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Before the Title, Past
A Nonfiction Column
By Jeff Shelby

An Interview with Wayne Turmel

     Wayne Turmel has written a very funny, very entertaining and very enlightening new book titled A Philistine’s Journal – An Average Guy Tackles the Classics. Turmel details his thoughts and experiences on his decision to finally read all of the Classics that he should have read in college. He accomplished this task in one year and he was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer a few questions about the book.

Jeff Shelby: Can you explain the title to us and why you chose to do this?

Wayne Turmel: Well, the Philistines were a tribe in ancient Palestine who knew the secret to crushing an enemy was to destroy their art and culture. The word came to be used by art snobs for middle-class, middle-brow types who knew nothing about art but usually controlled the purse strings. Imagine someone saying to Picasso- "yeah the guitar thing is nice, how about some dogs playing poker?" That's a Philistine.

The title came about because the book is mostly the journal I kept during my reading of these books. The idea to put it into book form came much later. I call myself a philistine because I don't have a formal college degree or any training in the arts, yet think I have the right to comment on these "classics"- pretty presumptuous actually.

Jeff: How did your background in comedy help you in your writing?

Wayne: Comedians are either primarily performers (Robin Williams) or writers (Jerry Seinfeld). I was always a "writer"- the material was where my strength was. 15 years of working clubs and plankton-level show business taught me to write (and more importantly, edit) a good joke. If you're going to write humor, that's the single most important skill- to refine it til it's the only possible way of telling that joke. Besides, when I retired from the road 8 years ago, I had a couple of really good bits with nowhere else to go. I found a home for them in the book.


Jeff: How do you think your appreciation for the classics differs as an adult than if you'd read them when you were "supposed" to?

Wayne: I don't think I could have possibly appreciated these books when I was younger. You need a lifetime of experience to appreciate Epictetus, say, because when you're 20 the idea of accepting life as it comes is completely foreign to you- the world needs changing and your'e just the guy to do it. As you get older you learn a little Stoicism. When I was 20 I was into Stoli-cism which is espousing philosophy while on a vodka bender.


Jeff: What was your absolute favorite of the books you read? Least favorite?

Wayne: Wow, tough question. The least favorite is easy- "On The Nature of Things", by Lucretius. I'm told that a big part of the charm of his book is his rhyming, but since I dont read Latin, that part of it was lost on me. Also, if I ever read Paradise Lost again it will be because someone is holding a loved one hostage.

My favorite depends on the mood I'm in. I think Emerson and Montaigne were the big surprises to me. If nothing else it put the whole experiment into perspective for me and my readers- "some books are meant to be nibbled, some to be chewed, some to be digested"- in other words, take what's worth taking and don't agonize over it. I needed to hear that at the time.


Jeff: What has been your experience working with a smaller publisher like WigWam?

Wayne: Teresa Basile at WigWam is a delight to work with. My experience has been terrific, in that she really likes the book, believes in it whole heartedly and edited me mostly for grammar and spelling, leaving the jokes alone- although we did have one rather interesting argument about whether or not I was insulting the Dutch. With what I say in this book for THAT to be the line she found in poor taste is intriguing to say the least.

The upside of a small publisher is that there's validation for the writer- if she's only going to do 4 books a year- and has dozens of submissions- you've passed some kind of muster- that's gratifying as heck. She also did a great job finding the artist to do the cover- I think it captures the mood of the book perfectly, and takes all the white out of my beard.


Jeff: What's the biggest challenge for writers working with smaller presses? Biggest benefit?

Wayne: The down side to working with a small publisher (particularly print on demand) is getting distribution for the book. Chain stores won't carry it so it's only available on line. Marketing is tough and that's not the expertise of most small publishers. The author is pretty much on their own.

The biggest benefit is that I didn't have to go through a lot of content changes to make the book more marketable...she liked it for what it was, bless her deluded little heart. Also, with a small press the time to market is so much shorter than with the big houses. Of course, if I can have a big house do the next book, i'll be able to do a full comparison and get back to you- know any good agents?

I should mention that the Borders stores in the Chicago area have been absolutely terrific about having me do appearances and discussions about my book- which is a rare compliment for an author whose books they won't even stock! This book and my background really lend themselves to group discussions which I love doing!


Jeff: What's next on your writing agenda?

Wayne: I've been doing some business-oriented writing and have chapters out in a couple of training industry books. The next book will probably be "A Philistine's Romance", where I look at love stories through the ages- from Adam and Eve to Wuthering Heights- basically reading all the chick books that have corrupted the women in my life. It hasn't been easy- after Wuthering Heights I had to watch two Cubs playoffs games just to get my testosterone level back up.

JS: Thanks again to Wayne for sharing his time on his great new book.

A Philistine’s Journal – An Average Guy Tackles the Classics
By Wayne Turmel
New Leaf Books/Wigwan Publishing - 2003
ISBN: 1-930076-13-4
Non-Fiction - Humor
Buy it at Amazon

Reviewed by Jeff Shelby, MyShelf.Com

   Wayne Turmel’s A Philistine’s Journal – An Average Guy Tackles the Classics is a very engaging and very humorous account of Turmel’s decision to read all of the literary classics he passed on while in college. Turmel’s wit, insight and candor make for a terrific read.

    Each chapter of the book is dedicated to Turmel’s experience with one of the books. The introduction is particularly charming, as Turmel discusses his coming to terms with reaching forty years of age and comes to the realization that writing this book was cheaper than buying a new Corvette.
Turmel manages to cleverly tie all of his chapters and his thoughts about the books he’s reading to his current day life, involving his family and his career. “The Jiffy Lube Theory of Marriage” is the title of the chapter involving the poetry of Robert Browning and the intricacies of managing marriage and relationships.

    Turmel’s background in stand-up comedy are evident throughout the book, but is succinctly summed up near the end of the book where he rates the works he read in three columns. “Loved it,” “Can Take or Leave it” and “I wouldn’t read it again with your eyes.” Turmel clearly took the project seriously, but refuses to do so with much else and that is refreshing. The humor, however, does not get in the way of the insight Turmel is able to take away from the books and then generously conveys to the reader.

   Humorous non-fiction has become a trendy shelf at the bookstore, with many of the books feeling as if they’ve simply copied the style and structure of several of the titles that have become bestsellers. Wayne Turmel avoids the cookie cutter style and presents his thoughts and humor in a completely original and engaging manner. A Philistine’s Journal is great fun, a great read and highly recommended.

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