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(Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions

(Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions

2.5 2
by Steve Almond

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How does Steve Almond get himself into so much trouble? Could it be his incessant moralizing? His generally poor posture? The fact that he was raised by a pack of wolves? Frankly, we haven’t got a clue. What we do know is that Almond has a knack for converting his dustups into essays that are both funny and furious. In (Not that You Asked), he squares off


How does Steve Almond get himself into so much trouble? Could it be his incessant moralizing? His generally poor posture? The fact that he was raised by a pack of wolves? Frankly, we haven’t got a clue. What we do know is that Almond has a knack for converting his dustups into essays that are both funny and furious. In (Not that You Asked), he squares off against Sean Hannity on national TV, nearly gets arrested for stealing “Sta-Hard” gel from his local pharmacy, and winds up in Boston, where he quickly enrages the entire population of the Red Sox Nation. Almond is, as they say in Yiddish, a tummler.

Almond on personal grooming: “Why, exactly, did I feel it would be ‘sexy’ and ‘hot’ to have my girlfriend wax my chest? I can offer no good answer to this question today. I could offer no good answer at the time.”
On sports: “To be a fan is to live in a condition of willed helplessness. We are (for the most part) men who sit around and watch other men run and leap and sweat and grapple each other. It is a deeply homoerotic pattern of conduct, often interracial in nature, and essentially humiliating.”
On popular culture: “I have never actually owned a TV, a fact I mention whenever possible, in the hopes that it will make me seem noble and possibly lead to oral sex.”
On his literary hero, Kurt Vonnegut: “His books perform the greatest feat of alchemy known to man: the conversion of grief into laughter by means of courageous imagination.”
On religion: “Every year, when Chanukah season rolled around, my brothers and I would make the suburban pilgrimage to the home of our grandparents, where we would ring in the holiday with a big, juicy Chanukah ham.”

The essays in (Not that You Asked) will make you laugh out loud, or, maybe just as likely, hurl the book across the room. Either way, you’ll find Steve Almond savagely entertaining. Not that you asked.

“A pop-culture-saturated intellectual, a kindly grouch, vitriolic Boston Red Sox hater, neurotic new father and Kurt Vonnegut fanatic… [Almond] scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection. Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.”
—— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

A digressive series of hysterical letters to Oprah Winfrey sets the familiar yet frenzied tone of this essay collection. Through autobiographical anecdotes, New York Timesbest-selling author Almond takes us on a coast-to-coast tour of American pop culture. His talent for writing short stories (e.g., "My Life in Heavy Metal"; "The Evil B.B. Chow") is fueled by an obsessive-compulsive passion for truth (e.g., Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America). Whether describing the backlash of a politically motivated open letter of resignation from Boston College (published in the Boston Globe) or analyzing the life of an Internet blogger in a somewhat Freudian fashion (an essay first published on Salon.com), he exposes the absurd realities of modern society. High levels of uncensored wit and wisdom-e.g., an in-depth comparison of Republican politics to Dante's Inferno-will incite riotous laughter in some while tempting to incite real riots among the politically conservative. Almond is leading a life as interesting and entertaining to read about as are the lives of fellow pop-lit contemporaries Dave Eggers and David Sedaris. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/1/07.]
—David L. Reynolds

Kirkus Reviews
What do Joyce Carol Oates, snotty bloggers, right-wing radio freaks and a VH-1 reality show have in common? They all get on this author's nerves-and thank goodness. In his cult memoir Candyfreak (2004), Almond portrayed himself as a goofy and affable obsessive, a sweets nut willing to do anything within his considerable journalistic powers to track down the perfect piece of chocolate. With his first collection of nonfiction essays, he takes on a darker, funnier, more mature persona: still affable and obsessive, but far less goofy-a pop-culture-saturated intellectual, a kindly grouch, vitriolic Boston Red Sox hater, neurotic new father and Kurt Vonnegut fanatic. Actually, this project was "supposed to be about Vonnegut," declares Almond, but "the folks at Random House . . . wanted a book of essays instead. So it goes." That being the case, it's little surprise that the chapter on Vonnegut is the collection's deepest and most thoughtful, especially notable for its priceless recounting of a literary panel/smackdown featuring a crusty Vonnegut, a hostile Joyce Carol Oates and a vapid Jennifer Weiner (no question about whose side Almond is on). When the essayist gets around to discussing himself, he proves to be secure with his insecurities, comfortable enough with his readers to share astoundingly embarrassing events from his sexually confused adolescence, including an episode featuring his mother, a dog and a used condom. Almond has an original, fresh voice and compelling stories to share. Never the least bit pretentious, both his prose and subject matter are accessible, and his righteous indignation is as pleasant as righteous indignation can be. Whether bemoaning the inanity of realitytelevision, justifying his love for the cheese-metal band Tesla or good-naturedly ragging on Oprah Winfrey, he scores big in every chapter of this must-have collection. Biting humor, honesty, smarts and heart: Vonnegut himself would have been proud.

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Read an Excerpt


I am in the backyard, playing Ping-Pong against the warped backboard. Neither of my brothers will play me anymore, so I make believe I’m up against Adolf Hitler, with the fate of the Jews hanging in the balance. To summarize: I am bored.
Dave appears at the back door. He has a look of barely suppressed joy on his face; I will soon endure humiliation.
“What?” I say.
“Mom wants to see you.”
“About what?”
I find my mother in my father’s study—not a good sign. She is seated at the desk. The recliner is for me. I am fifteen years old, a junior. I have been in my awkward phase for nine years.
“Well,” she says. “Steven.” She sets her hands carefully on her lap. “I want to say, to begin with, that I’m very glad you’re using protection.”
My mother is staring at me, having just made direct reference to my use of a condom and therefore, in my mind, to my penis, an action that strikes me as a betrayal of certain founding mother/son principles. But my mother is a no-nonsense type, a psychiatrist who spends her days listening to graphic kvetchings.
“I recognize that you and Pamela have become sexually active. I’m proud of you for choosing to do so responsibly.”
I make a clucking noise. I do not think to question how it is that my mother has figured out that I am having sex with Pam. That is way beyond me. I am still trying to fit my penis and my mother into the same room
without puking.
“There is one thing we need to talk about,” my mother says.
“Yesterday when I came home from work Lizzie was playing with something on the oriental rug, chewing on something.”
Lizzie is our new Labrador retriever. She is a frantic puppy who will soon grow into a frantic dog and be shipped off to a farm. She chews on everything. The only one of us who exerts any control over Lizzie is Mike, who French-kisses her with alarming frequency.
My mother waits for me to make the logical connection.
I do not.
“I didn’t know what Lizzie was chewing on,” my mother says slowly. “So I went over to see what it was.”
I am still not getting it, because my brain has a good habit of locking up when in the presence of large, mortifying revelations.
“I went over to see what it was,” my mother repeats. “And, as it so happened, she was chewing on a condom. A, uh, used condom.”
My reaction to this news is physiologically complicated. I begin sweating. My sphincter goes into a lengthy spasm. A vision comes to me of my mother walking over to Lizzie and bending down to figure out what she is chewing on and realizing what it is and sighing the sort of sigh that only the mother of three teenage boys can sigh and staring down at Lizzie and the condom, saying Bad dog! Bad dog! and trying to decide what the hell to do. She is a neat freak. She is a neat freak particularly when it comes to the oriental rug, which is hand-knotted and beautiful, with intricate designs I have spent many many stoned hours inspecting, a rug
that frankly has no business in the living room, that belongs in a boy-and-dog-proof vault. My mother tells Lizzie to sit and to drop it, but Lizzie will not, so my mom finally grabs the edge of the used condom, which, to Lizzie, signals that it’s time to play. She starts shaking her head like hyper dogs do and clamps down on
the condom, which, thanks to the sharpness of her teeth, has punctured already, such that when my mother tries to pull it away the latex tears and my mother is spattered (perhaps in her actual face) with my semen.
So now I’ve got this invasive thought in my head (thanks, head!), which I know to be wildly inappropriate and, which I know, what’s more, as the child of two psychiatrists, suggests some pretty unsavory things about me in terms of my Oedipal Complex and my hostility toward women and the likelihood (awfully likely) that I will grow into a sexual deviant who seduces women in the unconscious hope of staining them with my semen, and/or has sexual relations with dogs. Probably both. I glance at my mother. She has that look that says: I know what you are thinking,
Steven. So I say to her (in my head), Oh yeah? What am I thinking?
And she says (in my head, quite calmly), Your father and I have discussed the matter. We both feel these thoughts are within the normal range of adolescent neuroses, and nothing that thirty-five years of therapy won’t cure. Imagine my relief.
Back in reality, my mother is saying something like, “Lizzie must have found it in the bathroom . . .” But I am having trouble making out the words because I’m in the midst of what amounts to a grand mal seizure. At a certain point her mouth stops moving and I nod and mutter an apology. I am profoundly thankful she does not try to hug me.
I stumble back to my room. My brothers are standing in the doorways to their rooms shaking their heads, and I see now that I am not the first son called into the study; I am in fact the third and final son she has spoken to this afternoon, the one she has judged least likely to be having sex, an implied fact that only magnifies the horror of the entire Lizzie/used-condom episode, which is now—thanks to my brothers—public property to be invoked at their leisure.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow, the nonfiction book Candyfreak, and the novel Which Brings Me to You, co-written with Julianna Baggott. He lives outside Boston with his wife, Erin, and daughter, Josephine, whom he cannot stop kissing. Visit the author at www.stevenalmond.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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(Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions 2.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He's a decent writer, but unpleasant company.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The cover flap of ¿'Not That You Asked'¿ speculates whether Steve Almond was raised by wolves. This may explain why many of the essays in this book are disarmingly honest, and especially those taken from his youth, experiences nobody would dare ask about because they¿re way too personal. Particularly moving was the essay about Lobster Thai Pad, which isn¿t so much about food as about friendship. In comparison to his earlier books, Almond occasionally sheds more heat than light in this collection that in places seems unworthy of his tremendous talent. The epistolary discourse with Oprah Winfrey is one example. While Jonathan Franzen¿s rejection of his Oprah selection brought to mind the Groucho Marx quote, ¿I don¿t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,¿ Almond¿s preemptive strike on Oprah seems as inscrutable as our government¿s reasons for invading Iraq. When not ranting, exploiting and obsessing, the book often feels contrived. Almond goes to great lengths to compare himself to Kurt Vonnegut, quoting from ¿Slaughterhouse Five,¿ ¿It¿s always the men against the women, with the men only pretending to fight among themselves¿¿ And yet, these essays are so full of condescending portrayals of women¿including not only Oprah, but Condoleezza Rice, Joyce Carol Oates, an Associated Press reporter, reality television staffers and ex-girlfriends¿ that I suspect Almond may be hiding a grudge behind Vonnegut¿s reputation. Throughout the book, Almond portrays women sympathetically only when they say nice things about Vonnegut or himself. I didn¿t dare ask because I wanted to believe Almond was better than that. As to the book¿s virtues, there¿s something for just about everybody here, with the exception of Fox News fans and, uh, Mormons 'an allusion to Mitt Romney, perhaps?'. The essay on Almond¿s disappointing experience with the Boston Red Sox is timely for Colorado Rockies fans.