Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review: Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself

Two weeks ago, I picked up at the library Bill Moyers' On Democracy, The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf, and a book by Alan Alda to break up the two heavy hitters called Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. I'm fairly certain my library is utterly confused by my reading habits, as my librarian stared at my book choices until she got to Alan Alda, who, she said, looked like a "nice man". Given her age and the prevalence of M*A*S*H both during its run and after (my mother had a M*A*S*H shirt made in 1981 and the only reason why she doesn't have it any more is because I stole it), I was a bit confused. And it led me to questions like, "Does she not know who Alan Alda is?", "Does she assume I don't know who Alan Alda is?", and perhaps the most important, "How do I respond to 'he looks like a nice man'?" My first two questions are probably forever going to be unanswered, but the last one was; and the answer turned out to be "very poorly". I smiled confusedly and said, "Yes... he does", which probably made me look a bit slow.

All that small town confusion and small talk aside, Alan Alda appears to actually be a nice man, and doesn't just look like one. A nice man with an overwhelmingly positive outlook on life, even as he recognizes the depressing and overarching problems we face. The book is a mix of musings written for the book itself and speeches he gave to various organizations and graduating classes -and how those speeches came to be. Each speech is of a common theme -life, and how best to live it- and yet all are unique, all are funny, and all -as Alan Alda points out as being the point of the title- demonstrate more about how Alan Alda thinks and what gems he believes should be recognized than any universal truth. His truth is that the meaning of life is living itself, and it is one I embrace wholeheartedly.

 Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself is apparently a direct follow-up to Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, a book I haven't yet read and my library probably doesn't own. I thought that may be a problem because the book starts off where the last one ended, with Alda nearly dying on a mountaintop in Chile, and I didn't really know if I wanted to only read about his life from that point on; luckily for me, Alda jumps timelines. Also luckily for me, Alda's 'voice', his style of speaking, his style of delivering lines, is in full effect. Maybe it is that I watched too much M*A*S*H; maybe it is the fact that he was a very large part of Free To Be... You and Me, a tape my grandfather got me and that my mother later replaced on CD, to the horror of my friends and other family members. But while reading his book, I could hear him; and that made the experience all the greater.

What also impressed me was this: his take on existentialism. It is my own: 
Maybe it was my natural optimism at work, but what I saw and warmed to in the existentialist's writings was that life is meaningless unless you bring meaning to it; it's up to us to create our own existence. Unless you do something, unless you make something, it's as though you aren't there. Existentialism was supposed to be the philosophy of despair. But not to me. To me, it was the essence of hope -because it touched the cold, hard stone at rock bottom and saw it as a way to push off it and bounce back up again.
That right there is the theme of the book: life is what you make it, so go out there and make it the best life you can. Life is for living, and enjoying. And Alan Alda's book is fully enjoyable. So I'm going to steal something from a blog I read, a shorthand review tool:


And a special thanks to whoever gave the library this book in memory of Michael J. Senew.


John said...

Maybe I missed something in my Philosophy classes, but I was pretty sure existentialists believed that your parents create your existence (literally) while you create your essence. But that's just splitting hairs.

Alan Alda is quite the class act, if I remember correctly from the video biography a friend put together for a high school project. I'll have to keep an eye out for Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.

Your library sounds depressingly underdeveloped. Do they have an inter-library loan service? If you haven't checked, it may be worth it to find out.

petpluto said...

My library is weird. I live in a conservative town (by CT standards), but we have a lot of not so conservative books, which is cool. At the same point in time, since my town is teeny tiny, the library is as well so selection isn't always the greatest.

And yup, we have an inter-library loan service. But what I find cooler is that I can go to literally any library in the state and take out books with my card!!! I'm planning on hitting up Jess' library, because that thing is freakin' awesome.