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by John Dicker & r & & r & I Love You More Than You Know by Jonathan Ames & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & ecause it's easy, it's therefore tempting to lump Jonathan Ames in with This American Life's coffee klatch of Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris. Yes, Ames has a distinct voice and writes mostly about himself and is wry and unconventionally attractive: tall and bald with remnants of red hair. So what if he's never actually been on This American Life?


But Ames is really in a class all his own. I Love You More Than You Know, his new collection of essays, journalism and invented words, is moving to the point of tears, and silly to the point of incontinence. In short, this is a joyous book.


Ames's prose has a simple clarity that's contrasted by his adventures, which are depraved, original and oddly tender. Many who peddle in the first person rely on a humor of perpetual self-deprecation, or a reliance on the confessional. Ames confesses to many things: visiting French hookers, for instance, and chronic anal itch -- but you never get the sense he's recounting these things to impress us.


Part of this author's talent is a knack for quietly making his readers accomplices in his bad behavior. Whether it's getting trashed at the house of a now engaged ex-girlfriend, visiting a suburban dominatrix while his mother baby-sits his son, we're on his side even though we shouldn't be. And that's part of the fun, wondering why we're rooting for him.


The answer, I think, lies in the fact that even as he peddles in booze and smut Ames has a wonderful instinct for life's simple -- dare I say, pure -- pleasures. Some are recounted in "I Called Myself El Cid," about his collegiate obsession with defeating an archrival in fencing. Reading about this young, Princeton boy psyching himself up by having a teammate punch him in the face makes it impossible to buy David Brooks' contention that college students haven't had any character since the Wilson administration.


If I haven't blown enough smoke up Ames' itchy ass, the last thing to love about this collection is how it jumps from personal essays to a reported piece about a man who cleans up crime scenes, and then to a quasi-personal account about covering the Tyson-Lewis fight in Memphis. Even his mash notes to over-praised icons like Kurt Cobain and Kerouac escape clich & eacute;. With a less gifted writer, we might need a reprieve from such wide-ranging stunts. With Ames, we don't even ask.

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