and also I tend to be depressed rather than gay. But I do like to make others laugh, so if you're standing in a bookstore, I hope you'll find this book funny and I hope that you'll move on to my introduction, where I'll further implore you to keep reading, with the idea that you'll eventually purchase the book, which is the point, by the way, of flap copy.
The publisher likens Ames's first nonfiction book to "a twisted man's version of Candace Bushnell's classic, Sex and the City." But that comparison does Ames a disservice. Not only can this novelist (I Pass the Night; The Extra Man) and former New York Press columnist (the book is a collection of his columns) write circles around Bushnell, as well as around Ames's fellow ex-Press sex columnist, Amy Sohn, but Ames's columns reveal a sweet, wide-open soul, despite their outr? subject matter. And make no mistake, the matter is very outr?. The first column of 33 (and an epilogue) arranged in loose chronological order concerns how Ames, who entered puberty only on the cusp of turning 16, felt the need before then to hide his "little," hairless penis from his high school tennis teammates and coach, and how he ran to his mother's bed to show her his first erection. Further columns relate his experiences with flatulence, diarrhea, enemas, VD, prostitutes, first love and so on; in each case, Ames details his adventures with humor, poking incessant fun at himself and his obsessions. Occasionally, his comic timing can seem forced, and the humor shtick; in fact, Ames is a performance artist as well as a writer. But more often the book is laugh-aloud funny and delightfully wry. Above all, though, it's suffused with a wonderful compassion and sense of tolerance--Ames likes to hang with transvestites and considers his closest friend an amputee misfit whose claim to fame is the Mangina, an artificial vagina he wears onstage. There are strong echoes of Henry Miller here, in Ames's embrace of the human condition in all its variants, but Ames is his own man, his own writer (with an elegant, assured prose style)--and deserves hordes of his own fans.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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August 06, 2001
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Excerpt from What's Not to Love? by Jonathan Ames
I was walking down a handsome, brownstonish street in Brooklyn Heights and I came upon a fresh box of Q-Tips. It was a nice-looking box--very blue. And it was still sealed in plastic. I need Q-Tips, I thought. I picked up the box and looked around. There were no other pedestrians within fifty yards. I sort of waved the box in the air to signal to the world that I was willing to give the Q-Tips back to their rightful owner. No one claimed them. What a strange item to have fallen out of someone's bag.
I checked the seal thoroughly. It was perfect. And it seemed unlikely that the little sticks with their heads of cotton could be contaminated in any way, though I did imagine, for a moment, a madman dipping the Q-Tips in some kind of poison and then resealing the box and planting it on the sidewalk. He could be watching me at that very moment. But this was too preposterous. I pocketed the Q-Tips and headed back to Manhattan. I had wanted Q-Tips for some time. But it was a luxury item -- I only spend my money on the most necessary goods.
My unexpected find came in handy a few days later. The publisher of my novel, due out in five months, was taking me to lunch at the "21" Club. And the morning of the lunch, I did a thorough cleaning of myself, and I employed several Q-Tips. I wanted to look very good for the lunch; I prepared for it like an actor, because often when I meet people whom I have to impress, my personality is mysteriously vacuumed away. I become as boring as a piece of toast. But if I try to play a role, if I try to be someone other than myself, I can sometimes make a good impression. And so for my luncheon at "21," where there were going to be several people whom I had never met, I geared myself up to play the Young Author. It's what I did eight and a half years ago when I prematurely ejaculated my first book at the age of twenty-five. But at thirty-three I can still be the Young Author; the window doesn't close on that title for another two years.
The first step in my transformation was a bath and a shave. I also washed my hair and worked on my scalp with my rubber invigorator. I then used the invigorator on the soles of my feet to give myself some amateur reflexology.
After the bath, I put sunscreen on my face to act as a moisturizer. Then I put a little dab of wheat germ oil in the palm of my hand and with some water rubbed this into my hair. I then combed back my front fringe of hair over my bald spot. The wheat germ oil held the hair in place quite nicely and gave me a wet look -- very good for Young Authors striving for an allusion to Fitzgerald.
Then I opened up my beautiful box of new Q-Tips. I again thought of the mad poisoner, but only for a second. I dipped a Q-Tip into my bottle of hydrogen peroxide (a very cheap thing, peroxide, only eighty-nine cents for a good-sized bottle, and it has so many uses) and I cleaned my ears. I did this very gently, because I have a great fear of puncturing the eardrum ever since I read some years ago that some baseball player had done just that with a Q-Tip while sitting in the dugout.
Then I gargled with the peroxide and hot water -- it gets rid of germs and cleans up coffee stains. I followed up the gargling with flossing, and then a gentle brushing of my teeth because my gums are receding like my hair.
I was almost ready to get dressed, but then I inspected myself closely in the mirror -- there were three long blond hairs coming out of my nostrils and several hairs out of both ears. I once had a small nostril-hair scissor, but unfortunately I lost it on a visit to New Hampshire in 1990, and I've been too cheap ever since to get a new one. So I tried trimming the nostril hairs with my nail-clipper, but it didn't work. I then tried getting my razor in my nose and almost cut in half the little wall that exists between the two nostrils. So I took some wheat germ oil and glued the nostril hairs to the inside of my nose.
I then tried cutting the ear hairs with the nail-clipper -- even though it didn't work on the nose hairs--and, naturally, I was unsuccessful, but I did manage to cut this little piece of cartilage at the front of my right ear. Blood was drawn. At this point I thought I was starting to overdo things, and sensed that if I didn't stop myself, I might destroy my face as a way to sabotage my luncheon and my whole career.
So I headed for the closet and removed my clothes. A few days earlier a benefactor of mine, an older writer, had taken me to Brooks Brothers. I don't have any money left from my book advance, spent all of it in '97, so my benefactor bought for me a beautiful charcoal-gray herringbone sport coat. This way I would have something good to wear for the lunch. The plan is for me to pay him back for the coat by doing copy-editing work on his latest opus.