Deep down, people are weird. Searching for those whose weirdness expresses itself through art, sport, religion, and other relatively normal pursuits, writers Susan Sheehan and Howard Means found 40 strangely compelling stories, recounted in the wonderfully titled The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer
. One man's ambition is to eat at every McDonald's in the United States; a young woman has won more than 3,000 ribbons at the huge Iowa State Fair. The authors go beyond simple believe-it-or-not reporting, instead interviewing each of their subjects to tease out their motivations and the consequences of their passions. One gentleman, whose aim is to swim across each of the Great Lakes, admits that his goals don't permit him to have a family or much social interaction, but he seems genuinely satisfied with his purpose in life. Much of the book is told in the subjects' own words, which offer insights into the pride and humility, the genius and madness of these singular individuals. The book may not inspire the kind of zeal it takes to carve a life-sized Last Supper
, but it will help readers appreciate the weirdness to be found in ordinary people. --Rob Lightner
From Publishers Weekly
Lots of people have hobbies golf, knitting, collecting baseball cards but the subjects of this lively oral history have bypassed the obvious pursuits. Instead, they collect Noah's arks and Gore Vidal memorabilia, swim the Great Lakes and play competitive tiddlywinks. Sheehan (Is There No Place on Earth for Me?) and Means (Colin Powell: Soldier/Statesman Statesman/Soldier) interviewed 40 Americans with unusual hobbies. They provide some narrative, but mainly allow their subjects to speak for themselves and the individuals aren't shy. They hold forth on everything from walking across suspension bridges to having the largest marble collection in the country. Other subjects include a one-handed bonsai gardener, a competitive kite-flying couple and "the Purple Lady," a Tennessee woman named Sonia Young who dresses in purple, lives in a purple-decorated house, drives a purple car and admits "without being the Purple Lady I don't think I have an identity." Some common themes emerge: many refer to their obsessions as life changing; they value the connections they make with kindred spirits or appreciate the relaxation their activity provides; and most find chasing their goal more satisfying than actually completing a collection or setting a record. Although the authors provide no analysis of their topic, the book is an enjoyable read in short snatches and offers an unusual insider's look at America's unconventional pastimes.
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