cover image We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons

We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons

Tim Kreider. Free Press, $20 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4391-9870-4

Political cartoonist Kreider’s humorous collection of personal essays begins with his near-fatal neck stabbing; his failure to learn enduring life lessons from this traumatic event provides the book’s title, tone, and argument. Throughout, Kreider (Twilight of the Assholes) locates the right simile and the pith of situations as he carefully catalogues humanity’s inventive and manifold ways of failing: a secretive friend lives and dies behind a gigantic front of lies; another relocates to Missouri to prepare for peak oil Armageddon; and a delusional uncle with a knack for heinous crime expires in prison. Kreider’s shortcomings—in romance, friendship, empathy for Tea Partiers, life itself—are also recounted. The essays that contradict the book’s title prove especially strong. In the moving “Sister World,” adoptee Kreider reveals how meeting his biological sisters teaches him about the depths and degrees of relatedness, and how to handle uncharacteristic profusions of love. In “An Insult to the Brain,” Kreider reads Tristram Shandy aloud to his convalescing mother, and the novel’s lessons on tedium and time, and formal eccentricities, bleed into his essay. His piece on the Tea Party, “When They’re Not Assholes,” sums up human nature: “The truth is, there are not two kinds of people. There’s only one: the kind that loves to divide up into gangs who hate each other’s guts.” Agent: Meg Thompson, Einstein Thompson Agency. (June)