Book Report: (Not That You Asked)

Steve Almond, author (most recently) of (Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions (Random House, 2007) comes to Malaprop’s this Friday (Sept. 26, 7 p.m.) as part of his book tour. Depending on who you ask, it’s his swing-state tour or his (Not That You Invited Me) tour. Ask his publisher and they’ll probably point out that this is what authors do to drum up interest in their books, and Asked just came out in paperback.

If you read Anne Fitten Glenn’s interview with Almond in this week’s Xpress, you got a taste of the author’s humor. He gives reviewers the opportunity to trot out descriptives like “irreverent” and “unrepentant.”  There’s something demonstrative and over-the-top about Asked: As far as personal essay goes, Almond divulges way more info than the reader really needs to know—and yet that’s exactly what adds up to this book’s winning formula. In an age of writers like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs, the need-to-know-basis has gone the way of the dinosaur. We now want all the gritty details. Almond antes up.

Of his wife’s surprise pregnancy he muses, “Erin was over thirty. I was pushing forty and had smoked the equivalent of a large marijuana tree over the previous decade.” And that’s nothing compared to his adventure with the water jets in the family hot tub—he spares no detail in the “Shame on Me: Why my adolescence sucked donkey cock” chapter.

Almond has a bit of a potty mouth and a seemingly unembarrassed relationship with the sexual humiliations of his past. Good for him. And while no one could accuse the writer of an overabundance of tact when relating these events (“If you pie chart my psyche at any point during high school, big cocks and consequent ideation will occupy 79 percent of my waking life,” he writes), he’s also not embellishing for the sake of impressing anyone. There’s a certain comfort in reading about someone else’s adolescent misadventures (especially since I myself am admitting nothing). But even more than relieving the collective guilty conscience with his intrepid self-flagellations, Almond provides comic relief.

Not all of Asked is about sex. A lot of it is, but there are two lengthy essays—one on Kurt Vonnegut and one on the Red Sox—that allow Almond to stretch out into philosophy and soul-searching. These are the literary highlights of the book, and are well-crafted and meaningful, but for this reader, Almond is at his best in the short form. His tongue-in-cheek list-like series “How This Book Became an Official Oprah’s Book Club Pick,” “How to Write Sex Scenes: The 12 -Step Program” and “10 Ways I Killed My Daughter Within Her First 72 Hours of Life” are punchy sound bites, snarkily funny and over all too soon. Unlike Sedaris or Burroughs, Almond doesn’t need an elaborate set-up—he always has a one-liner close at hand managing never to so much as hint at cliche.

The only thing that would make these essays better would be to hear the author read them in person. Happily, fans can do just that this week.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

Steve Almond appears at Malaprop’s on Friday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. Info: 254-6734.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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