This month we review a book by a well-known vegan essayist who finds humor in everyday experiences.
THEVEGANMONOLOGUES: COLLECTED ESSAYS
By Ben Shaberman
Apprentice House, 2009
Perusing the essays, one learns about Shaberman's family-his divorced parents who sentenced him to emotionally painful afternoons in Hebrew school, his grandfather whose 1918 high school yearbook gave Shaberman an appreciation of the man and his times, his doting mother who never loved his father, and his father who never thought "I'd never amount to anything." Though Shaberman came from an environment where life had more than its share of struggles, he has emerged with a sense of humor.
The humor is displayed in his travails with old automobiles like the bumper falling off his aged Volvo in the middle of traffic and the crowning blow when it caught fire outside of his place of employment. "Frankly, this was the most excitement I'd had since someone brought a dish made with chicken stock to a vegan potluck," he writes.
Shaberman has a wry way of looking at and recounting his misadventures with women as he moved around the country. His gift of a stool to his fiancé prior their wedding led to a series of events that resulted in the cancellation of their wedding. He tells his readers, "I was in deep stool."
As a demonstration of his diverse skills and education, Shaberman has two degrees in computer science: a bachelor of science in computer information science from Cleveland State University and a master of science in computer systems management from the University of Maryland along with master of arts in writing from Johns Hopkins University with a specialty in poetry. Commenting on poetry, he says, "For me, the problem with poetry is that no one reads it. The only people who do are other poets, and there aren't a whole lot of poets roaming the earth."
In this collection not all of the selections have a vegan focus. The book is divided into two parts. Part One, labeled "Is That a Carrot in Your Pocket?" offers 16 vegan essays, while Part Two, "Twigs and Seeds," features 13 of "The Other Essays."
Vegans can identify with Shaberman whose internet dating leads him to IOWA where he is turned off by a display of "soon-to-be-slaughtered livestock" in a place he views as a trip to another planet. Even though he admits to going vegetarian for the animals, he does recognize in one of his essays that "Vegetarian Guys Get the Girls." At vegan potlucks he describes a situation in Baltimore where there are usually two women for every man in attendance.
"Making Nice with Vegetarians--an Insider's Guide," originally broadcast on NPR, offers a good-humored explanation of the health and environmental advantages of being a vegetarian and pokes fun at those who call the group vay-guns instead of vee-guns. Shaberman alludes to Donald Watson who coined the term vegan and "lived to the ripe age of ninety-five. It would have been quite embarrassing for the veg movement if he had only made it to forty-three."
The essayist details how he ate nothing but Chinese food for 30 days. He describes the food at his favorite Chinese restaurant as being "like vegetarian crack cocaine." He made it through the month without any ill effects. In another essay he shares how he became "a takeout junkie."
Part Two essays reveal that Shaberman has more interests than vegetarianism. He deals with insect fornication on his windshield, his experiences with running and yoga, and reading about astronomy to seniors.
His essay on his own skin problems is a light-hearted look at a situation most people would find distressing, not funny. "The Further Adventures of Eczema Boy" describe his own experiences including taking medications that create harsh side effects. Others with a similar condition may be either heartened or disheartened by his adventures, but will possibly benefit by reading about what he tried.
Shaberman's essays have previously appeared in large metropolitan newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun and magazines like Vegetarian Times and VegNews. His commentaries have been heard on NPR stations.
This unique book is a publishing venture of Apprentice House, the country's only campus-based student-staffed publishing company. This non-profit is part of the Communications Department of Loyola College in Maryland and is a collaborative effort of faculty and students to serve as a training ground for future editors, designers and marketers.
Ben Shaberman is a funny man. He is not afraid to poke fun at himself as he examines the painful and frustrating experiences in his life, experiences that are universal. We smile and giggle as we read THEVEGANMOLOGUES because we have faced many of these moments ourselves. Like all of us, he is seeking love and acceptance.
We gladly offer ours. We love you, Ben!