THOUGHTS OF AN AVERAGE JOE

By Brian Daniels

Islandport Press, 2014

262 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-1-939017-26-0

Joe Wright is the fictional alter ego of Brunswick humorist Brian Daniels, who lets his Average Joe rant, rave and muse on all the subjects that beset middle-aged (and older) white guys — from cell phones, tweets and loud music to outhouses, women and politics.

This is a hilarious collection of 88 previously published essays from Daniels’s popular newspaper column, “Thoughts of an Average Joe.” These short essays are not only very funny, they are stunningly accurate in their vivid portrayal of growing up, working, marrying, raising a family and living in a small, rural Maine town. Anybody who has lived in Maine since the 1970s will quickly identify with the comic situations and wacky characters presented here.

Joe makes fun of nearly everything about his life, especially himself. In “The Golden Years” he worries he will end up as he started — “bald, fat and in diapers.” In another howler, he thought he was losing his hair until he realized he’d just misplaced it. And he admits he’s fat, comfortable in his own bulging skin, no matter what his wife thinks.

Joe tells why it’s a bad idea to put your wife on the truck scale at the town dump, why a salami sandwich, fries, a Diet Coke and a Twinkie is the perfect lunch, and he admits he’s missing the brain-to-mouth filter that would normally protect him from saying stupid things to his wife.

Best, however, are Joe’s observations about deer and politicians: “Deer season is way too short and the political season is way too long. Maybe we should lengthen the season for deer, shorten the season for politicians and increase the bag limit for both.”

And he boldly declares that if you don’t agree with him, then you are just plain wrong.

ED MUSKIE:

MADE IN MAINE, 1914-1960

By James L. Witherell

Tilbury House Publishers, 2014

288 pages, $24.95

ISBN 978-0-88448-351-9

Activist Jesse Jackson once said: “In politics, an organized minority is a political majority.” And in the 1950s, Democrats in Maine were not just a minority — they were a rarity. Then Ed Muskie appeared and Maine’s political landscape changed.

“Ed Muskie” is Lewiston author James Witherell’s intriguing biography of Edmund Sixtus Muskie (1914-1996), one of Maine’s most well-respected politicians. This is Witherell’s fourth nonfiction book, but here he scores twice — once focusing on Muskie’s early years as a family man, lawyer and Democratic politician, and then with fascinating explanations of state politics and how the Democrats grew to be a potent challenge to Republican political dominance.

Witherell tells of Muskie’s early life, growing up in Rumford, the son of an immigrant Polish tailor, how he came to be named for a Catholic pope (Sixtus) and how high school and college debating skills led him to law school and an interest in politics.

Witherell also covers Muskie’s service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, his fledgling law practice, courtship and marriage, and how he broke his back doing home repairs. However, the real strength of this book is its vivid portrayal of Maine state politics and how Muskie developed into an admired and successful state politician.

Best is Witherell’s colorful descriptions of Muskie’s rigorous campaigns for governor, the stump speeches, hand-shaking, political shenanigans and how, once he was elected governor, his father said, “I hope he can stay honest.”

Learn how Muskie had a temper and wasn’t afraid to use it, about the political tricks used in television and radio ads, and how Governor Muskie appeared as a movie extra in the filming of “Peyton Place” in Camden in 1957 (and was paid $10).

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

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