Slacker Book Club: Art of Manliness

So, now that Oprah has abandoned you, aside from the gaping void in your life, there’s going to be a gaping void in your bookshelf. For years the only books that the illiterate diptard masses have bothered reading are were the ones Oprah demanded you read. What now? Fear not, demographic that likely never watched a single episode of Oprah. Modern Slacker is here to fill the void, with regular installments in the Slacker Book Club to help guide you to fine reading recommendations you will probably never take me up on.

This first go-around I’ll be looking at The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, by Brett and Kate McKay. Not the most likely choice to set the tone here, I’ll admit. While the agenda includes more obvious titles like the Underachiever’s Manifesto and How to Be Idle, I’m starting with something a bit more counterintuitive. Why? Good question.

I scoffed at the notion of blogs for years. In their infancy, they were essentially Live Journal: the Next Generation; kids providing whinny details about their boring suburban lives, and tedious essays on their spoiled outlook, uninteresting feelings, and perceived persecution. Quickly, they took on more meaning as purveyors of news and culture from a more relatable perspective than what their corporate equivalents could provide. In the best cases, they are now heirs to the vacant or vacating legacy of the print magazine. The Art of Manliness, one such blog, from which the book is derived, was one of the first blogs I read that really provided meaningful and interesting content, and really showed that blogs could be beneficial. Accordingly, it was one of the biggest influences for me in starting this blog, so that’s why I read the book and am using it in my first Book Club column.

While I’ve enjoyed and related to many articles on their site, there does seem to be some obvious value-conflict going on here. AOM really pushes the notion that being a man means doing a lot and applying yourself with tremendous gusto. Conversely, Modern Slacker suggests that it is better to do it later. Is common ground even possible? Who cares?

Page one of the book begins with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt encouraging us to aim high and win big or lose big, safe in the knowledge that no matter the outcome, at least you won’t be one of “those cold timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” This does seem to indicate a fundamental conflict between MS and AOM. Theirs is the realm of the doer, while we are the “cold and timid souls” Teddy was knocking. While at first glance, our philosophical stances seem to be antithetical, the world of the manly gent and the slacker are not entirely mutually exclusive. Many slacker behaviors are in direct conflict with the tenets of manliness, but certainly not all. For example:

  • -I enjoy mechanical watches
  • -I enjoy using, and in fact took the notes for this very review using a fountain pen
  • -I enjoy shaving with a straight razor
  • -I enjoy a standard of grooming atypical of slacker stereotypes
  • -Slackers are known for their voracious reading and quest for knowledge (even if that knowledge is never used for anything productive)

Actually, their list of the 100 Books Every Man Should Read (a list included in the book) was the article that first took me to their site. We share a commitment to the printed word if nothing else, so that alone gives us the aforementioned common ground. Also while I do thrive on sarcasm, something they speak against multiple times in the book, I do, however, despise the cultural climate of rudeness and entitlement that they also take issue with. Sure, I hate everyone, but I don’t usually show it.

So, the seemingly disparate philosophical standpoints of our demographics notwithstanding, it’s a good site with strong, very readable content that is a credit to the intarwebs. So what about the book? OK, real review time.

The good is in abundance here, especially for those unfamiliar with the blog. The content of numerous posts and articles is represented, but carefully, thoughtfully woven together as opposed to the mindless cut-and-paste approach that I’ve seen in so many books based on blogs. They have an ample supply of quality content, so silly “blog books” tricks like enormous fonts and spacing, and page margins that you’d never dare submit to an English teacher, let alone a publisher, are nowhere to be found. The overall composition, both aesthetically and structurally, is on par with any book of traditional genesis.

Also, there is a measure of practicality in most of the content. While endlessly enjoyable, there is useful material provided, as opposed to just being a series of lengthy lectures on why you aren’t a man. Skills that seem to be on the outs, like tying a tie, are presented in reference form. In addition, the philosophical elements largely do benefit those who take them up in the quest to become a better man. Oh, and the cellphone etiquette section should be required reading for everyone. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!

Bonus points for referencing the Micro Machines guy, although these 90′s kids aren’t gonna get that. Damn whippersnappers anyway.

In my effort to provide objective reviews, I’ll note a few criticisms, minor as they are, starting with the aforementioned tie tying. There are a number of skills taught in the book, this one included, with reference diagrams that aren’t really useful. The tie drawings are of the finished result, not the process, and the accompanying text is a bit difficult to follow. Simple knot diagrams from old books showing three or four steps with arrows are clearer and more useful. Sure there are plenty of other places to get the information, but if it’s being included in a book intended for reference, lacking clearer diagrams makes it less useful and more of a novelty.

Also, a number of pieces of advice are great, hypothetically. In practice, these things fall apart. The most obvious is the section on dealing with chicks. Great hypothetical, adolescent notions, but unfortunately they don’t account for the gender’s sheer lunacy. Guessing Brett’s old lady is either the exception to their maniacal tendencies, or she wrote the section (possible 3rd explanation: he wrote it, knowing a multi-hour, perhaps multi-day bitch-fest would erupt without it).

Couple quick points:

  • - I (justifiably) fear the outdoors. Can’t I be a man in the AC?
  • - Curb my sarcasm? Yeah, that’s totally happening.
  • - Quit the porn? I was rolling after that one. Those guys have a future in comedy.

Looking forward to the next book from the AOM kids.  All-in-all, a good blog, a good book, you should be reading both.   Head over to www.artofmanliness.com, nowish. Well, maybe finish reading my site first, then start reading theirs. After all, they already have readers.

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