Phil Christman, "How to Be Normal: Essays" (Belt, 2022)


What does it mean to be normal? What even is normal? It’s a strange concept, dependent entirely on context and yet, in spite of this flexibility, it’s an inescapable word. Try as we might, we can’t seem to escape it, even as it seems to collapse under critical scrutiny. So again, what does it mean to be normal? And is normal even something we should try to be?

This is an animating question for Phil Christman in his new essay collection How to be Normal: Essays (Belt Publishing, 2022), a collection of previously published writings of the last few years. A sort of companion-piece to his previous book Midwest Futures, these essays are simultaneously fascinated by and skeptical of all the ways normal dominates our public discourse, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, where a return to normal has loomed over us as the most important achievement we can aim for. Christman tries to get beyond this imperative, and in a series of reflections on masculinity and gender, race and whiteness, religion and faith, culture, irony, love and family he tries get beyond the existential and social imperatives of some presumed normality and think critically about what true flourishing would look like, about the sort of people we’d all actually want to be.

Phil Christman teaches writing at the University of Michigan. His first book, Midwest Futures, was a Commonweal Notable Book of 2020, a finalist for a Midwest Independent Book award, and winner of the Independent Publisher Awards' 2020 Bronze Medal for Great Lakes Nonfiction. His writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The Hedgehog Review, Commonweal, Paste, and Plough Quarterly.

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