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Book review: ‘Every Day is an Atheist Holiday’

Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser

Special to The Recorder

Penn Jillette may well be Greenfield’s most celebrated son.

The “louder, larger half” (to quote his publicity materials) of the magic act Penn & Teller, Jillette has appeared on Broadway, on television and in Las Vegas with his professional partner, the small, silent Teller. Their act is an engaging mixture of humor and showmanship.

In his second solo nonfiction book, Jillette maintains that mixture, although he adds a dash of sincerity and more than a dash of vulgarity.

The ostensible rationale behind the book is the enjoyment of almost any day of the year as a holiday, particularly for atheists like Jillette, who don’t have to wait for a deity or a religious establishment to tell them when to celebrate.

“The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion,’” he writes. “By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year …. We have the wonder and glory of life.”

Most of his chapters relate in some way to a holiday — Christmas, Easter, April Fool’s Day and so forth. The holidays are generally just an excuse for Jillette to write vaguely related (and generally entertaining) essays.

For example, he discusses Groundhog Day in the context of the film of that name, in which Bill Murray’s character repeats the same day over and over again until he gets it right and learns to be a better person.

Jillette relates this trend to his own profession, in which he often performs the same trick over and over again, refining the trick — and his relationship to his audience — as he does so.

The book is an odd but appealing blend of diverse thoughts on topics that include flag burning, Jillette’s early training as a magician, extortion, race relations and the writer’s experiences on the reality show “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

The profanity scattered throughout may take readers aback; it certainly took this reader aback. If the prudish reader can learn to glide through Jillette’s frequent references to sex and body parts, however, that reader will find it hard not to admire and respect his imagination, sincerity, humor and love of family and friends.

While discussing his brief stint on the television show “Dancing with the Stars,” Jillette writes sincerely, “Others danced better than me, but no one danced with more joy.”

Like his dancing, Penn Jillette’s prose is infused with joy.

Tinky Weisblat is a writer and singer who lives in Hawley. Her Web site is www.merrylion.com; her blog is www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com.

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