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Embracing the everyday with Penn Jillette

November 14, 2012
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'Every Day is an Atheist Holiday' humorous and honest

There are plenty of writers out there who celebrate their respective faiths. Religion is a great part of our world's wonderful literary tapestry. Authors everywhere wax poetically about the whats and whys of their beliefs.

And then there's Penn Jillette.

Jillette, one half of the legendary magical duo Penn & Teller, has a new book in which he celebrates his own faithor lack thereof. 'Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!' (Blue Rider; $25.95) is a look at Jillette's beliefs (or unbeliefs) through the prism of his own life and times.

It's not a traditional narrative; Jillette meanders back and forth across his timeline, sharing bits and pieces of his personal history snapshots of his youth in Greenfield, Massachusetts; moments from his days as a street performer and Renaissance Faire huckster; stories about his loving (and oddly named) family; tales from his time on assorted reality television shows all through the prism of his personal belief system.

And of course, there is Teller. While this is very much Penn Jillette's story, there is no escaping the omnipresence of Teller in Jillette's world. The respect and admiration that is shared between these two longtime partners is inescapable; it informs every passing mention of Teller's name.

Following the titular conceit, 'Every Day is an Atheist Holiday' features chapters named for holidaysbut not the ones you might think. Sure some classics such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July make appearances, but other chapters are headed by things like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Groundhog Day and April Fool's Day. Jillette uses (occasionally tenuous) connective through threads to wed these holidays to anecdotes from his own life anecdotes that are heartfelt and funny and almost always permeated with an underlying crassness.

But beneath the bloviating and bluster, you might be shocked to find a man with strong moral character and a true appreciation for how lucky he is. There isn't an ounce of pretension about the man; he's simply telling it like it is. He likes Richard Dawkins and hates Donald Trump. He is committed to his craft, yet doesn't even know how some of Teller's tricks work. He really loves his kids, despite naming them Moxie Crimefighter and Zolten respectively.

And lest we forget, these stories are almost uniformly hilarious. Whether he's pranking the head honcho of Bell Labs or getting lectured by Clay Aiken on 'The Celebrity Apprentice,' Jillette's skewed sense of humor and unique worldview unfailingly shine through.

Let's be clear Jillette talks a good game, but the nature of his character is confrontational. Penn Jillette the man doesn't seem to be particularly anti-religious, just areligious. It might seem like a minor distinction a distinction many might not see at all but it is there. He is fervent in his feelings without being overly zealous; he often leaves the impression that he would absolutely love for you to try and change his mind.

'Every Day is an Atheist Holiday' is one man's celebration of the life he has been lucky to lead. He is a libertarian, a capitalist, a skeptic and yes, an atheist. He's also a talented writer and a very funny guy.

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