Book Preview By Katia Dunn
Jonathan Ames' latest book, My Less Than Secret Life, is filled with essays (initially published in his column in the New York Press) which are "a public diary," as he describes it, and detail his life as he engages in a bizarre boxing match, flirts, screws, and travels. The other parts of the book, billed as fiction and essays, are a bit more linear, but are very similar in voice and content. Ames' work is colored by descriptions of events and feelings, which would be, for most people, extremely private.
"Toward women, I have sexist impulses," he confesses in "The Curse of the Fried Plantain," as he realizes the magnitude of his socially inappropriate impulses. "If from a distance I see an attractive woman, I say to the locker room in my mind, 'What have we got here?' And then when she comes alongside me, I say to her in my mind, 'Hey baby.' And then when she passes me, I want to smack her rear. This compulsion is particularly strong if I have a newspaper, then I really want to give those beautiful butts a good swat."
Admiring the honesty in Ames' writing, I thought it might be fun to see exactly how much honesty I could get from him. Preparing for this interview, I wrote questions like, "Have you ever had sexual desires for your parents?", "What kinds of crimes have you committed in your life?", and, the question of which I was most proud--which I was going to ask at the end of the interview--"So we've talked about you for awhile, what do you think about me?"
However, the first thing I asked him, before any of these questions, was, "Are you as frank in real life as you are in writing?" to which he replied, "Probably not. I guess I am frank, but in real life it's not appropriate to talk about one's self like I do in print. Sometimes, because of my writing, people will feel they can talk to me about extremely personal things, and they'll come up to me at readings and ask me questions about it. I usually don't answer them."
Oh. Hmm. Weeeeell then... um... I didn't quite know what to say. Pretty much all my questions, carefully prepared ahead of time, were ruled out immediately. Instead, I improvised. Quickly. The following is part of the conversation that transpired.
Is there freedom in writing about things that are so private?
There is freedom in it, romantically, because if someone reads my work, even if it's not the whole picture of who I am, at least they know what they're getting into, but at the same time, it can be a prison, because people get freaked out, or they make assumptions about me that they shouldn't. I make myself out to be weirder than who I am, or maybe I'm weirder inside, and I don't even know what my life is or who I am. Originally, the title for the book was going to be I'm not who I think I am. It's sort of like a deflection.
Why not write about what is absolutely true?
Maybe that's too dangerous, maybe I'm not a criminal, maybe I need some privacy.
Is your real life less interesting than the one you create?
No. Every human being is fascinating; everyone in the world has got a story. My life is probably more interesting than what I'm able to write.
Do you feel good after publishing this book?
It's such a big production, even for such a small, frivolous endeavor, and there are a lot of typos in the book. You know how, when you're a perfectionist, you have one pimple, and even though the rest of your skin is clear, you can only see the pimple? I'm just really feeling degraded by the typos. But other than that, I'm glad it's out in the world, and even though I'm pretty much broke, there's a little pilot light of hope. With everything else going on in the world, I have a pretty good, silly little life.
A lot of other writers I know aspire to change the world. It doesn't seem like you have such lofty ambitions.
I guess not. I don't try, consciously or unconsciously, to change the world. I might make one or two lonely middle class people feel less lonely, and why not give them a little entertainment? Books have been my greatest friends, so I'm trying to pay them back. I don't' know too many people whose books will change the world, but maybe they will all add up to be man-improving. I don't think one book will do that, but maybe many will. Maybe I'm part of that cosmic spider web. KATIA DUNN