The Old Man and the Swamp
Simon & Schuster, 2011
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Library Journal’s Books for Dudes column
Jeez, I thought I had it bad. This corker of a memoir typifies a peculiarly American Oedipal-esque complex: the embarrassment, impatience, and boredom one experiences in response to one’s father, starting around age 12 and lasting until around 30. Though this experience is so universal that the title alone is enough to tell the tale, read the whole thing. The elder Sellers is a stuttering, unconventional former Lutheran minister with a penchant for herpetology. Now, where most dudes enjoy ripping apart their singularly weird dads, Sellers skewers his on a red-hot spit right up the old fart box. But readers will see that this comes from a place of love because of the careful and detailed portrayal of the man. In Sellers’s youth, his dad loved snakes, playing games, taking drugs, Bob Dylan, chain smoking, sleeping nude, and, especially, hiking for endless hours. For “a preteen who wanted little to do with the outdoors if it didn’t involve walking across a parking lot to enter an arcade,” this wasn’t such a great match, but as the son ages, he yearns for a connection with his father. Or maybe he craves a collision course to hell, but either way, he reconciles himself to his dad. Funny, heartfelt, honest. And quite snaky. — Douglas Lord
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When music journalist John Sellers was a kid, his dad quit his job as a pastor to scour the wilds of Michigan for snakes. Sellers, a self-proclaimed “furniture potato,” never quite understood the appeal; his father would disappear for weeks on end “and return home looking and smelling like the love child of the Swamp Thing and Ted Kaczynski.” But when he hit his thirties, Sellers grew curious about his old man’s obsession and decided to accompany him on a trip to the swamps in pursuit of the elusive copperbelly. The result is a funny and winning story that is less about snakes than a guy who just wants to understand his singularly eccentric dad. –Kiera Butler
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Forgiveness is a journey, the length of which differs from person to person. In John Sellers’ hilarious new book, The Old Man and the Swamp, forgiveness is a messy trek through a nasty, snake-filled swamp. And though it’s a journey filled with plenty of laughs, it’s also one that masterfully explores the strange relationship between father and son.
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Star Magazine (pick of the week)
Grand Rapids Press (feature article)
So you have to wonder why the 40-year-old Brooklyn couch potato would plant himself in a rustic cabin in a swampy woods with a really eccentric dad he barely knew to go chase snakes. // Two key words: barely knew. // Sellers’ new book, “The Old Man and the Swamp: A True Story about My Weird Dad, a Bunch of Snakes and One Ridiculous Road Trip,” published by Simon & Schuster, is a funny, honest, poignant memoir of how city guy Sellers wades into the murky waters of a snake-infested swamp and the turbulent waters of his relationship with his quirky, snake-loving, vagabond dad.
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The swamplands of southern Michigan receive a surprise visit from a blogging Manhattan journalist and his feisty elderly father.
Early on, Sellers (Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life, 2007) admits to a distinct abhorrence for “unnecessarily daunting” outdoor activities. Leaving the pleasurable confines of his home meant exposing himself to treacherous environs teeming with bugs, the horror of sharks and quicksand and “the constant menace of ickiness.” Also low on his to-do list was spending time with his quirky, estranged father Mark, a stuttering, antisocial former Lutheran pastor turned herpetologist who drove his long-suffering wife to divorce him after 19 years). In a farfetched effort to somehow rekindle a father-son bond, Sellers voluntarily accompanied his 70-year-old dad on his yearly three-day excursion to the Michigan swamps  in search of the “endangered copperbelly water snake.” It would be the longest amount of time they’d spent together in well over two decades, he confesses. The hundred-mile road trip into the quagmire is surprisingly rife with honest revelations for both the author, who bemoans his father’s frail appearance yet respects his “consuming passion,” and Mark, who emotionally argues the negative perceptions of snakes in popular culture and the escalating “suburbanization” of land he’d once surveyed. After their initial trip was cut short, Sellers, though recognizing his father’s physical limitations, embarked on a second swamp voyage—only this time much better prepared (less kvetching!) and at peace with his co-pilot. As the author relates memories of a bittersweet childhood, their swamp escapades reveal a deeper meaning. Throughout, Sellers tests the bounds of the relationship with honest attempts at harmonizing with a father who’d become a stranger. With the swamp trips painstakingly accomplished and this heartfelt, Hollywood-ready narrative written, the author would do well to simply hug his father and stay put indoors.
An unconventional, funny and touching family adventure.
Sellers calls his father, Mark, weird, and it sounds like an appropriate word to describe a Lutheran pastor and rabid Bob Dylan fan who chucks his calling to become a “freelance herpetologist.” Flash forward 30 years. John, now roughly the same age as Mark was when he decided to devote his life to snakes, realizes that he has a lot of questions about his estranged father. So to find answers and to forge a stronger bond with a man who has always been “something of an enigma” to him, Sellers decided to tag along on one of his dad’s snake-finding expeditions. As road-trip memoirs go, this one is exceedingly offbeat, but it’s also quite touching. Sellers’ portrait of his father is brutally honest, especially about Mark’s substance abuse, among other things, and remarkably affectionate, Sellers having finally come to appreciate his father’s bravery in redefining his life. A father-son memoir that definitely stands out from the crowd. — David Pitt