If you’re visiting here you probably know this already–the green book that pops up here and there on this site, How to Be a Man; the book was released May 10th, so as I write this, it has been out about two months. Everybody asks me how it’s doing. Well, I think it’s doing great. That’s what I’m told. I did look up it’s rank on Amazon for a while and saw it bouncing between the mid-hundreds and the several thousands in rank, but that got too nerve racking. The last time I checked it was in four figures. I guess that’s good. I’m still way ahead of Moby Dick anyway. And my thumb is sore from signing.
For the first few days it was out I walked around and looked for the book in book stores—naturally I expected it to be in the front window or on the table that says Recent Non-Fiction, but after a few days I was okay with finding it prominently displayed under Fashion or Advice or whatever. I think you have to work up to Recent Non-Fiction, unless you are David Sedaris or on 30 Rock. Eventually I was just happy not to be shelved in Men’s Studies. My last book in this genre was filed away in that grim department which specializes in erectile dysfunction and STDs, it’s a book store aisle that is the kiss of death. So if it’s in Fashion, I’m okay with that. Or in Etiquette. Or in Men’s Health, whatever that means, as long as it’s not in Men’s Studies.
To tell you the truth I never understood what it is about Men’s Health that appeals to men. It’s just one step away from Men’s Death. But apparently it’s really a topic of concern since 1.8 million men care about it enough to buy a magazine called that. Of course I have concerns about my health, but I think of my health more as Health than Men’s Health. I mean I know men are more likely than women to contract HIV, which is another one of the reasons I don’t use that orifice for alternative purposes, and I know men are more likely to have heart attacks, and 100% more likely to have prostate problems, but still when I worry it’s more about Health than Men’s Health. In fact I suspect that the real reason men buy Men’s Health is to look at black and white pictures of men’s six packs, a sight that could only depress me, but I digress. I am happy to have How to Be a Man in any prominent spot in a book store, and I suppose where they put it is probably more commercial than if they put it in Philosophy. End of digression. But I am still pissed I can’t find it in airports.
On the other hand, to resume digressing, this is a sort of Philosophy book. But it’s a philosophy book disguised as a humor book, disguised as an advice book. It’s best to conceal that it’s a philosophy book, at least in this country. In France philosopher is still a perfectly legitimate, even a glamorous profession. You can make a living writing philosophy books, you can get on television, and judging from some of the more successful French philosophers you can date movie stars and get invited to the best parties. Basically, in France a philosopher is a step above rock star. This is just one area in which the French have it all over the Americans. I’m thinking of calling my next book Philosophy for Dummies.
Funny how America pooh-poohs philosophy. It’s okay if it stays in it’s place, dead, or confined to university campuses, but it shouldn’t really be shooting its mouth off on talk shows. I guess that’s because it competes with religion and unlike France, this is still a religious country. America might have been founded by deists who believed God was a distant, abstract, hands off creator, and we may have had an enlightenment once, but today America’s God is Big Brother, and if you think he has no influence on the results of NFL games, well, what are you French?
The French have philosophers, we have comedians. Maybe it’s sort of the same thing. Maybe philosophers are just comedians acting serious. Second bananas gone solo. I mean Lenny Bruce was a philosopher. Mort Sahl was so much of a philosopher he got not so funny. Dick Gregory is a philosopher. George Carlin. Steven Wright, I think. And of course Chris Rock and Woody Allen and Larry David. But then those guys are pretty much oral performers. Yeah, one of them cranks out a book once in a while, but basically humor books are a grim lot. And why I have this think for essays, I don’t know. It’s not stage fright. Anyway, I digress.
The most interesting part of this book coming out has been the press and the blogs. Mr. David Coggins did a nice interview with me on A Continuous Lean (http://www.acontinuouslean.com/index.php?s=Glenn+O%27Brien), and there was a nice piece on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/style-guy-glenn-obrien-ta_n_866999.html).
I have to admit I’ve enjoyed the attention, and I’m getting good at answering the same questions over and over. But I may have enjoyed most the funny and interesting instances of hatred the book has generated. Slate, a sort of digital Atlantic or Harpers, ran a piece hating on me humorously by one Mark Oppenheimer (or two perhaps, but he referred to me as “one Glenn O’Brien” as if I were an impertinent sort crashing the party of his attention), who wrote a book called Wisenheimer and who fancies himself the same.
He took me to task in a piece called Fancypants which relates how my book has cured him of recent irrational craving for the selvedge denim he can’t afford because he has three daughters who will be going to college in about 15 years. (Oh, here read it yourself and come back http://www.slate.com/id/2294904/)
I have been surprised several times by persons interpreting How to Be a Man as an exhortation to hogwild spending. Apparently he discovered my existence while reading up on bespoke suits. Now, having read my book, he feels guilty about his brief insanity and will be ever after content with occasion need driven forays into T.J.Maxx.
Oddly, he seemed to have mostly enjoyed the book and I am praised for this and that turn of phrase, but then he turns against it, apparently when he has me figured out. He writes of me “He hates religion, as many of the best people do.” (Oppenheimer has a doctorate in religious studies –and two cats.) “But that hatred seems to extend to any code that might demand sacrifice. There is no mention in this book of charity, for example; manhood apparently does not recommend even fashionable sorts of largesse, like giving away money or serving on nonprofit boards. It certainly does not include picking up litter at the neighborhood park, or volunteering for the PTA. From what I can tell, manhood does not require voting.” Ouch! How does he know I’m not out there with a top of the line Orang U Tongs PRO 33 aluminum reacher litter grabber and Hermes coveralls? Apparently he hasn’t read the bragging about pro bono work part of my resume or seen me obliging the pan handlers in my rich neighborhood. But maybe he has been in touch with the PTA.
He concludes that I am probably quite sad, that I don’t “seem to like women much” and like children even less. I guess he thinks I don’t like kids, because I don’t reveal much about mine in the book. Well, I admit I’m not much of a stage dad, but really I don’t think that my kids are anybody’s business. Actually I think kids have a right to privacy that should make writers think twice about using them as material. And anybody who knows me even remotely or by sight knows that I love women. I’m just trying to cut down.
Anyway, it’s all good press. I don’t care if you like the book, as long as you read. I would like to know, though, how he got the idea that this book is a collection of re-printed pieces. It’s not! One or two things have been published before, and like any writer, even a weisenheimer, I do sometimes steal from myself. “A good line bears repeating,” I often repeat to myself.
The same thing was said in the other high class slam I got recently, a review entitled “A Brave New Fagginess” by Jason Ross, a writer for the Daily Show, who is showing his depth, or is it breadth, by taking me to task in Bookforum, the literary arm of Artforum, my old stomping grounds before I went shallow. He says “much of it (is) re-purposed from his columns.” Not!
Mr. Ross assaults me in a very clever way, which I enjoyed thoroughly, and maybe he even believes it when he suggests I’d spend four hundred dollars for a necktie (or that there is a four hundred dollar necktie.) But I would take issue (or at least take out the italics) where he scoffs “I wish he were joking when he informs us…”It is in the interest of big business for there to be fewer workers and for them to have shorter lives.” Think big dude. Think like John Stuart Mill. As the work force ages it gets slower, more inefficient, more bitter and likely to organize. If it keeled over before 65 then there’s no Social Security time bomb. I’m not just selling neckties here, I’m think macroeconomics! In any case, I can’t wait to read Mr. Ross’s Earth: The Book (or see the movie.)
In any case, I hope that you’ll check out my book. I know it’s not perfect (I do mention Beau Brummell a few too many times, perhaps, but I was just trying to point out that how we look is really political, look at John Boehner.) I think I’m going to mention him even more!
But it’s still better than most. Makes me laugh and I’m a repeat reader. It’s big in France! It looks really good, and you don’t have to worry about fucking up the dust jacket.