The pages of Ben Tanzer’s Be Cool seem alive as you read them. There is an almost kinetic energy running throughout the pages that is rarely so apparent in a memoir. As the book gains momentum, the pace never wanes even in the tough moments, like shattering a femur bone, devastating to a runner like Tanzer. Yet, he finds humor, mystery, and insight in these moments. He finds out what it means to be cool. Tanzer aspires to the coolness that comes with trying but making it seem like you’re not trying, which is exactly how good writing is, and one of the reasons that Be Cool feels so effortless to read.
Tanzer never stops, and is always in pursuit of the sun, like Icarus. Unlike Icarus, Tanzer lived to reflect on his past and found some nuggets of wisdom along the way. Some of his aged observations are like a fine wine. Others are more recent, late to the party, as with becoming a punk,
“I have become punk, still arguably the least punk person you know, but angry, and impassioned, and wanting to articulate it,” and discovering the punk ethos of “feeling something and expressing it, no matter how angry and exposed doing so makes you feel.”
Tanzer unabashedly exposes everything, past to present, all through which he has been running, never stopping, always chasing something, even if he has to retrace his steps to do so.
As the book goes on, Tanzer matures from son and brother to father and husband. Along the way, the reader sees all of the moments that shaped the author into who he is today. Tanzer’s magic comes from the essence of human nature. Endurance becomes transcendence. It all just happens with time. The beauty comes not only from Tanzer’s experience, but from the anticipation that comes with having a family, and that they too will have experiences that will shape them, “So much of what we want to happen to our children when we are parents, crawling, walking, running, talking and on and on, is so confusing, and we never know how or when it will start, and when it does start, it seems like magic. We don’t know why it’s happening. It just does when it does.”
Be Cool is a book of memories that is rich with its setting, humor, and most importantly, honesty. Good and bad things happen, from soaring heights to momentary falls from grace. The reader seems to glide through it all, never too close to the sun, never too low to the ocean, just drinking in Tanzer’s words that are fresh and heartfelt.
Let these stories and confessions float into your eye portals, and you will finish feeling warm, satisfied, and that life’s obstacles are conquerable. It just takes time, and maybe a little magic.
Benjamin DeVos is the author of the forthcoming novella The Bar Is Low (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018) among others. He is the head editor of Apocalypse Party and lives in Philadelphia.