Because it's easy, it's therefore tempting to lump Jonathan Ames in with This American Life's coffee klatch of Sarah Vowell and Davids Sedaris and Rakoff.>"/>
Because it's easy, it's therefore tempting to lump Jonathan Ames in with This American Life's coffee klatch of Sarah Vowell and Davids Sedaris and Rakoff. Yes, he has a distinct voice and writes about himself and is wry and witty. So what if he's never actually been on NPR? Ames really is in a class all his own. I Love You More Than You Know (Black Cat, $14), his new collection of essays, journalism, and invented words—don't ask, it's for McSweeney's—is moving to the point of tears, silly to the point of incontinence. In short, this is a joyous book. Ames' prose has a simple clarity that's contrasted by his adventures, which are depraved, original, and deeply tender. Many who peddle in the first person rely on the humor of self-deprecation or confession. Ames confesses to many things—visiting French hookers, for instance, and chronic anal itch—yet his candor doesn't come across as a self-conscious gag. Part of his talent is an ability to quietly enlist us as accomplices in his bad behavior. Whether it's getting trashed at the house of a now-engaged ex-girlfriend or visiting a suburban dominatrix (while his mother baby-sits his 4-year-old son), we're on his side, even though we probably shouldn't be. And that's part of the fun. Why do we root for the guy? Because beneath the booze, S&M, and hookers, he has a wonderful instinct for life's simple, dare I say pure, pleasures. One is recounted in "I Called Myself El Cid," about his collegiate obsession with defeating an archrival in fencing. Reading about this Princeton student psyching himself up by having a teammate punch him in the face, well, it's hard to buy David Brooks' contention that college kids have no character. And then, in "My Weiner Is Damaged," we're with Ames and his now-12-year-old son, whom he—ever the good parent— entertains with fart noises and dick jokes. But it's a different kind of dick joke, desexualized, and a different kind of pleasure than he finds with the hookers. He creates enjoyment in these 30 pieces—most previously published in annals like The New York Press and The Onion—with his fresh, unashamed curiosity about almost any topic. (Even his mash notes to Cobain and Kerouac escape cliché.) He jumps from personal essays to journalism about a man who cleans up crime scenes to covering the 2002 Mike Tyson–Lennox Lewis fight in Memphis, where he meets Budd Schulberg, goes to a swingers' club, and gets stuck by the crotch while climbing over a chain-link fence (though not in that order). With a less gifted writer, we might need a reprieve from such wide-ranging stunts. With Ames, we don't even ask. email@example.com NextBook presents Jonathan Ames with Neal Pollack and Amy Sohn: Tractor Tavern (5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., 888-621-2230; $6–$8, 21 and over), 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 9.