Of love, loss and bathroom humor

“I’m some kind of artist-snob,” writes Jonathan Ames in I Love You More Than You Know, his latest collection of essays. “I’m ugly and poor but snobby.”

Throughout this near-masochistic compilation, Ames fires such shots in an almost non-stop, albeit humorous, barrage of self-loathing, pausing only for occasional volleys of bathroom humor.

Perhaps Ames’ then 16-year-old son put it best when he stated, “I know what you do: you make a living making fun of yourself.”

Somewhere between the fart jokes and self-knocks, however, Ames finds time to shine.

Ditching cheap laughs in favor of the more serious themes of his work – love, loss and the perils of addiction – certain essays in I Love You More Than You Know feature truly poignant, emotional prose.

Though most of the book is clouded by Ames’ pretensions, these moments of honesty make I Love You More Than You Know a worthwhile read.

In addition to a few touching family pieces – including the title story, a moving tribute to Ames’ once-beautiful Great-aunt Doris – I Love You More Than You Know is highlighted by a few pieces written in diary form. It’s here, whether chronicling a European book tour or a Mike Tyson boxing match, that Ames is at his best.

The Tyson piece, “Everybody Dies in Memphis,” is the book’s high-water mark. In a style reminiscent of famed gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Ames chronicles the depravity of a Southern city “where so much of lurid America seems to have come down the Mississippi and washed up on the banks.”

This haunting portrait of Memphis emphasizes not only Ames’ wit, but also his keen perceptions and talent for vivid imagery.

Noticeably absent from Ames’ more serious essays are the fart jokes and erection humor that populate much of the book’s first third.

Although his gags frequently border on the obscene, one must admit that Ames has a certain knack for bathroom humor.

Separated by the more literary pieces, his raunchy tales of irritable bowel syndrome and anal jock itch offer enough laughs to make the book as a whole worthwhile.

It’s true that Jonathan Ames has a long way to go before he’s David Sedaris; and I Love You More Than You Know is, as the self-deprecating Ames will readily admit, no Me Talk Pretty One Day.

But judging from the promise displayed in such pieces as “Everybody Dies in Memphis” and the title essay, this won’t be the last we hear from Jonathan Ames.

Peter Chomko may be reached at peter.chomko@temple.edu.

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