“All my life I have acted wrongly, very wrongly,” Nester opens this collection, threatening us with a voice that suggests a morose combination of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe. The tone is confessional, and not a little self-hating, and perfect. For Daniel Nester is the rarest of humorous essayists: he’s actually funny. He also happens to be a fine poet, and a keen authority on popular music, and his writing in How to Be Inappropriate radiates the kind of intelligence and insight that inspires a reader to conduct his own self-examination vis-a-vis inappropriateness.
The book is something of a Nester’s greatest hits, containing various pieces written over the years (I’ve personally come across “Revising the Footlicker Story” at least thrice now), each concerned with the thematic question: Just how far is too far? Less of a How To and more of a How Did, in How to Be Inappropriate Nester frequently places himself at the epicenter of that question by exploring the boundaries of the inappropriate via his own participation in the oddest of situations.
Nester bravely includes the flinch-inducing tale of the author arriving in New York City to become a writer and finding himself living next door to the college girlfriend he frequently came to blows with. There’s a hilarious attempt to place a curse on a creepy dog owner who refuses to clean up after his pony-sized canine on the mean streets of hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Elsewhere Nester takes on The Catcher in the Rye, reimagining Holden Caulfield as a non-English speaker, and revises the infamous NPR interview of Kiss’s Gene Simmons, substituting the spoutings of a chat-bot for Simmons’ dialogue – to eerily similar effect.
“I tell these stories to explain why people stop liking me,” is how Nester concludes the introductory essay, “Notes Toward a Definition of the Inappropriate: An Apologia….” Which is a laugh in itself, because coming as it does but three pages into the book, Nester has already won his reader over with a refreshing brand of archness that is never cloying and always very likable.