A month or so ago, I got a Facebook friend request from someone named Dan Zevin. I’d never heard of him before, and we did not seem to have many friends in common. But since I view my Facebook page as the 10-watt red lightbulb in a vast virtual De Wallen in whose dim scarlet glow I shamelessly pimp my wares—and since Dan appeared to be a “Daddy Lit” writer and not a pedophile—I accepted his request, and promptly forgot all about him.
Some time later, this message appeared in my Facebook inbox:
I’m attaching an invitation to some readings I’m doing for my new book, “Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad.” Sorry if I already sent it, it just means I really, really like you—not that I’m internet impaired. It would be so great if you could make it to one of these, or to share it with friends who might be interested. Best to download it (or borrow my bifocals). THANKS.
There’s nothing wrong with that email—it’s short, funny, and to the point. The problem was, Dan clearly is “internet impaired,” because the message was prefaced by “Howdy, Facebook friend,” and sent to me and 45 other people.
If you’re a Facebook user, you know what happens when you get a mass email like that. The notification button goes off every time someone responds to the thread. It’s distracting, if not outright rude. Certainly it’s a social media faux pas. I quickly “left the conversation.” (Dan is no longer on Facebook, I now see, so maybe I wasn’t the only victim of this minivan drive-by attempt).
Fast forward another few weeks. I get a note at my Fathermucker address from Meg Walker at Tandem Literary. It begins:
Hi, Greg. I’m getting in touch because I’m working with Dan Zevin on his new book DAN GETS A MINIVAN: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad (Scribner; May 22) which prompted Dave Barry to say: “This is the funniest book about parenting I’ve read in a long, long time. Dan Zevin is a major talent. I want to kill him.”
Dan is a big fan of your blog and your books. I noticed that errant parent recently reviewed both your book and Dan’s. I thought you might enjoy Dan’s book as well. Can I send you a review copy? Perhaps you would consider running a review or a giveaway on your blog? I can also help arrange a guest post or interview if that would be of interest.
Meg has obviously done her homework. As the writer of Fathermucker, a novel about a day in the life of a stay-at-home dad, I am not only a member of the target audience for Dan’s book, but also what Malcolm Gladwell would call a “maven.” If I read and enjoy Dan’s book, the thinking goes, I will inform the network of father-friends she assumes I have—my Insane Dad Posse. This is standard practice. I did the same thing when Fathermucker came out—I tried to reach out to people I thought would like my book. So why, then, did her note fill me with an unpleasant cocktail of shame, rage, and dread?
Start with that opening blurb. It’s Dave Barry, for Pete sake! I love Dave Barry! I’ve been a fan of Dave Barry’s since I was in high school, when the only other living writers I was aware of were Stephen King and Franklin W. Dixon! I can still quote passages from his brilliant three-part Miami Herald series about visiting New York City! But look again at what Barry has to say: Dan’s book of essays “is the funniest book about parenting I’ve read in a long, long time.” That either means a) Dave Barry has not read Fathermucker, or b) Dave Barry read Fathermucker and did not think it was funny. Neither scenario pleases me.
Then there’s the bit about Dan being “a big fan of [my] blog and [my] books.” Not just a fan; a big fan. Do you think I was born yesterday, Meg? If the extent of Dan’s Greg Olear fandom was really so big, why didn’t he say so himself? Why did he dispatch his publicist with the good news? And my books—plural? Really? I’d bet dollars to Dunkin’ Donuts that Dan cannot even name the titles of my books. (I’m a novelist, Meg; I fixate on one stomach-punch phrase in an otherwise glowing Washington Post review and let it ruin my day; hollow blandishments mean nothing to me.)
The point of the email was not that Dan Zevin thinks Greg Olear is swell. What Meg wanted is for me to answer the question “Perhaps you would consider running a review or a giveaway on your blog?” with “Nothing would make me happier than to stop what I’m doing, read his book, write a thoughtful review about it, and post it on my page!” Never mind that Fathermucker: The Blog is a series of guest essays about parenthood. I’ve never reviewed a book there, I’ve never given away a copy of a book there, it’s not that kind of site. Which Dan the Big Fan should be well aware of. Even if Meg the Publicist is not.
It doesn’t end there. Like a freeform jazz solo, Meg’s email goes on, trumpeting Dan’s many impressive accomplishments, all of which make me seize up with such crippling jealousy that I want to curl up in my garage with the door closed and the minivan running:
Already optioned by Adam Sandler’s production company…
The same production company we sent Fathermucker to, in vain.
Slated to be published just in time for Father’s Day…
As opposed to, say, early October.
…to see Dan’s recent blog posts which have been featured on The Huffington Post…
Hey! I’m on HuffPo too, Meg!
Then there are the blurbs by Tom Perrotta—the same Tom Perrotta who declined, albeit with grace and kindness, to look at my book—and P.J. O’Rourke. Actually, O’Rourke has blurbed all of Dan’s books, which means that Dan is either a) a friend or b) in possession of photographs of P.J. in a negligee from Frederick’s of Hollywood.
Plus, Dan’s writing bona fides—National Public Radio’s WBUR, Boston Magazine and the Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone, Maxim, Details, Elle, and Glamour—dwarf my own (although I don’t see “L.A. Times bestseller” anywhere in Dan’s press packet, thank you very much).
Oh, and there’s the pesky fact that he is, in fact, funny. Here’s the bio he wrote:
The least hip citizen of Brooklyn, Dan Zevin has a working wife, two small children, a mother who visits each week to “help,” and an obese Labrador mutt who prefers being driven rather than walked. How he got to this point is a bit of a blur. There was a wedding, and then there was a puppy. A home was purchased in New England. A wife was promoted and transferred toNew York. A townhouse. A new baby boy. A new baby girl. A stay-at-home dad was born. A prescription for Xanax was filled. Grey hairs appeared, grey hairs fell out. Six years passed in six seconds. And then came the minivan.
I mean, that’s not bad. What I’ve read of the book, which came two days after I’d requested a copy, is also funny. The essays have clever titles. The epigram is a quote from Foghat (in Fathermucker, I quote Cheap Trick). Dave Barry’s right: Dan is “a major talent.”
And his book is certain to do well—or, at least, to sell more copies than mine. His last one, The Day I Turned Uncool: Confessions of a Reluctant Grownup, for which he won the Thurber Prize (!), was a quiet success, moving ten times more units than Fathermucker has. His latest offering has an independent publicist and a hard cover and blurb from one of the funniest writers in the English language on the jacket. Make no mistake: Dan’s Minivan is a well-oiled machine.
So why does this make me feel like shit? Why can’t I just be happy for the guy? Why can’t I—as he cleverly puts it in his acknowledgements—just get on board the minivan? He’s trying to make a living as a writer like the rest of us, and he’s got kids to feed, and if he’s friends with P.J. O’Rourke, he must be a nice person.
I’d rather wrap these bad feelings in the Diaper Genie of my mind and throw them in the trash, but I find myself unable to let go the stinky Pamper of envy. Is it because Dan’s driven his minivan a bit farther down the same road—my road? Perhaps. As Father’s Day approaches, I feel a bit like Tom from MySpace on the eve of the Facebook IPO.
Obviously, I envy his success—but I envy the success of many writers, most of whom do not fill me with rage and shame and dread. So it’s not just that. Is it me? Am I just a jealous, bitter a-hole? Perhaps. That Edison was more commercially successful than Tesla, if nowhere near as brilliant, is as much a testament to Tesla’s emotional shortcomings than Edison’s ruthless business savvy. In my defense, I offer this: when one opens a shiny new brothel in an existing red-light district, one does not solicit the local streetwalkers to hand out fliers. It’s tacky. Like the cover of Dan Gets a Minivan.
Sorry, dude; that was a low blow. I can’t help it. I’m human, and I have feelings, and whatever Dan’s intentions, his minivan, with Meg in the driver’s seat, has run them over and poured half-eaten Cheerios on them. Dan’s clumsy generic Facebook note and Meg’s clumsy personalized email were intended to make me like Dan Zevin. They had the opposite effect. Dave Berry put it best: “I want to kill him.”