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Danny Wallace: Join Me!


Join Me!

Author: Danny Wallace
Publisher: Plume

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Two years ago, British freelance writer Danny Wallace placed a small newspaper ad that read simply "Join Me!," along with an address and a request for a passport-sized photo. On one level, Wallace intended to pay homage to a recently deceased great-uncle, who had once attempted to start a 100-person commune, but found only two willing members. Wallace figured he could beat that number, especially if he didn't tell people what exactly they were joining. On another level, Wallace was simply bored, and expressing the eccentric sense of humor that had led him to odd stunts such as an around-the-world trip to meet and photograph people who shared his roommate's name. (The resulting book, Are YOU Dave Gorman?, has yet to be published in America.)

Only one person answered Wallace's initial "Join Me!" ad, but, enthused by the response, he launched a deliberately vague web site (joinme.info) and a cryptic print campaign. He designed stickers and flyers, traveled around Europe holding up "Join Me!" signs, and eventually commissioned a "Join Me!" theme song. Unfortunately, his "joinees" kept pressuring him to explain what they'd joined. Lacking a mission, he consulted his great-uncle's letters, and emerged with the order "Make an old man happy." From there, Join Me ballooned into a do-gooders' organization, dedicated to random acts of niceness.

Wallace describes the entire process in Join Me!, a quirky autobiographical book about how a whim became a worldwide, thousands-strong organization, based on the frequently uttered catchphrase "It's not a cult—it's a collective." His story is almost relentlessly positive, but Join Me! is more a humor book than an inspirational manifesto, thanks to Wallace's quixotic, absurdist, and sometimes self-aggrandizing sense of humor. His moderate braggadocio and his descriptions of lying to his girlfriend about his frequent trips and secret meetings, in order to avoid her inevitable disparagement of his latest "stupid boy-project," strongly recall the work of Mil Millington (Things My Girlfriend And I Have Argued About), another young British writer with a buoyant internal life and a mildly baffling external one.

But Wallace is more cheerful and extroverted than Millington, and one of Join Me!'s most enjoyable facets is his unrestrainedly gleeful descriptions of the colorful strangers he meets during his travels. To Wallace, Europe seems to be a big, happy social club, where one goofball with something vaguely approximating a mission can not only make a difference, but also have a ball in the process. Join Me! openly urges readers to join Wallace's organization, but it also lets them join him on a thoroughly enjoyable picaresque road trip.