Saturday, October 01, 2005

My Goodness Runs Out Of Steam

Since I troll the bargain bins for much of my reading material, my book reviews are admittedly not often timely. On the bright side, if the book is lousy I can take solace in the fact that I didn't pay full price (I might break even selling it to the local used book store). I recently finished Joe Queenan's My Goodness: A Cynic's Short-Lived Search For Sainthood, which was published in 2000. The book appealed to me because I am just a bit cynical myself (nah!), plus it promised to be entertaining after a quick sampling in the book store.

Queenan gets off to a good start as long as you can play along with his misguided premise that celebrity is a prerequisite for sainthood. With that guideline, Queenan seeks to become Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Sting, and Jackson Browne all wrapped up in one. He buys into the whole "perform random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" thing, which I have always found ridiculous. The only person I ever met who espoused this was in fact not kind at all, despite her self-image (or maybe she just hated me). Queenan changes overnight to an organic, vegan diet. He listens only to socially conscious music and watches a slew of bad movies because they feature activist actors. He also sets out to right some of the wrongs of his career as a cynical writer with reams of apologetic letters. Doing all of this at once is a tall order, so inevitably there are problems along the way.

There is plenty of humorous writing here as Queenan strives to become a do-gooder. I could identify with his quest for a rare CD, which he undertook for a stranger. His "dolci for dissidents" program to deliver Italian sweets to the protesters camped out in Lafayette Park across from the White House was a great idea, even though it didn't work out according to plan. Though I was a little annoyed about his attendance of a rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal, all was forgiven when he confessed that he didn't really believe Abu-Jamal was innocent anyway.

The book itself unravels coincidentally around the time that Queenan finds his new lifestyle wearing thin. He includes a few exchanges of letters that are too long and not all that funny, and that is the beginning of the end. Then he figures out how much income he is giving up since all of his former clients (GQ, Movieline, et al.) want him to be mean, sarcastic, and cynical. Being nice just doesn't pay. At least there is a good moral to the story, eh?

The beauty of My Goodness is the way Queenan employs imitation as the most insincere form of flattery. Even when he tries, he still can't be entirely nice. I might have enjoyed it even more if I knew his other work, but that isn't a prerequisite. If you enjoy sarcastic writing with lots of pop culture references, My Goodness is worth picking up on the bargain table. Just don't be surprised when this "quick read" bogs down in later chapters. It's okay to skim the long letters--you're not missing much.

Note: I have posted additional comments beyond the scope of this book review here.

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