(Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions is an Amazon Significant Seven selection for October 2007 An Exclusive Essay from Author Steve Almond
Steve Almond is obsessed. He first offered the world a peek into his fixations in My Life in Heavy Metal
, a collection of short stories throbbing with hookups, drunken kisses, failed passes, souring relationships, and, naturally, heavy metal. But Almond forever chewed the hard chocolate shell from his creamy inner obsessive with 2004's Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
--a sort of On the Road
for the sugar set, documenting an epic journey through America's confectionary highways and backroads. Almond is back with (Not that You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions
, a collection of autobiographical pieces covering topics as diverse as Oprah Winfrey, Kurt Vonnegut, sexual failure, and the many varieties of shame. We asked Almond just what it is about obsession that drives his work, as well is its intrinsic value in all art--low and high. --Jon Foro
The Obsession Engine
Why House of Rock with Bret Michaels could be your next novel. Or not.
By Steve Almond
A close friend of mine who may or may not be my wife recently fell in love with the VH-1 reality series House of Rock
. For those of you who are not hip to its charms, HoR
stars Bret Michaels, the former lead singer of Poison, and a gaggle of women vying to become his soul mate. I hope you will not be shocked to learn that several of these potential soul mates are strippers. Nor do all of them appear to be virgins.
My friend insists that her interest in the program is purely anthropological. But I happen to know that she spent a good portion of her adolescence listening to Eighties hair metal bands and dreaming about bedding dudes like Bret Michaels and even working, briefly, as a waitress in a topless bar. She comes by her obsession naturally, is my point.
The longer I read and write, the more I come to view obsession as the essential engine of literature. I am not suggesting that my wife, er, friend
should write a novel about House of Rock
. (The series is, by her own description, a kind of pulp novel already--histrionic, predictable, crushingly squalid.) What Im suggesting is that her allegiance to the program identifies essential fears and desires within her, ones which embarrass her quite robustly and therefore belong in the novel she hopes to write.
To take this a step further: Im not interested in writing that isnt obsessive. Who is? Were all drama queens in the end. We all come to stories with two basic questions: Who do I care about?
And What do they care about?
As long as our hero, or heroine, cares deeply about something (i.e. is obsessed), and as long as theyre willing to tell us their own twisted version of the truth, well come along for the ride.
Dont believe me? Let me call to the stand my star witness, Humbert Humbert. Read more...
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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