Reviewed by Darcy Short

Once in a while we come across a book that, after reading the first three pages, we know will be one of our all-time favorites forever. A book that we know we’ll read until the cover disintegrates and then, regardless of how broke we are, we’ll immediately run out and buy a new copy. Role Models by John Waters is one of those books.

Role Models by John Waters Book Jacket

Waters, the king of indie underground shocker cinema, examines his role models, heroes and influences in these essays. Each sweet, smart, funny, touching tribute features some of the last people we’d expect to find inspiring. Waters introduces us to an aggressive lesbian stripper’s daughter, recalling her intensely messed up childhood with baffled fondness. He makes a convincing argument for why former Manson-girl Leslie Van Houten deserves to be paroled. He introduces us to his modern art collection, which he calls his roommates. If anything ever made me interested in modern art, it was this piece. In my favorite essay, Waters gives a list of five books for people who have something wrong with them. It’s not just a list of book recommendations; it’s a love letter to literature’s ability to make us confront the dark parts of ourselves and come to love them.

Regardless of how strange or “out there” the people Waters portrays are, he remains friendly and funny, strange but never off-putting. In one essay, Waters talks about meeting Little Richard, a meeting that proved talking to one of your heroes can be painful. Waters comes across as the ideal dinner party guest, one could talk to and listen to for him hours. The last chapter is Waters’ idea for a cult, his strange, chaotic idea of a perfect life. For the first time, I want to get religion. If you’re a Waters fan, this is a must-read. If not, read it anyway. There is no better way to spend your time.

Role Models by John Waters
ISBN: 9780374532864
Paperback, 320 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux