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Funnier than God, No!,
This review is from: Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (Hardcover)
If you read God, No!, you know what you're in for with Penn Jillette's new book. Penn rambles. Digression should be Penn's middle name. He can't talk about Christmas songs without launching into an analysis of the lyrics to the "Theme from Shaft." The books are nonetheless noticeably different. Where God, No! has an organizing theme (not that the book is in the least bit organized), this one aspires to be nothing more than a collection of stories. In a strange way, however, that makes Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday a better book. If Penn is just sitting back and telling story after story without aiming for a broader point, it doesn't matter so much that he rambles. And on the whole, the tone of Every Day is an Atheist Holiday is less angry than the last book, seemingly written by a kinder, gentler Penn, although one who is still acerbic when the mood strikes. The stories are funnier, or at least more consistently funny. Some are brash, some are sweet, some are both at the same time.
The title notwithstanding, Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday is even less about atheism than God, No! One of Penn's longest and best riffs on religion examines Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, pointing out that King reached out to all Americans, not just religious Americans, and included relatively little religious language in the speech. Penn suggests that the concept of inclusion has been lost in the rhetoric of those who incorrectly proclaim America to be a "Christian nation," a phrase that deliberately excludes every American who isn't a Christian. He then meanders into a biting discussion of evangelical politicians and of cynical politicians who aren't particularly religious but nonetheless make a big show of attending church (particularly when they get a chance to make a speech). He skewers Republicans and Democrats alike, and does so with sustained coherence. Every Day is an Atheist Holiday is worth reading for that chapter alone.
Apart from a concluding chapter that equates morality with atheism (rehashing an argument from God, No!), Penn returns to storytelling for most of the rest of the book. In that regard, Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday can be viewed as a celebration of life (as opposed to the celebration of a deity), particularly naked life. Penn likes to be naked, especially in public, and he likes to write about naked people and about his reproductive organ. A photograph of Penn receiving oral gratification resulted in a blackmail attempt that Penn turns into an amusing story. Other, seemingly random stories he tells focus on pranks he's pulled, mishaps he's endured, and celebrities he knows (no surprises: Donald Trump is a pompous a-hole, Clay Aiken is bitchy, Bob Dylan is a nice guy). He talks quite a bit about the history of Penn & Teller and a little bit about magic. Occasional stories pertain at least tangentially to atheism, including a dustup with Disney, a company that is no friend of freedom.
When he stays on track (which isn't often), he philosophizes -- and actually has interesting, carefully considered things to say -- about comedy and the art of performance, death and the passage of time, tolerance and friendship. He even devotes a brief chapter to denigrating atheists who insist on labeling all Christians as racist or sexist, thus indulging in the same sort of name calling to which religious extremists resort when they attack atheists. Fortunately, he tends to espouse libertarianism less in this book than he did in the last one. Despite his tendency toward redundancy (it's great that he loves his kids, but I got that the first twenty times he said it), much of what Penn says in this book provokes laughter and/or thought, and that's more than enough to make it worthwhile.