Monday, November 16, 2009

Seb Hunter - How To Be A Better Person

Atlantic Books

The basic upshot of Seb Hunter's latest project was to spend two years volunteering for various organisations in his local area in an effort to better himself as a person, or rather to answer the question "does volunteering make you a better person?"

The resultant book is essentially a diary of these two years, detailing the various jobs and tasks he undertook, the people he worked with, and people he helped, with short conclusions from time to time on whether or not each job really did make him feel like a better person.

Hunter's semi-autobiographical humourist approach is consistently easy to read and his tone is always warm and friendly. He describes infuriating situations not with venom and malice but in the manner of an old friend reminiscing the ridiculous, or a dinner party guest relating a story for comedic effect. It's easy to relate if not to his exact situations, then to the people he encountered as many of them are either the kinds of people we've all encountered (embittered Oxfam shop worker Gladys in particular), or can imagine from Hunter's descriptions, and would probably see ourselves behaving in the same ways he did towards them.

Some of the entries are clearly chosen more for their comedy merits than their contribution to his story, but at no point do you get the feeling he's undertaken this whole charade simply to produce a funny book, even if that is in fact what he did, to offer a cynical view. He never lets go of the serious aspect to his adventures in favour of a cheap laugh, adding a level of sincerity that a lot of humour writing lacks.

While writing this book it's clear many afterthoughts struck Hunter, which he dispenses via footnotes so as not to disrupt the sense of "now" in the main narrative, which works well and in actual fact there's almost as much humour in these short asides as there is in the text. The thought of these might seem irritating on the surface, and when one or two of the footnotes take up half a page to themselves, they can be, but most of them are single, sharp sentences that often show more of Hunter's cynical side than the paragraphs they're attached to.

'How To Be A Better Person' is not hilarious. Instances of laughing out loud are likely to be rare, if they occur at all, but it is amusing more or less all the way through, and while it probably isn't going to inspire many people to spend a Summer behind the counter at Oxfam, it may provide some food for thought on the whole volunteering thing and what good the various avenues of volunteering actually do for people in need.

“ easy to relate ”

First Hardback Publication Date: N/A
First Paperback Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Pages: 304
Language(s): English