"I found my dad's gay porn."
"My brother is lying to his pregnant fiance."
"If my wife dressed better, would gay guys stop hitting on me?"
These are questions posed to Salon.com's resident advice columnist, Cary Tennis, the answers to which he has included in his new book, Since You Asked (also the name of his regular column). In it, Tennis includes 94 advice columns—culled from the 1,000-plus he's written—chosen by Salon.com readers as their favorites. In the book's introduction, Tennis describes the advice column as "an almost perfect literary form. It poses the writer a daily riddle to solve with literary concision and vision ... I have found happiness working within it." He's likely also found some solutions to his own problems while answering readers' questions.
Tennis offers a great deal of autobiographical information in his responses—readers new to his advice learn what his regular readers already know: Tennis fought his own demons with alcoholism—sometimes to the detriment of the answers. He veers off into personal recollection, sometimes ending an answer with no answer at all, or giving a reader a definitive solution when it seems there isn't just one right answer. However, to the person posing the question, Tennis' self-revelation must feel like a big fat dose of "you're not alone." As different as human beings are from one another, the larger issues of love, life and death are universal, and readers of this book are likely to find at least one question to which they can personally relate.
If you are not a regular reader of Tennis' columns, this book is a meaty introduction to him as a writer, which sometimes seems to take precedence over his role as an advice columnist. He writes in his introduction, "as suggested by my friend ... I am at heart an improvisational literary artist. I use readers' questions as instances of inspiration and places of departure." He writes about what readers' questions have done for him, which isn't to say he doesn't do anything for his readers. Some of his advice is quite sage, and though Tennis' pride and his skill with the language are apparent (on page 10, he answers a question with a very long sweater metaphor), he doesn't come across as an egotist. In writing about himself, he offers his readers caring and candor that is likely a big part of why he's been writing a regular column since 2001. Whether you prefer Ann Landers or Dan Savage, Tennis falls somewhere in between, offering honest advice in a writerly fashion.