Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal by Ben Sasse: A Profound and Helpful (and Hopeful) Book I Wish I Could Adequately Discuss

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

Hardcover, 288 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2018
Read: November 27 – 30, 2018

I really do prefer to come up with my own synopsis/summary, but I was struggling to come up with one without this taking 3-4 times as much space as I usually do for an entire post. So, I’ll just use the Publisher’s:

           Something is wrong. We all know it.

American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic.

What’s causing the despair?

In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight—and it bubbles out as anger.

Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships—life’s fundamental pillars—are in statistical freefall.

As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.

There’s a path forward—but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls.

America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor and connect with your community. Fixing what’s wrong with the country depends on it.

Now, a lot of people are talking about/writing about negative tweets, hostility between parties, loss of civility, etc. in our contemporary culture. But most of them are discussing symptoms of something deeper — and addressing the symptoms isn’t going to help much. Sasse wants to focus on the underlying issues and spends a lot of time talking about them before describing how he best thinks we can take care of them (and the symptoms).

I am not entirely convinced that he’s diagnosing the problems correctly — but he’s as close as I’ve seen. In short, we’ve stopped seeing our fellow Americans as countrymen that need to be convinced and compromised with, instead as evil opponents that need to be defeated and humiliated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics, social policy, or people who like a TV show you don’t. The loss of civility, decency and humility in our culture is a clear and present danger to our union.

I’ve got a strong, strong desire to spend a week or two posting about this book — going through it a chapter at a time. But this isn’t that kind of blog — and I just don’t have that kind of time. There are places for that sort of conversation, this isn’t one of them. The books thought-provoking, inspiring, discouraging, and entertaining — not usually at the same time, but frequently within a couple of pages. I took pages of notes — really. Some of them just because I liked his phrasing. Some because I wanted to spend some time thinking about what he said, or doing follow-up reading, Some because I thought he nailed the idea.

Now, while Sasse goes to great pains to keep the book a-political (at least when it comes to specific policies), he correctly sees that politics is one of the main ways we’re separating ourselves from one another — or are being separated by them. So he talks about some of the ways that’s happening, and because he’s more familiar with the antics of the Right, he focuses primarily on them (also, it’ll give him more credibility to beat up his “own” team than the other guys). There are some Republicans that he cites favorably, and some Democrats that he puts in negative light — but primarily, Democrats come out of his book looking a lot better than his fellow Republicans do. I liked that a lot. If nothing else, it shows that Sasse’s willing to practice a lot of what he preaches (maybe all of it, I don’t know).

Sasse writes with conviction and compassion, humor and wisdom, even if (maybe especially if) you disagree with his politics, he’ll win you over with his common-sense realism. Some of his proposed solutions seem very pie-in-the-sky, and those are my favorites. Some of them seem more likely to succeed, but either way, just people talking and thinking about them is a step in the right direction. And I can’t help but imagine just that would be enough to satisfy Sasse. Read this book. Get others to read it. Talk about it.

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5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

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You Had Me at Woof (Audiobook) by Julie Klam, Karen White: A meandering mess of vaguely dog-related memoirs.

You Had Me at WoofYou Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness

by Julie Klam, Karen White (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 44 mins
Tantor Audio, 2010
Read: November 1 – 6, 2018

From the Publisher’s Site:

           Julie Klam was thirty, single, and working as a part-time clerk in an insurance company, wondering if she would ever meet the man she could spend the rest of her life with. And then it happened. She met the irresistible Otto, her first in a long line of Boston terriers, and fell instantly in love.

You Had Me at Woof is the often hilarious and always sincere story of how one woman discovered life’s most important lessons from her relationships with her canine companions. From Otto, Julie realized what it might feel like to find “the one.” She learned to share her home, her heart, and her limited resources with another, and she found an authentic friend in the process. But that was just the beginning. Over the years her brood has grown to one husband, one daughter, and several Boston terriers. And although she had much to learn about how to care for them—walks at 2 a.m., vet visits, behavior problems—she was surprised and delighted to find that her dogs had more wisdom to convey to her than she had ever dreamed. And caring for them has made her a better person—and completely and utterly opened her heart.

Riotously funny and unexpectedly poignant, You Had Me at Woof recounts the hidden surprises, pleasures, and revelations of letting any mutt, beagle, terrier, or bulldog go charging through your world.

Spend much time around this blog and you’ll know I’m a sucker for dogs — real or fictional — if a book has a strong dog element in it, I’m sold. This should’ve been right up my alley. I expected to really dig it — but the reality didn’t match my expectation.

These meandering personal essays/memoirs are organized by lessons taught by various dogs, sure, but they didn’t seem as well-organized as those from similar books by Dave Barry or David Rosenfelt (or maybe it’s just guys named David that think like this). I didn’t think the voice was very consistent throughout — I frequently couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be laughing with Klam or at her. Or maybe I shouldn’t have been laughing at all. I didn’t find a lot to relate to — or even grab on to — in some of the anecdotes, other than a sense of pity for the two-legged individuals in her family and life. (that came out a little harsher than I intended, but I’m sticking with it).

I can’t point at anything in particular — other than her unessential and unsubtle celebrity name-dropping — that I didn’t like. I guess I found the thing too unfocused, too inconsistent, and not enough about the actual dogs. It seemed to be more about her in relation to various dogs. To an extent that’s true with the aforementioned books by the various David’s, too — but I don’t think it’s as much about them (although, I never wondered who I was supposed to be laughing at with them).

Is it possible that my problems with the book are in the narration? Sure, a lot of it comes down to understanding Klam’s voice, and Karen White’s interpretation of that could be affecting me enough to not appreciate the book. But I don’t think so — I can’t imagine an audiobook director or publisher is going to let something that disconnected from the text be produced, and White seemed to match the text and context with what she was doing. Granted that’s hard to know without reading the text independently, but I don’t care that much. If the text is really that slippery, that’s on Klam anyway, not White.

Oh, here’s something I really appreciated about the book — Klam talks at least twice about dog owners who will replace a beloved pet with one of the same breed and general appearance and give it the same name (sometimes several times). This answers a question I asked a couple of weeks ago. Even knowing this is a thing that people who aren’t Robert B. Parker or Robert B. Parker characters do, it’s still messed up. Happily, Klam agrees.

The concluding anecdote was good — maybe a bit too much, really — but it was sweet. And the section about dealing with the death (expected or not) of a dog was really strong. That’s why I’m not listing this as 2 Stars or fewer. There’s some really decent writing here, but the voice was inconsistent, the whole thing felt too self-serving, and . . . well, there’s just something intangible that happens between the reader and the text, and I just didn’t like this one. It’s not a bad book, per se. But it’s not a good one.

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2 1/2 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

So Let It Be Written by Mark Eglinton: A Disappointingly Delivered Account of a Rock Star’s Career

So Let It Be WrittenSo Let It Be Written: The Biography of Metallica’s James Hetfield

by Mark Eglinton

Paperback, 219 pg.
Lesser Gods, 2017
Read: October 29 – 30, 2018
Here’s the Publisher’s synopsis:

           The first and only biography of one of the best front men of the modern era.

With James Hetfield at the helm, Metallica went from being thrash pioneers to heavy metal gods. He overcame adolescent upheaval and personal demons—including his parents’ divorce, his mother’s untimely death and severe alcoholism—to become metal’s biggest star.

So Let It Be Written does justice to the many hats Hetfield has worn, with his strong leadership, signature vocal style, powerful guitar-playing and masterful songwriting. Author Mark Eglinton uses exclusive, firsthand interviews—with prominent rock stars and key figures in Hetfield’s life—to construct the definitive account of Hetfield.

There are many problems with this book. If it is a definitive account of Hetfield, it’s because there’s not a lot of competition. The firsthand interviews seem to be with people who knew Hetfield in school or shortly thereafter — or friends of former bandmates. For insights from people closer to him, Eglinton seems to rely on interviews published in magazines or done on TV or in a documentary. I could be wrong about that — there might be more original research performed by him, but given the utter lack of citation, it’s hard to say for sure.

This book is primarily about Hetfield’s professional life, following the account of Hetfield’s mother’s death, we maybe get two full paragraphs (scattered over chapters) about Hetfield’s family (but repeated statements that family is the most important thing to Hetfield), and his friendships outside the band aren’t given much more space.

Rather than a biography of James Hetfield, this comes across as the story of Metallica with a focus on the input, influence, and antics of Hetfield. With a special emphasis on glorying in the music and lyrics of the albums leading up to Metallica/The Black Album, and in denigrating everything from Load through the build-up for the release of Hardwired… to Self-Destruct, which wasn’t released in time for him to come up with a strong opinion about (with some okay words directed to the documentaries and films produced in that time).

It’s clear that Eglinton was a fan of early Metallica, and has a wide appreciation for and knowledge of the metal scene. He has the knowledge base and the passion to produce a strong book about the band — but he seems to lack the ability to focus on the life of one man. Somehow, the author wrote a similar looking book, James Hetfield: The Wolf at Metallica’s Door, seven years earlier than this — and it was longer. I’m not sure how he pulled that off — my guess is more analysis of the contents of albums and/or his estimation of their worth. I’m curious about the differences between the two, but not enough to put up with reading it to compare.

James Hetfield is a deeply flawed, incredibly talented, and interesting figure. A biography of him should be intrinsically and automatically fascinating, and it takes a certain kind of author to take that potential and turn it into a disappointment. Sadly, Eglinton is just that kind of author.

Don’t bother.

—–

2 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

✔ Read a memoir or biography of a musician you like.

The Ten Commandments by Kevin DeYoung: A Warm, Engaging Study of God’s Revealed Will

The Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them

by Kevin DeYoung

eARC, 208 pg.
Crossway, 2018
Read: September 23, 2018

My initial thought when I saw this book was: do we need another popular-level work on The Ten Commandments? We’ve got so many already, like: Ryken’s Written in Stone, Horton’s The Law of Perfect Freedom, Packer’s Growing in Christ. We’ve got Douma’s, Watson’s and Durham’s (newly republished) on the heavier end of the spectrum, too. Why bring out a new book by DeYoung? Still, I was intrigued, so I requested a copy.

Not too surprisingly, I’m glad I did. This is typical DeYoung: a strong, affectionate, orthodox take on the Law delivered in a very accessible and affable manner. He made me think, he made me reconsider a thing or two, and he reminded me of a few things I needed reminding of.

He begins this work against the framework of the secular “anything goes” point of view, where everything certainly does not go — as much as we as a culture might rail against an external source of morality — there are things that simply cannot be said or done. Giving us a choice between humanity’s unwritten, assumed code — or God’s revealed will. DeYoung then goes on to list reasons for the study as well as the following of God’s Law.

The other important groundwork comes from the midst of his very strong chapter on the First Commandment in which he describes the role of the Law for New Covenant believers. It’s still applicable, still binding — just in a different manner. I think this could’ve been developed more — maybe in its own chapter, but what we got here was good. I do particularly appreciate his metaphor of transposition. The Law in the New Covenant is the same for believers as it was in the Old, it’s just in a different key.

Following the introduction where he lays out his framework, DeYoung turns to consider the commandments individually. This is the bulk of — and the heart of — the book, with a chapter devoted to each commandment. If the book has any value, it’ll be found here, and there’s a lot of it to be found. I briefly considered summarizing each chapter, but why steal his thunder. Also, he’s not carving out anything new here, so there’s little need. What’s new is his expression of the timeless truths, his way of explaining and applying them. If you want a quick summary of what he’ll say about each commandment read The Heidelberg Catechism questions 92-115 or the Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 39-85, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

Instead, I’ll just comment on a few highlights and a couple of problems I had (your mileage may vary). I found his comments regarding the Fourth Commandment to be helpful, but hesitant — in his effort to not be legalistic, or overly dogmatic, he comes across as wishy-washy. I appreciated most of what he had to say about the Second Commandment, but again, he’s hesitant enough in some of his application to stumble a bit. Which is not to say that the bulk of those chapters weren’t good and helpful — they were. I think he could’ve been more consistently so.

Conversely, the chapters on the Eighth and Tenth commandments were incredibly helpful. If you ask me, these two are where the American Church and American Christians stumble more often than we realize (or care about). Publicly, Protestants are expounding so much energy on certain applications of the Sixth and Seventh commandments that one would be tempted to think that 8-10 are concerns of the past. DeYoung doesn’t let the reader think that for an instant, and if you don’t come away from these chapters with a good dose of conviction of your own sin, you probably didn’t read it too closely.

The chapter on the Third Commandment was invaluable also. It’s far too easy for Western Christians to reduce this to “don’t be a potty mouth” and far too hard for us to really get what the importance of “name of the Lord” is. DeYoung does a yeoman’s job on both fronts and does a good job expounding the meaning of this commandment.

You’ll never walk away from any of these chapters thinking that DeYoung is writing a hellfire and brimstone jeremiad against the Church, you, or anyone. He’s sharply critical of a lot of general culture, and individual inclinations, but that’s to be expected. There’s conviction and inspiration both to be found in these pages — all delivered in DeYoung’s warm, almost conversational, style — a strong blend of wit and charm with the steel in his words. I won’t get into it, but his chapter on the Third Commandment contains one of the funniest anecdotes (more in the telling than the story) I’ve read from him. Ignoring his content for a moment, his writing style is what will keep me coming back to DeYoung’s books for years to come.

I think I’ve said before, I’m not a big one for study/discussion questions in books — I like to think the engaged reader doesn’t need them and someone leading a discussion/study of a book will be clever enough to come up with their own. But, I’m obviously swimming against the tide on this because publishers keep printing them. That said, on the whole, this is a pretty good set of questions and would help someone who likes those kind of questions for their own use or for those using the book in Family Worship, Sunday School, or Bible Study.

In the end, my question, do we need another popular-level book on The Ten Commandments? Is answered yes: we need frequent — constant — reminders of the revealed will we’ve been called to obey, so we never stop striving for that perfection and never cease calling on the Spirit’s assistance. We also need to remember how great our sin and misery are so that we constantly live lives of repentance. So bring on DeYoung’s good summary. And others as well — and we need to read them, as well as the older popular-level works. And then we need to push ourselves and read some of the less-popular level ones as well.

This is a good, short set of meditations and reflections on the perfect law, the law of liberty for a contemporary audience. It’s approachable, it’s warm, it’s pointed, and it’s Gospel-centered. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. It functions well as a refresher for those who need one, and a good starting point for their own study of The Ten Commandments. I’m buying a copy (at least one) for my personal library and will be encouraging my household to read it — and anyone else who asks.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 Stars

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook) by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne: A Mix of Common Sense, Cynicism, Self-Aggrandizement, Clever Writing, and a Great Narrator

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 17 min.
HarperAudio, 2016

Read: October 1, 2018

I’d seen this book around, and let my eyes slide right off given the title. Clearly, it wasn’t for me. Then a couple of months ago, I heard it referenced in a couple of podcast interviews (no, I don’t remember who talked about it — but at least one of them said something thoughtful about it) and my cubicle-mate listened to it at the same time and seemed to enjoy it. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, really.

I’m also glad that HarperCollins’ website gives such a thorough blurb about the book, which will save me so much time — so let’s take a moment to read what they said:

           In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be “positive” all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F**k positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—”not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault.” Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

Sure, some of that is overblown — its point is to sell you the book, right? But, by and large, that’s a good summary of the book’s highlights. Manson’s point isn’t to stop giving a f*ck period, it’s to give fewer f*cks in general and to make sure the f*cks you give are for the right/important stuff in life. That’s pretty basic, but pretty easily ignored advice: everything seems important, but not everything is. Focus on the important stuff, care about that, and let the rest go — if it works out, great. I’m not sure if this is different from Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — but it probably has more laughs and profanity.

Manson is entirely too impressed with himself (or at least he comes across that way), and he never convinces me that there’s a reason to heed his advice over anyone else’s. But on the whole, what he says makes a lot of sense. Do I think that ultimately, this is all a house of cards that won’t stand intense scrutiny? Yup. But I think that of every bit of man-made advice — Manson’s is more amusingly delivered than most, and won’t get the devotee into too much trouble if they apply this recklessly.

Roger Wayne’s narration elevates the entire thing — there’s not a moment that I don’t confuse his voice for Manson’s. It felt like I was attending one of the most intense self-help seminars in history and that Manson got going and just wouldn’t stop (not that anyone tried to make him). Wayne added voices (his Disappointment Panda voice is the best character I’ve heard in an audiobook since Luke Daniel’s take on Hearne’s Oberon), flair and a sense of passion to the text. When Manson approached poignancy, Wayne made it all the more so. Fantastic work.

I’d probably give this 3-stars if I’d read the text — amusing, thought-provoking, with some good advice. But, you add in Wayne’s narration? I’ve got to bump it up to 4. Seriously, he’s just that good. This isn’t a book for everyone (I know several readers of this blog that should avoid it just for the language), but for those who are capable of sorting out the wheat from the chaff — this is a fun and potentially helpful read.

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4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook) by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur: A close-up look at the Cartoonist and His Creation

I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to get this header to look decent — and I give up. It’s just going to look awkward given the length of the title.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes (Audiobook)Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip

by Nevin Martell, Jeremy Arthur (Narrator)
Unabridged Audiobook, 7 hrs., 9 min.
ListenUp Production, 2014
Read: September 25 – 27, 2018
Nevin Martell, like just about everyone who ever read him, is a Calvin and Hobbes fan — what’s more, he discovered the strip at the right age and was able to appreciate it as only a child can — without being self-conscious about reading a comic strip and with devotion. Years later, when trying to write something more meaningful to him than another book about a pop star, he decides to write about that strip and its reclusive creator.

The reclusive part of that sentence is the key — Watterson had (and has) pretty much dropped off the face of the earth as far as your typical person is concerned. A few select friends, business acquaintances and family members can get in touch with him, but no one else can. This isn’t crippling to a book about his comic strips or himself, but it sure hampers it (especially because those people who can get in touch with him are just about as reticent as he is to talk about him or his work). Unencumbered by access to Watterson himself, and his perspective on his life and career was like, what his influences were, what made him make the creative decisions, etc. Martell dove into research — things written about and by Watterson, archives of his previous work (when and where available) and interviews with colleagues, editors and the like.

In the kind of detail only a scholar or a fan can appreciate, Martell describes Watteron’s childhood, college, and pre-Calvin and Hobbes career; then he discusses that comic strip — major themes — and its publishing history; Watterson’s battle to keep control of the strip, its merchandising/licensing; then he describes Watterson’s retirement. As much of that as he can, which isn’t much. Following that, Martell focuses on things like the impact of Watterson on the industry, his relationships with other cartoonists and is influence on those who followed.

I wish he’d given us more (and maybe he gave us all he could, but I don’t think so) from Watterson’s contemporaries/those he influenced in the field of comics (or related fields — he spoke with a novelist and Dave Barry, too). Martell spoke to many and gave us a lot of what he was told — but I’d have appreciated more coming from professionals about Watterson’s strengths, technique, stories — whatever. Sure, it might have gotten a little redundant, but something tells me that it wouldn’t have been too bad. These were my favorite parts of the book, and I could’ve listened to another hour of them easily.

I’m not convinced that I was ever as invested in Martell’s journey as he seemed to think his readers would (should?) be — and I’m okay with that. I know I tend to overshare here a tad myself — so I understand the impulse. Or maybe I’m just callous, and everyone else got into it.

As far as Arthur’s work narrating — there’s not a lot to say. This isn’t a work of fiction where he can play with characters, pacing, and whatnot. It’s a straightforward text and he does a capable job of reading it in a straightforward manner. I did have to remind myself a couple of times that I was listening to someone Martell’s words rather than listening to him — which I guess is a good thing.

It was a pleasant book, nothing too challenging — and it reinvigorated an impulse to go read a collection or two of Watterson again on my part (and some of Larson’s The Far Side, too — I’m sure there’s an interesting book to be written there, too). It’s not a must-read, but it’ll scratch an itch for those who have an interest in the subject.

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3 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott
eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

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5 Stars