Book Review - Radical Honesty at the MJCCA Book Festival

18th annual fest covers Atlanta for two weeks

Sunday November 8, 2009 10:00 am EST

In the backwoods of Virginia, a man named Brad Blanton is hard at work promoting the Radical Honesty movement. Blanton, who calls himself “white trash with a Ph.D.,” thinks people would be happier if they stopped lying. As in — I woud be happier if I just told you I’d rather be drinking beer than writing this article. Awkward moment, right?
For his recent book The Guinea Pig Diaries, author A.J. Jacobs visits Blanton for two weeks to test out Radical Honesty. He tells his in-laws they suck at giving presents; calls a friend to let him know he’s been fantasizing about his wife; and admits he’s bored while his wife is talking. Radical Honesty’s just one of many experiments Jacobs undertakes in his book, including outsourcing his daily routine to a team of workers in India and guiding his every action by the question, “What would George Washington do?” But Radical Honesty doesn’t feel as forcibly zany as the other tasks. Anyone could do it. I could just keep telling you I’m thinking more about the cold, delicious cans of beer waiting for me in my fridge than I am about work.
Jacobs will read in Atlanta (Wed., Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m.) as part of the 2009 Book Festival of the MJCCA, taking place Nov. 10-22, along with a huge lineup of authors, including "Curb Your Enthusiasm’s" Susie Essman (Sat., Nov. 14, 8 p.m.). Essman doesn’t exactly practice Radical Honesty in her new book What Would Susie Say, but she definitely works a tellin’-it-like-it-is or, more specifically, telling-you-to-go-fuck-yourself, angle. WWSS is a comic coming-of-middle-age story that explains how she never expected to end up living in the suburbs with four stepchildren and a career that required alliterations like “four-eyed fuck.”  
“I never even wanted children,” she says. “When I was a kid and my friends were pretending to be mommies, I wanted to play talk show and make believe I was doing panel with Johnny.” She can’t quite remember how old those kids are, either. “It’s so confusing the numbers keep changing.”
Essman is both incredulous and humble about her foul-mouthed alter-ego’s success on HBO. “I never could have imagined that I’d become famous and beloved for telling people to go fuck themselves. That wasn’t part of the plan, but there’s an old Yiddish proverb that says ‘You make plans, and God laughs.’”  
No one, probably not even God, will be laughing when Norman Podhoretz reads at the festival (Sat., Nov. 21, 7:30 p.m.). His book, Why Are Jews Liberals? doesn’t have the lighthearted tone of Jacobs’ or Essman’s works, but he does aspire to a similarly ambitious level of honesty. Podhoretz suggests on the jacket that a more accurate title might be Why Do Most Jews Always Vote for the Democrats? I’d suggest the title I’m an Old, Grumpy Conservative Pissed Off at People Who Don’t Agree with Me.
As the editor of Commentary magazine for 35 years, Podhoretz oversaw the intellectual genesis of the neoconservative movement. He was using the neocon label for himself as early as the Reagan years, though it wasn’t until the Bush administration that the movement assumed its highest prominence. Unfortunately for the neocons, and, uh, the rest of the world, the Bush doctrine was a spectacular failure of unjustified aggression and creepy evangelical Christian code words. Why Are Jews Liberals? is timed perfectly to coincide with the massive tidal wave of liberal voting that ushered in the Obama administration.
Podhoretz is baffled that Jewish voters have shown an overwhelming allegiance to the Democratic Party in nearly every election since 1928. He argues that Jewish voters have been overwhelmed by a sort of inertia that keeps them aligned with a party that no longer supports their interests, which is to say they have not supported Israel enough. How, exactly, they should expect their interests to be served by a party that champions the fear-mongering of Glenn Beck and bigotry of Rush Limbaugh is never made clear. That would be a radically honest question.

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