Friday, September 7, 2007

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, by Alan Alda
$16.47 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 1400066174
Hot off the presses this week, Alan Alda is most famous for playing the wisecracking army doctor Hawkeye in the hit 70s tv series MASH. The under 30 set might also remember him from the last season of the West Wing.
This is his second book, a series of memoirs based loosely on graduation speeches he's given over the years. Alan is a likable, easy-going guy. He's traveled the world as a famous celebrity, and since he's decades older than I am there seems to be a lot of benefit in sharing his experiences. His stories are light and fun, touching at times, hilarious at others.
He begins on a serious note. He recently experienced a bowel obstruction which caused him days of blinding pain, praying for death. When the whole horrid experience was over, he looked at his life with new eyes and asked some of what we might call "the big questions". What is life all about? What does it mean to be a good man?
He handles these questions with good nature and aplomb; none of the heavy, head-scratching solutions you might get from the ancient Greeks. The answers are no less satisfying.
Much of the story revolves around places he's traveled. My favorite anecdote involves him bickering with a station-master in Paris in French, a language he barely understands. He and his daughter are scheduled to ride the fabled Orient Express, and the trip doesn't turn out quite as planned. We also follow Alda to China, where he finds an interesting and unexpected new perspective on the life of Thomas Jefferson. Later we join him in New York for 9/11, and his thoughts on the aftermath.
So Alan has lived a fascinating life, which makes for riveting reading, but doesn't take himself too seriously. His writing is at all times brightened by clever, usually self-deprecating humor. He's written several movies and tv shows (news to me), and this experience means his book is far better than most television personality memoirs. Check it out!

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