A couple of months ago while reading my twitter feed (mostly stand up comics and witty writers), I came across an opportunity to sign up for an online book club and free copy of America, You Sexy Bitch by Michael Ian Black and Megan McCain.
Book blogger Mandy Boles was kicking off a new project on her blog, "Mandy's Blogger Bookclub." To celebrate the project, she gave away 50 copies of America, You Sexy Bitch! Gave away! I am a huge fan of Michael Ian Black, so I signed up and won a copy. The only requirement was to write a review and post it on my blog by August 15. (Ooops. I'm late. Sorry, Mandy.)
First, a confession. I decided to buy the audio book rather than read the actual book -- as you can see in this photo. It's narrated by MIB and Megan McCain and I think that adds a lot of personality and nuance to the stories and thoughts in the book.
The framework of the book is that MIB (Michael Ian Black) is a 40 something, married, liberal, atheist, east-coast, comedian and Megan is a 20 something, whiskey-drinking, Republican, Christian, raised-on-an-Arizona-ranch, political commentator. They decide to take a road trip across the US, visit some of our cultural touchstones, meet all kinds of people and discuss why they believe what they believe. And then write a book about it. The book bounces back and forth between the authors, each describing events, people and places on the trip.
Interesting, right? I had high hopes. Let's look at this book from two angles.
First, as a book of witty essays mixed with travelogue and politics...
It's not great. It's fine and I enjoyed it, but it's choppy and rather self-serving. I expected a collection of ideas about specific issues with related experiences and thoughts gathered from the road trip. Instead, it's just a bunch of blathering around the edges of the real meaning of the major questions that face our country. Mixed in with lots of alcohol, whining and descriptions of what people were wearing -- or not wearing.
I have to say MIB is a great writer. I love his voice -- both his actual voice as heard on the audio book and his style as a writer. He is wicked funny. He finds a way to say things that are very personal and insightful with a unique bent of eccentric observation. (He's recent memoir, You're Not Doing It Right, is one of the best books I've read/listened to all year.)
On the other hand, I find Megan very predictable. Her writing is full of cliches -- political buzz phrases that lack depth and general stale language that shows lack of creativity. I really wanted to like her. I love that she tries to represent a different voice in the republican party. I even wanted to chalk it up to immaturity, but she's 27. That's not that young. Plus, she's a professional -- she works for MSNBC, The Daily Beast and is a regular "talking head" throughout the media. She could (and should) be better at what she does.
At one point in the book, Megan makes fun of Michael for carrying a notebook everywhere they went. If you went on a road trip with the specific intent to write about the experience, wouldn't you carry a notebook and keep track of things you wanted to write about?
Second, as a book that can generate discussion and encourage new ways to think about various ideas and issues...
It's pretty awesome. In fact, I'd love to sit around with a handful of folks and really talk about it. Mandy posted several very-thoughtful questions directly related to the book and lots of bloggers have posted their reviews. (A collection of blog posts about a book doesn't really feel like a "book club," but it's still interesting.)
They touch on guns, drugs, gay rights, religion, Hurricane Katrina, marriage, strippers and military service.
Here is one of Mandy's questions:
How do you feel about the disagreement Meghan and Michael have in the
bar on the fourth of July? “Freedom Doesn’t Come Free” – Trite or Right?
Toward the end of the book, Megan expresses what it's like to send a loved one off to war. She says, "... no one gets to lecture me, or my family, about war unless they've experienced it as well."
This is the topic that continues to bounce around in my heart and mind. Megan was completely dismissive of Micheal's views about the military because she felt he didn't have the personal experience required to make judgement. I sent my husband off to military service many times in his 16 and a half years in the Navy. So, I've got experience. It's a very complicated topic that I'm not interested in including in this "review," but maybe some day in another blog post. Or maybe not. Or maybe if you and I are ever on a road trip together, we can have a real conversation.
Speaking of conversation, the book is successful there. It really is a conversation and that is sorely lacking in our current political landscape. Thanks for letting us eavesdrop, Michael and Megan.
If you got through this very wordy post and you're still interested in the book, I'd be happy to send you my copy. Mandy was so generous and gathered together so many interesting ideas and readers, I'm happy to keep it going.