If you've ever wandered whether bookstore employees judge your choice of books, you'll be happy to know you're very perceptive. As someone who worked in a bookstore for 4 years, I can tell you that we judged, criticized, and scorned you. We made fun of your mystery books, your politics books, your CDs, your wall calendars, and even your pop-up books. We were superior in every single way.
The good news, though, is that you were not our main targets of scorn. Your ridiculous purchases were nothing compared to a random paragraph from a random best-seller. We used to pick these books, these "beach reading" or even "reading group" books, and tear them apart when there were no customers around.
Which is why every bookstore employee, like every record store employee (which is also something I did in the past, of course), is so hopelessly frustrated all the time. How come a book about knitting sweaters out of dog hair gets published, but I can't get an agent to read my inner-conflict masterpiece? Vampires? Really? Alternate history novels? Again with the "What if the Nazis had won"?
Every once in a while, though, we read a book that has the opposite effect. Instead of pushing us to write (because the world needs us, dammit!), a book makes us realize there is in fact such a thing as good writing. It's depressing at first, the realization that the world may not need us after all, but it's also a good thing. It reminds us of the magic of reading (remember that?). It gets us into the mind of the writer, and resistance is futile.
Dan Zevin's new book, Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Interaction of Dude and Dad is that kind of book. It makes me want to be a reader, rather than obsess about writing. It makes me laugh even though I'm sitting by myself. Actually, while reading the book, I tried to remember when was the last time I laughed like that, and I had to go all the way back to Three Men in a Boat. It's that good.
In Dan Gets a Minivan, Zevin gives us his story--the story of a man in his 40s, who struggles to discover his true identity, in a way. Will his new minivan define him? Will his kids change him to something he hates, to someone he loves, or to someone he should leave alone because introspection is a young man's game?
Really, I'm probably doing the book injustice by over-analyzing. It's the book I would have written if I had been a better writer and had a better sense of humor.
Most importantly, don't worry about me. The feeling that the world doesn't need my masterpiece won't last long. And even though I no longer work in a bookstore, the arrogant prick mentality will stay with me forever. Soon, another vampire best seller will make the rounds. I'll watch the movie and see the vampire playing piano with his teenage lover, and think, "I should really start working on that screenplay."
I was given a free copy to review, etc...