Joe Queenan’s description of his journey from badness to goodness is an explicit guide, rich with humour and delicious anecdotes detailing the pitfalls on the path to righteousness. My Goodness is subtitled “A Cynic’s Short-lived Search for Sainthood” and is rife with hilarity on every page. As a writer, his motto could be “When I’m good I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.” Queenan decides to be good, to turn over a new leaf and shed his cynic’s skin in favour of Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty, or as he calls them RAKs and SABs. Queenan makes no effort to hide the fact that he has made a career out of writing mean-spirited articles about the rich and infamous; in fact he starts out baring his “bad” soul for us. He goes so far as
to tabulate how bad he’s been and uses that as a guide to how good he must become in order to cancel out his horrible past. The chapters on Queenan’s badness and the monetary gains he made because of his “lack of goodness” is worth the read, so don’t skip ahead to read about his RAKs and SABs.
Being good is time-consuming. Queenan tirelessly researches ethical alternative purchases. The chapter “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life” covers his choosing soy-based Message!Checks,
picking out Body Shop products, searching for a personal slogan, and buying global-awareness bumper stickers,
and is both funny and thought-provoking. Queenan turns down lucrative writing assignments from editors who want him to be malicious in favour of sending checks and letters of apology to do-gooders to show his support. Ouch
-- being good is expensive!
Queenan quickly realizes how expensive it is to be good. In the chapter “The Frugal Philanthropist,” Queenan lays out a philanthropic game plan: when attending an out of town protest, arrive early, sign a few petitions and then leave around lunchtime so you can enjoy the local sights. He points out that “the organizers of major protest marches understand that the average person…is not interested in attending rallies in cities that do not have good restaurants, fine museums, or revitalized seaport areas.” Never a truer word was spoken. Brilliant ideas abound. When he signs up for a dog walk-a-thon, it dawns on him that once he has sent the money he does not have to participate, which is a real timesaver because he would have had to borrow a dog for the event. Frugal? Yes, but wicked smart too.
I felt like a voyeur reading Queenan’s detailed account of his pursuit of goodness. His sharp wit and fine writing style made it difficult to put the book down. It was a purely delicious experience and I learned a lot about celebrity causes and what it takes to become a socially aware person. As Queenan says “…it simply came down to a question of dollars and cents. I enjoyed being a good person…[g]od willing, when I’m older and on more solid financial footing I might even try it again.” Amen Joe, I hear you.
© 2002 by Laura Merrill Miller for Curled Up With a Good Book