A Moment of Jen
THE NEXT BEST THING — In Stores July 3rd!

Monday, May 14, 2012
posted by Jen at 5/14/2012 10:34:00 AM

First things first: it’s “Bachelorette” time!

If you’ve followed my live tweets of the show, I wanted to tell you that I’m moving my critique over to Entertainment Weekly’s live-blog site, where I will make new friends and not to blow up your timeline (although I will continue to tweet the occasional observation…).

Watch as a few dozen improbably handsome dudes with made-up sounding names and jobs profess that they’ve found a magical connection! Marvel as sweet blond Emily searches for true love, or at least a gig on “Dancing with the Stars!” Drink every time one of the suitors says “journey,” “fairy tale” or accuses another guy of “not being there for Emily!"

Will our girl find true love?

Will Bentley show up to ruin the fun?

Will we ever find out what a “luxury brand consultant” actually does to earn a paycheck?

I have no idea! But I hope you’ll join me tonight to find out.

Then, on Wednesday night, I’m going to be at the Free Library of Philadelphia, talking to Buzz Bissinger about his new memoir, Father’s Day.

Every once in a while, you read a book that’s so wrenching, so gorgeously written that you know that it will stay with you long after you turn the last page.

FATHER’S DAY is one of those.

On an August day in 1983, Bissinger, a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, author of A PRAYER FOR THE CITY and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, rushed to the hospital where his wife, who'd been on bed rest for two months, had just given birth to premature twins, born just three minutes apart.

Gerry, the oldest, was premature but fine, and is now a fourth-grade teacher with a degree from Penn, working toward a PhD.

Zach, oxygen-deprived and brain-damaged, is not fine.

“He will never drive a car, or kiss a girl, or live by himself,” Bissinger writes, with characteristic candor. While Gerry studies for his degree, Zach bags groceries. He is, in short, not the kid Bissinger, himself a hard-charging, success-oriented Ivy League graduate, signed up for…and he’s ashamed of his own shame. “The promise of a new Brooks Brothers wardrobe is just an illusion,” Bissinger writes, of a post-Christmas shopping trip. “What I experienced with my father I will not experience as a father with my son. He is not a hedge fund trader. I should have known that by now. I will never know that by now. I can’t.”

In telling the story of his son’s life, and the two-week road trip they took together, pinballing across America to revisit the places they’d lived, Bissinger turns his reportorial gaze on himself – his ambition and disappointments, his hopes and insecurities.

Nothing is sugar-coated. There are no platitudes about God never giving you more than you can handle, no suggestion that Zach was a kind of ennobling care package sent to teach his driven dad a lesson, to grant him the gift of perspective.

But, along the way, as Buzz loses his camera and his temper, as he clings to his son on amusement-park bungee cords, confesses that the New York Times best-seller list sends him into a day-long sulk, and takes stock of his own life, and how he defines success, that is what happens.

FATHER’s DAY is a searingly honest account about what it’s like to be the parent of a special-needs child, a story that doesn’t gloss over the disappointments – however petty – that go along with knowing that the trajectory of achievement you’d mapped out and hoped for is going to end not with a college degree and a shiny future but a job in a grocery store where Zach learns, with the help of a job coach, that eggs need to be bagged separately.

If you’ve seen Buzz fulminating on Twitter or on TV, or if you know him as the chronicler of athletes and politicians, this book might surprise you. The writing is spare and elegant, what you’d expect from a master craftsman who wrote FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and A PRAYER FOR THE CITY. Here’s Zach at an amusement park, riding the Teacups: “It is a kids’ ride, far too demeaning for crusty souls of the Boss and Mr. Freeze. They would never be caught dead here, too much to live down. But Zach doesn’t care. I can hear the gentle whir as the red and yellow teacups undulate up and down. A few screams scatter in the distance like a faraway car alarm. Zach’s arms are spread out behind him. His eyes are closed, his head bent back slightly. The warm air encircles him.”

Beyond that elegant prose, it’s the heart of the story, the tangled strands of self-pity and love, frustration and respect, that make FATHER’S DAY such a heartbreaking revelation of a read.

On Wednesday night at 7:30, I’m going to introduce Buzz. He'll read from the book, and he and I will have a conversation about FATHER’S DAY before turning it over to the audience.

Because I know that people who like the stories I tell will like this one – a lot -- I’m bringing 50 copies of my short-story collection with me. The first fifty people to buy a copy of FATHER’S DAY will get a signed copy of THE GUY NOT TAKEN for free.

I hope you’ll join me there.

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