December 28, 2010

Sh*t My Dad Says -- The Right Book Review

After a failed relationship, 29 year old Justin Halpern returns home to live with his Dad and sort out his life.

He begins to document all of his father's crazy bits of wisdom and cultivates a large social-media following with Twitter and Facebook accounts called Shit My Dad Says.

He also lands a book deal.

If that doesn't make every struggling novelist want to choke someone, nothing will.

What makes Shit My Dad Says an entertaining read is how likable old Sam Halpern comes across -- and not in the way you'd expect. You'd expect him to be a hard-nosed, blue-collar auto worker more interested in drinking himself to death than dealing with family.

Instead, Halpern, who spent a career in nuclear medicine, reads more like a man who does not suffer fools lightly. A dedicated, well-educated family man disinterested in (read: annoyed by) social conventions. Beneath the gruff, oft-foul exterior, a motivation to see his family succeed and live meaningful lives.

Even better is how amidst his profane existence, his cut-and-dried breakdown of humanity, he exudes wisdom that reams of Oprah-sogged self-help drivel circle around. That life is about a series of choices, and those choices have consequences. A trait the publishers were obviously aware of.

The books is structured much in the same way a self-help book would be. Each chapter bearing a bumper-sticker slogan of advice, followed by a few anecdotes to tie it all together. It's all a facade, really. Shit My Dad Says is more about the relationship between a father and son than convincing the world of a particular morality. Halpern isn't trying to tell you how to live.

What is that wisdom? In a nutshell, that we are human beings, driven by biological impulses, and a mostly errant method of meeting these impulses. That love, family, loyalty are serious and important, but not so serious and important that one cannot interrupt them with a good shit or latent screw.

I'm not going to post any quotes here. To do so would show the humor of them, but also take away from the book as a whole. The quotes work much better within the context of the book in its entirety.

It's not a work of literary genius. The prose is quite poor -- a hackneyed bit of grammar that reflects a generation spending most of its time quick-quipping online. The book also feels like it could be about 50 pages longer.

Yes, it's one of those fad books. No, I do not usually read them. Yes, my wife got it for Christmas and I stole it to boost my 2010 book list. And yes, it was worth it.

The book is damn funny, sincere as hell. A pleasant surprise to cap off a year's reading.

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