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206 pages, Hardcover
First published February 6, 2018
or maybe that's just the sort of horseshit you have to tell yourself to get through the nights. maybe love and patriotism are both adolescent illusions, scams to get us to have babies and kill strangers, and those irreplaceable years were simply lost to folly.prior to espying this book's striking (if not starkly unsettling) cover, i was altogether unfamiliar with tim kreider, as either cartoonist or writer. 200-some pages later, however, i cannot imagine a world without tim kreider. the dozen essays that compose his new collection, i wrote this book because i love you, show kreider to be erudite, forthright, vulnerable, self-deprecating, reflective, darkly hilarious, and one hell of an entertaining writer.
of course she was secretly a quivering insecure mess inside like everyone else. her flamboyant coloration was actually less for sexual display than a kind of protective mimicry—that adaptation whereby a harmless animal imitates a deadly one, pretending to be venomous when all it wants is not to get eaten alive.using his past romantic relationships as a lens through which to explore both himself and the world around him, kreider candidly situates his own romantic strife amidst the context of a culture which, frankly, doesn't make much sense to a thinking, feeling, or even vaguely observant person. i wrote this book because i love you is unabashed, revealing, and conspicuously expressive. each of the twelve essays in kreider's collection (which offers two epigraphs: mister rogers and nietzsche!) shines individually, but, as a whole, provide for a telling snapshot of the author himself and our shared modern milieu. whether ruminating upon cats, the so-called global war on terror, atheism and faith, polyamory, psychological study, prostitution, or a wayward email (again, all with his female friendships as anchor), kreider deftly maneuvers through even the most disparate of topics—crafting moving and engrossing essays which captivate as easily as they lead one to contemplate.
hearing other people's uncensored opinions of you is an unpleasant reminder that you're just another person in the world and everyone else does not always view you in the forgiving light that you hope they will—making allowances, assuming good intentions, always on your side. there's something existentially scary about finding out how little room we occupy, and how little allegiance we command, in other people's hearts.tim kreider's i wrote this book because i love you is a rousing work. his autobiographical essays elicit laughter and emotion in equal measure. with the seemingly recent (and to-be-celebrated!) resurgence of the essay as admired art form, count kreider as the learned jester, the playful philosopher, or the gently misanthropic chronicler of things personal and profound.
anyone worth knowing is inevitably also going to be complicated, difficult, and exasperating—making the same obvious mistakes over and over, squandering their money, dating imbeciles, endlessly relapsing into dumb addictions and self-defeating habits, blind to their own hilarious flaws and blatant contradictions and fiercely devoted to whatever keeps them miserable. (and those few people about whom there is nothing ridiculous are the most ridiculous of all).
"Nietzsche was a preacher's kid. His father, a Lutheran pastor, died when Friedrich was five. Preacher's kids have a reputation as troublemakers. Most of them just go wild in their teens and sleep around or get hooked on coke or total the family car, but Nietzsche, who started out as such a nice boy - a char in philosophy at age twenty-four! - rebelled in a way that the most nihilistic punks and junkies can only envy: by single-handedly trashing a four-thousand-year-old religion." (184)
Tim Kreider is sometimes my favorite essayist. No one cuts to the essence of a thing quite like him, and certainly not with as much specificity & style (e.g. on discovering old craft Christian propaganda he made in Lutheran nursery: "I hung it up over my desk, less in the spirit of putting up a crucifix than of framing an X-ray"). I re-read Kreider's 'Oof' and Joan Didion's 'On Self-Respect' every few months the way a helmsman keeps glancing at the captain's face, to make sure I'm steering reasonably ok towards being a kinder and more empathetic human being. All his essays contain this same compass material. Because 'Oof' was all I'd read of Kreider's before this book, I'd assumed for some reason he keeps to apolitical, individual-level insights -- surprisingly and pleasantly enough, he delves into politics too -- was, in fact, a political cartoonist before switching camps. I wouldn't read him for political analysis (like, sure, he writes about Iraq, but it's more about his personal impotence as a pro-peace American, and much more about an extra-marital affair emerging concurrently with the war crimes), but when he hits, boy does he hit (on his beloved cat, and human society's tendency to disregard any sign of interiority in animals: "Anyone in the antebellum South who'd considered wrecking his own livelihood out of some crackpot notion of equality might have been accused of anthropomorphizing").
So that's all the good stuff. Here's what's conflicting. I don't know how to feel about his feelings on women. That's the thing with his honesty: I found myself wondering, is this too honest? As my best friend put it, is it really that hard to make the effort and form a healthy, loving attachment with another individual, even after 50 years? Essay after essay, we are subjected to variants on Kreider's romantic failures with vastly younger women. He confronts it (murkily) in the last essay, 'Orientation'. But I suppose that's why I was able to power through the growing unease -- there seems to be a deeper storyline threaded here through the essays, a journey from immaturity to maturity. From running away to the circus with only the pursuit of lust in mind, to avuncular grad teacher who is eventually innoculated against foibles from earlier chapters*. It's most on display in 'The Strange Situation' and seeded in retrospect in other essays too. And I think the blaring giveaway is the book cover: a man cuddling with the image of a perfect woman, content possessing her as little more than a warm sexy pillow. So yes, if you're a sensible woman who respects herself and her kindred, some of this book will be exasperating -- but it's sincere, it's achingly self-aware, and it's Kreider, so what can you do.
*I say this, by the way, not from a place of disdain for sex, or people who freaking love sex, i.e. Kreider. He makes a lovely argument on the absurdity of valuing the physical below the emotional in 'Kind of Love', and he's correct.