The rare charm of author Steve Almond is his compulsion to tell the truth.
His newest book, "(Not That You Asked)," is a rich, fearless, cutting collection of essays on a variety of topics including inter-author jealousy, the odd sensation of touching fake breasts and good old standbys about Hollywood, hypocritical politicians and the confusion of new fatherhood. True, Almond's rants are not directed toward particularly innovative targets. They are not told in an innovative form. Unlike his hero, Kurt Vonnegut, who also had a penchant for angry/funny truth-telling -- albeit with fantastical whimsy -- Almond almost exclusively navel-gazes.
From a lesser talent, this self-obsession might be grating, but this book works splendidly. Almond is fresh and fierce, writing at a time when we want straight-up confession. We don't want monsters and aliens to symbolize human folly.
We pretty much know how upside down the world has gotten.
Almond often does.
When Almond reflects back at us a truth like, "Contrary to popular belief, people think during sex. And just what do people think about? Laundry. Bioterrorism. Old lovers. . . . " and then tells us, "The thoughts that accompany the act are more significant than the gymnastics," his point is inescapably true and funny. "If you ever saw a videotape of yourself in action, you'd agree. What an absurd arrangement."