In his “refreshingly relatable” book, How to Be a Family: The Year I Dragged My Kids Around the World to Find a New Way to Be Together, author and Slate editor Dan Kois chronicles an epic trip with his wife and two preteen daughters. As they land in New Zealand, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and small-town Kansas, you’ll get to know this endearing family and reflect on your own family dynamics. We recently asked Dan about How to Be a Family, which is featured on our Action Book Club recommended reading list.
How long have you been writing, and how did you get started?
I’ve been writing professionally since 2004, when I first landed a freelance piece at Slate, the magazine where I work now. (That article: “Does peeing on your hands make them tougher,” pegged to the then-Chicago Cub Moises Alou’s belief that he didn’t have to wear batting gloves because of, uh, his pregame ritual.) But I’ve been writing forever, as far back as my high-school newspaper and literary magazine in suburban Milwaukee, which I really think of as my starts, because they both taught me to write creatively yet to still hit your deadlines.
What made you want to take this epic journey with your family and write How to Be a Family?
We were feeling very frustrated with our lives in Arlington, Virginia—we were busy all the time yet never felt like we ever did anything as a family, solving problems and going on adventures together.
What did you learn about your wife and kids on the course of your travels? What did you learn about the concept of family?
They really learned how annoying I am in large doses, that’s for sure. But as a group I think we really did learn how we all work together to survive and thrive in both wonderful and challenging circumstances. That is, we learned to work as a family, accentuating each other’s strengths and making up for each other’s (mostly my) shortcomings. Also, we learned that we like playing cards with each other in restaurants.
What are you reading right now?
I am a judge for a yearly comics prize sponsored by Slate and the Center for Cartoon Studies, so right now I am reading piles of 2019 comics and graphic novels. I just finished Jaime Hernandez’s wonderful Love and Rockets comic about middle-aged punk dissatisfaction, Is This How You Really See Me?
Thank you for talking with us, Dan! Learn how you can start an Action Book Club, which combines reading with community service. And check out Dan Kois’s How to Be a Family for your first book-club pick.