How does Steve Almond get himself into so much trouble? Could it be his incessant moralizing? His generally poor posture? The fact that he was raised by a pack of wolves? Frankly, we haven't got a clue. What we do know is that Almond has a knack for converting his dustups into essays that are both funny and furious. In (Not that You Asked), he squares off against Sean Hannity on national TV, nearly gets arrested for stealing "Sta-Hard" gel from his local pharmacy, and winds up in Boston, where he quickly enrages the entire population of the Red Sox Nation. Almond is, as they say in Yiddish, a tummler.
Almond on personal grooming: "Why, exactly, did I feel it would be 'sexy' and 'hot' to have my girlfriend wax my chest? I can offer no good answer to this question today. I could offer no good answer at the time."
On sports: "To be a fan is to live in a condition of willed helplessness. We are (for the most part) men who sit around and watch other men run and leap and sweat and grapple each other. It is a deeply homoerotic pattern of conduct, often interracial in nature, and essentially humiliating."
On popular culture: "I have never actually owned a TV, a fact I mention whenever possible, in the hopes that it will make me seem noble and possibly lead to oral sex."
On his literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut: "His books perform the greatest feat of alchemy known to man: the conversion of grief into laughter by means of courageous imagination."
On religion: "Every year, when Chanukah season rolled around, my brothers and I would make the suburban pilgrimage to the home of our grandparents, where we would ring in the holiday with a big, juicy Chanukah ham."
The essays in (Not that You Asked) will make you laugh out loud, or, maybe just as likely, hurl the book across the room. Either way, you'll find Steve Almond savagely entertaining. Not that you asked.
"A pop-culture-saturated intellectual, a kindly grouch, vitriolic Boston Red Sox hater, neurotic new father and Kurt Vonnegut fanatic... [Almond] scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection. Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud."
This collection of essays on everything from Oprah's Book Club to the joy of being a new father displays all the qualities that have made Almond's short stories (The Evil B.B. Chow) and nonfiction (Candyfreak) entertaining. The wicked humor of Dear Oprah features an in-your-face attack on the Savior of Publishing and her book club, followed by equally obsequious apologies, including a gift of trust to her of his baby daughter. A section titled About My Sexual Failure (Not That You Asked) offers brutally honest dissections of his sexual obsessions as well as those of past girlfriends, including chest waxing, fake breasts and masturbating in the family pool. Demagogue Days is a hilarious look at Almond's experience with Fox News that displays an abiding disgust at current arbiters of cultural and political life in America as well as an enduring empathy for the underdog. But best of all is a beautiful and angry essay on The Failed Prophecy of Kurt Vonnegut (and How It Saved My Life), a look at Vonnegut's career-long concern over whether mankind would survive its own despicable conduct that serves as a summation of Almond's personal and literary ethos. (Sept.)
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-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 10, 2007
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Excerpt from (Not that You Asked) by Steve Almond
I am in the backyard, playing Ping-Pong against the warped backboard. Neither of my brothers will play me anymore, so I make believe I'm up against Adolf Hitler, with the fate of the Jews hanging in the balance. To summarize: I am bored.
Dave appears at the back door. He has a look of barely suppressed joy on his face; I will soon endure humiliation.
"What?" I say.
"Mom wants to see you."
I find my mother in my father's study--not a good sign. She is seated at the desk. The recliner is for me. I am fifteen years old, a junior. I have been in my awkward phase for nine years.
"Well," she says. "Steven." She sets her hands carefully on her lap. "I want to say, to begin with, that I'm very glad you're using protection."
My mother is staring at me, having just made direct reference to my use of a condom and therefore, in my mind, to my penis, an action that strikes me as a betrayal of certain founding mother/son principles. But my mother is a no-nonsense type, a psychiatrist who spends her days listening to graphic kvetchings.
"I recognize that you and Pamela have become sexually active. I'm proud of you for choosing to do so responsibly."
I make a clucking noise. I do not think to question how it is that my mother has figured out that I am having sex with Pam. That is way beyond me. I am still trying to fit my penis and my mother into the same room
"There is one thing we need to talk about," my mother says.
"Yesterday when I came home from work Lizzie was playing with something on the oriental rug, chewing on something."
Lizzie is our new Labrador retriever. She is a frantic puppy who will soon grow into a frantic dog and be shipped off to a farm. She chews on everything. The only one of us who exerts any control over Lizzie is Mike, who French-kisses her with alarming frequency.
My mother waits for me to make the logical connection.
I do not.
"I didn't know what Lizzie was chewing on," my mother says slowly. "So I went over to see what it was."
I am still not getting it, because my brain has a good habit of locking up when in the presence of large, mortifying revelations.
"I went over to see what it was," my mother repeats. "And, as it so happened, she was chewing on a condom. A, uh, used condom."
My reaction to this news is physiologically complicated. I begin sweating. My sphincter goes into a lengthy spasm. A vision comes to me of my mother walking over to Lizzie and bending down to figure out what she is chewing on and realizing what it is and sighing the sort of sigh that only the mother of three teenage boys can sigh and staring down at Lizzie and the condom, saying Bad dog! Bad dog! and trying to decide what the hell to do. She is a neat freak. She is a neat freak particularly when it comes to the oriental rug, which is hand-knotted and beautiful, with intricate designs I have spent many many stoned hours inspecting, a rug
that frankly has no business in the living room, that belongs in a boy-and-dog-proof vault. My mother tells Lizzie to sit and to drop it, but Lizzie will not, so my mom finally grabs the edge of the used condom, which, to Lizzie, signals that it's time to play. She starts shaking her head like hyper dogs do and clamps down on
the condom, which, thanks to the sharpness of her teeth, has punctured already, such that when my mother tries to pull it away the latex tears and my mother is spattered (perhaps in her actual face) with my semen.
So now I've got this invasive thought in my head (thanks, head!), which I know to be wildly inappropriate and, which I know, what's more, as the child of two psychiatrists, suggests some pretty unsavory things about me in terms of my Oedipal Complex and my hostility toward women and the likelihood (awfully likely) that I will grow into a sexual deviant who seduces women in the unconscious hope of staining them with my semen, and/or has sexual relations with dogs. Probably both. I glance at my mother. She has that look that says: I know what you are thinking,