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An Essential Book,
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This review is from: How To Be a Man: A Guide To Style and Behavior For The Modern Gentleman (Hardcover)
I've been a big fan of Glenn O'Brien's tone and perspective for a long time. As GQ's style guy and a further contributor to the magazine and its now-defunct podcast, it would be easy and perhaps predictable for him to take a dismissive or snobby stance while dealing out the dos and don'ts of taste, the way that other style and advice tsars seem to traffic in snarkiness while resenting their readers (thinking of Esquire's sex columnist here). But O'Brien the writer is always unfailingly polite, empathetic and seems generally concerned with being of service in his column, in an almost Buddhist sense.
I was a little bit worried about the book after GQ published a teaser for it which distilled some of O'Brien's tips on social politics into a single, awkward article that, stripped of the context of the book, came across as a bit bitchy and shallow. I bought the book anyway and my worries were unfounded. Most of this book should be canonized. As someone discovering for the first time O'Brien's writing beyond the pages of GQ, I was surprised at what a powerful prose stylist he is. Some of the passages are more effusive than others and when he really gets going there's a huge, poetic lift. This is not a superficial book. He really lays out a clear philosophy of living that, at the risk of oversimplifying it, treats manners as a form of deference to the beauty of life - by paying attention to details and expressing ourselves in a thoughtful manner, we are telling the world and its people that we love it enough to take it seriously.
If I had a gripe it would be the numerous redundancies - for instance the fifth time O'Brien tells us who Beau Brummell is, or the seventh time he makes the point that casual dress codes in the workplace have served to blur social status. I couldn't tell if these were editing errors or just O'Brien having a senior moment but as an attentive reader it did feel a bit like having my intelligence insulted to be re-told the same things so many times, sometimes even on the same page. [Edit: Some have said this book is a compilation of previously existing articles. I'm not sure if that's the case but it still seems like those redundancies should be addressed in this compilation for readability.]
Some of the chapters, such as the ones on dealing with air travel and doctors, are marred by a grouchiness that, as a man in my early 30s, I just couldn't relate to. But then again, this is O'Brien at his most explicit and not his most polite. And the candor is exhilarating elsewhere, like in the rants on drug use, taste as a matter of survival and a particularly inspired chapter on the vital powers of old age vs. the emptiness of youth worship.
I could have used a chapter on fatherhood and it seems that a section called How to Compete would have been a no-brainer for a book on manhood. But maybe they'll tack that on to future editions - I definitely had the sense when reading this that I was encountering the first edition of something that would last (and regretted spilling so much food on its pages).
Buy this book. For my sake. I need compatriots.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 18, 2011 12:53:03 PM PDT
D. C. Jacobson says:
It is a compilation of magazine columns, hence the repetition.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 4, 2011 11:48:20 PM PDT
The author's website states that only one or two things in the book had been published previously. He also acknowledges, admirably, that the book isn't perfect and that he probably invoked Beau Brummell a few times too many.
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