A collection of political and cultural essays tackles big issues.
“Most of my life I’ve been called both unrealistically naive and overly cynical,” writes Townsend (Human Compassion for Beginners, 2018, etc.) in the introduction to this volume, which covers many of the most divisive fault lines in the current political moment. Perhaps both of these things are requirements for a progressive—or at least one with a sense of humor—which is what the author reveals himself to be as he opines on such topics as religion, capitalism, and the ballooning climate crisis. He gets into narrower issues as well, including in his critique of Israel’s Palestinian policy from the perspective of a Jewish American (albeit one who converted to Judaism after leaving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of his youth). He writes about why classes on race, gender, and social justice should be mandatory in the workplace. He bemoans the internecine fighting in the Democratic Party between moderates and progressives, all of whom seem more willing to blame Democrats than denounce the Republicans. Each essay comes from Townsend’s particular perspective of growing up gay in the conservative confines of the Latter-day Saints church as well as the pull between the traditions of his upbringing and the necessities of an inclusive modern society. Through anecdotes, observations, and a fair bit of ranting, the author attempts to cajole America back into some semblance of common sense. Townsend writes in an energetic prose that balances crankiness and humor. “When Facebook developed its additional line of emojis to satisfy users who wanted to do more than simply Like another person’s post or comment, we were happy,” begins one essay. “After all, if a Friend posted about their dying cat, we could hardly click Like in response.” The book reads more like a collection of newspaper columns than a work of cultural criticism (and many of these pieces did originally appear as editorials). How much readers will agree with the author will likely depend on their own political beliefs. That said, those who share his worldview—and perhaps feel that same cynic/naïf dichotomy within themselves—will applaud his arguments, particularly those regarding the seriousness of climate change.
A rambunctious volume of short, well-crafted essays from a man with a strong point of view.