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My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-Lived Search for Sainthood


Critic and bestselling author Joe Queenan had made a career of being vicious — then he decided to be nice. The result is a biting, hilarious tale of a very bad man's attempts to be good.

Years upon years of being unspeakably nasty to icons as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Barbra Streisand, and even Mother Nature herself had taken its toll on Joe Queenan. The man all editors turned to when they needed a book, film, or tv program savaged was tired of being so mean. He wanted to be more...

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Critic and bestselling author Joe Queenan had made a career of being vicious — then he decided to be nice. The result is a biting, hilarious tale of a very bad man's attempts to be good.

Years upon years of being unspeakably nasty to icons as diverse as Jimmy Carter, Barbra Streisand, and even Mother Nature herself had taken its toll on Joe Queenan. The man all editors turned to when they needed a book, film, or tv program savaged was tired of being so mean. He wanted to be more like Susan Sarandon. Or Sting. Determined to mend his ways, Queenan embarked on the most difficult task of his career: he decided to become a nice person.

Now available in paperback, My Goodness is the side-splitting result of Queenan's attempted transformation: from his use of animal-friendly Body Shop goods to his letter of apology to Jackie Collins after a scathing review of her latest book; from his quest to save the whales to his quest to save Linda Tripp.

Joe Queenan has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Spy, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and other publications. He is a contributing editor at GQ and Movieline. The author of four previous books, including the bestseller Red Lobster, White Trash, and The Blue Lagoon, he lives in Tarrytown, New York.

". . . That, as this thoroughly delightful and very smart book makes plain, is very good for the reader's mental environment." (Washington Post)

"The year's most sinfully rewarding guilty pleasure." (New York Times Book Review)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Everyone loves a funny misanthrope: Voltaire, Mark Twain, Roseanne Barr. And combative movie critic Queenan (Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon) can be funny. In this memoir of attempted self-salvation, Queenan charts his attempts to drop his disputatious demeanor and become a nicer, if not better, person. As he admits, it's a hard journey, since his "financially remunerative niche as one of the handful of hired guns" who can "turn out a fast, efficient hatchet job" ostensibly hangs in the balance. He's at his best when contemplating how bad he has actually been, and when he measures the "obviously satanic people I have made fun of" against "unlikely people I have defended." His "Short History of Goodness from Jesus Christ to Sting" crackles with the gleefully barbed and insouciant tone that has made him famous as an insult-meister. But even when Queenan takes seriously his project of living more ethically, he continues to score easy points, such as making fun of the Body Shop's overly pious self-promotion. His self-mocking tone keeps the book focused on the larger subject of grappling with moral issues in a less-than-perfect world. But too often the balance is off-kilter between his riffs on the absurd commodification of self-help and liberal causes (i.e., "Practice Random Acts of Kindness" bumper stickers) and his more serious philosophical offerings. In the end, Queenan's journey doesn't quite satisfy, not because he goes back to being a slightly kinder "son of a bitch," but because those more serious aspirations get lost in all the easy humor. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cultural critic Queenan, who once said that attending a John Tesh concert was like staring into the jaws of hell, takes a respite from his nastiness in an attempt to rehabilitate himself. The question becomes, can he do it? Believing that all his past meanness has filled him with self-loathing, Queenan chronicles a journey toward self-regeneration. He suddenly begins practicing random acts of kindness (RAKs) and senseless acts of beauty (SABs) in an effort to achieve some level of moral goodness. Aside from occasional relapses, Queenan eventually transforms himself into a pretty decent guy. Unfortunately, the money isn't as good for a critic who's also a decent guy. Will he hang up his Habitat for Humanity utility belt, put away the Sting and Ani DiFranco CDs, and brew his last pot of St. John's wort tea? After all, being nice could land a successful curmudgeon-critic like Queenan on Skid Row. As Bob Dylan wrote, "Money doesn't talk, it swears." Recommended for popular humor collections.--Joe J. Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Somewhere, Mencken is beaming. Meanwhile, for all the good and decent folk who nonetheless secretly pine for somebody to stick it to Sinead O'Connor, New Age angel-talkers, eco-tourists, Peter, Paul and Mary and the other avatars of P.C. probity in our midst, My Goodness has to be the year's most sinfully rewarding guilty pleasure.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641532689
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 2/2/2000
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter Eight

It all started while I was going through my junk mail one morning. Because I had spent so much time writing for right-wing publications before I decided to become a good person, I was on every conservative mailing list in the country. This meant that I always had lots of kindling lying around the house waiting to be tossed into the fire. Here was a letter from the Manhattan Institute inviting me to attend a lecture by some think tank zealot who wanted to cut taxes. Right into the flames with that bad boy! Here was a communiqué from the Cato Institute asking for a handout. Straight into the fireplace! Here was an invitation to subscribe to the Moonie-owned Washington Times. Satan, get thee hence! And here was a letter from Bill Bennett requesting that I become a charter subscriber to a "conservative-oriented, idea-driven publishing house to bring back serious books about culture, politics, public affairs, and history to Amer! ! ica's bookshelves!" This from an intellectual freeloader most famous for compiling an anthology of great writing by dead people who wouldn't have been caught, well, dead with a cultural second-story man like Bill Bennett if they were still alive. Screw you, loser.

But one night as I was poised to shred a rather voluminous letter from the Linda Tripp Legal Defense Fund, it occurred to me that my newfound antipathy toward conservative causes rested on tenuous moral underpinnings. Obviously, almost all the good things that came about in this society were the results of efforts by stupendously virtuous, left-leaning people such as Sting, Jackson, Tom of Maine, and his wife, the gifted poetess Kate of Maine. But if I was truly committed to a philosophy of practicing RAKs and SABs, wouldn't the law of averages eventually lead me to do something nice for a Republican? I mean, wasn't randomness essentially, random? Besides, when I read through the scriptures, I found no evidence t! ! hat Jesus limited his munificence to one class or one ethnic group or one political party. Basically, He seemed to get along with just about everybody.

With this in mind, I decided that it was time to do something randomly, senselessly beautiful for Linda Tripp. Although I, like just about everyone else I knew, felt that she was a duplicitous hydra, a snake in the grass, a vile toad, she was still in a very real sense a human being. I tried to remember this as I plowed through her twelve-page pitch letter, hoping to dream up something randomly kind I could do for her. No, I was not going to send her a check to help cover her legal costs; if she hadn't taped those conversations and then been such a blabbermouth about it, she wouldn't have found herself in such a bind. But maybe there was some other way I could lend a hand. Searching for inspiration, I reread the letter. Well, as you can imagine, it was mostly boilerplate material--"I'm told you are a fair person...I stand t! ! o lose everything...They have me in their crosshairs...I feel like David up against Goliath...My children and I have our backs to the wall..." But then on page 9 I read the words, "I'm living in fear for my job and for the safety of my family and myself. The little things I always took for granted, like going to the grocery store or the gas station in privacy, seem to be gone forever."

Immediately I ran out, did what had to be done, then came back, sat down at my word processor, and wrote Ms. Tripp the following letter:

Dear Ms. Tripp:

I recently received your letter in the mail. You are correct in your assumption that I am "a fair person." And being a fair person, I do not believe for a moment that you are either a liar or a felon. This being the case, I do not think that you should be prosecuted or incarcerated for your actions. However, I do believe that secretly taping a friend's conversations is an unforgivable action--unless someone like the hea! ! d of the Gambino Family was involved--so you have brought a lot of this misfortune on yourself.

Being a kind and generous person, I know how difficult it must be for you to shop for groceries in privacy. With this in mind, I have done some grocery shopping for you. Please find enclosed a box of Health Valley organic blueberry tarts, a package of Newman's Own organic pretzels, a box of Kavli crispbread, a bag of St. John's wort tortilla chips, a container of Chai decaffeinated organic tea, a package of St. John's wort tea, and some organic Cajun jerky. I know I have loaded up on the St. John's wort products, but the tone of your letter made it sound like you were a little bit down. St. John's wort is an ancient natural remedy that is thought to be very effective in the treatment of depression.

By the way, do you like coffee? If you do, please let me know, and I will call the folks at Kalani Organica and get them to send you some shade-grown coffee. I don't know if shade! ! -grown coffee actually existed when your legal travails began, but purchasing this ecologically nurturing beverage prevents bird habitats from being destroyed and also vastly reduces pollution of our rivers, and I think everybody should try it. So let me know. Or, if you prefer organic tea, I can have some of it shipped out.

Best of luck in all your endeavors,

Joe Queenan

P.S. I am also sending along some cents-off coupons from Tom's of Maine. Be well.

Then I sidled down the street and shipped this organic care package off in the mail. I rewarded myself for performing the most random RAK of my entire life by eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, which I got for free by cashing in one of the coupons that my socially conscious long-distance telephone company sent me every month. Yes, I felt pretty good about myself, pretty up, pretty up, pretty up, up and away, as the righteous babe Ani DiFranco might have put it. The only thing missing?! ! I really wished that Ben & Jerry's had a St. John's wort flavor, so I could have sent some of that, freeze-dried, to Linda Tripp, as well. But you can't have everything.

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Table of Contents

1. Oral History 1
2. La Vita è Bruta: A Chronicle of Personal Vileness 6
3. A Short History of Goodness, from Jesus Christ to Sting 23
4. Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life 42
5. Your Dad Must Be the Nicest Man in the Whole Wide World 58
6. Family Values 76
7. The Frugal Philanthropist 91
8. Capitol Gains 104
9. Reach Out and Touch Somebody 116
10. Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word 133
11. What a Tangled Web 149
12. Second Thoughts 166
13. Once More, Into the Breach 192
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