Book Review: Do You Mind if I Put My Hand on it? by Mark DolanPosted: January 27, 2014
I’ve always found those shows where they track down “extraordinary people” slightly distasteful. There’s just an aspect of the old fashioned freak show about them, regardless of how much the trailers try to appear sensitive to their subjects.
This is why I never watched the Channel Four series The World’s (Something) and Me, where Mark Dolan traveled the world meeting various world record breakers and unusual individuals (smallest man, tallest woman, fattest pet etc). However, without a book and with time to kill in town the other day I chose the accompanying book because it was on offer at the Works (helped in my decision by a quote from Danny Wallace).
I was pleasantly surprised by the book, which was wonderfully charming and good natured. The book doesn’t deal with all of the 9 subjects the show addressed, instead focusing on a selection- tallest woman, smallest man, most enhanced woman, most kids, cleverest child and an epilogue featuring “the hairiest man” and “strangest plastic surgery” to give their episode titles.
The titles I feel were designed to be attention grabbing and don’t really fit the tone of the book. Dolan may seek them out for their unique attributes but he seems far more interested in them for their personalities and back stories. Mentioning his fascination with the regulars of his parents’ pub as a child, he just seems interested in people and their stories.
Yes, these remarkable people surprise him and their unique gifts wow him, but he writes about their lives and how they’ve dealt with these things. He has the same questions and concerns that most of us would have- is the “world’s cleverest child” being pushed into it by an intellectual father not afforded the same opportunities, and is he losing out on a “normal” childhood as a result? For the most enhanced women he meets, are the massive health implications of their massive breast implants worth the notoriety it earns them? And are they being made to keep them by domineering managers/partners?
He gently probes these areas, as well as touching on issues like the sad fact that for many the “freak show” would have been a financial advantage, especially sad is the story of the late Sandy Allen, formerly the world’s tallest woman now living off the kindness of friends, donations and a pitifully small amount of welfare from the state.
There’s loneliness to many of the people, but the strength of their character and spirit shines through. Whether something they’ve been born with or worked to obtain, they each have their own stories and Dolan draws them out with a gentle touch.
Dolan’s writing is warm and funny, exuding real charm and similar to the work of Danny Wallace and there’s a similar love of people throughout, which I dig. It’s far easier to be cynical, but Dolan finds something he likes or at least sympathizes with in all he meets. It’s a fairly quick read, but an extremely enjoyable one.
Verdict: Written with genuine affection and kindness, this is a lovely book about interesting individuals that treats them with respect. Dolan is an amusing companion on the trip and his portraits of those he meets are charming and sensitive. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.