Wednesday 6 April 2011

Devouring Books: Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda

I love Alan Alda. It's a new feeling I've developed, having watched multiple episodes of M*A*S*H and fallen in love with his witticisms and adorableness. My previous exposure to him before this was through The West Wing, where he played a totally old man Republican, running for President. While I couldn't support him in his bid, being a total liberal Goddess (and in love with Josh, to boot), I did enjoy his adorable old man-ness and not-too-conservative brand of Republicanism. Let's just say, the US would be better off with him in charge than with the psychopathic Sarah Palin. But that's not a difficult thing to say about anybody.

Anyway, enough about The West Wing! It's amazing, we all know that, and yet it only merits about a sentence's mention in Alan Alda's autobiography, which is really only a testament to how interesting his life and career has otherwise been, and, possibly, how obsessed I am with The West Wing. But anyway. Alda dedicates quite a lot of his memoir, not to his glittering fame and successful career, but to his childhood and his life outside of the public arena. I think this is a relatively realistic thing for him to do, since most of us don't define ourselves by our careers, but rather by the things we do and the relationships we have with our parents, relatives, and friends, since these are the things that really matter in the end. And oh my, what a life Alda has had.

Growing up with a father in showbusiness, and a mother with schizophrenia, means that Alda was quite a strange young boy (by his own admission) and both of these factors have affected his life to an unknowable degree. His father's taking him to shows means that he grew up with the desire to be a performer, to entertain people and make them laugh; something that he sees as such a natural trait that he refers to all non-entertainers as civilians, clearly separating himself from the majority of the population. His mother's mental illness has had perhaps less of an obvious effect on him in terms of the trajectory of his life, but it is clear that it has permeated everything that he does- at one point he mentions his fear of becoming like his mother, but I think it is clear that, having dealt with someone not in her right mind, Alda has developed his own mind to have a greater deal of empathy and understanding with others, and also to think a lot more deeply about things than other people might (although this, of course, may have nothing to do with his mother whatsoever!)

One of the things that most struck me about this book is just how well written it is. I found this pretty unfair- I mean, the guy is a pretty talented actor, and he's hilarious, AND he's a good writer? How much talent can one person be allowed to have?! But really, I must stop having these petty jealousies, and just appreciate that Alan Alda exists as a writer to entertain the world, but also to make you think. This book is, in fact, perhaps not as funny as you would expect it to be (although, don't get me wrong, it's still funny) and it is a lot deeper than you might be expecting, which, in my opinion, makes it much better than if Alda had just played the fool throughout, and pretended that every incident of his life was hilarious. Because that's impossible, and that's not the way life goes. 

The title of the book, while pretty hilarious, and not a little bit huh?-ish, actually leads to one of the most important things that I've taken away from the book. The message is basically this- you shouldn't try and hold on to what you've lost, because you're liable to ruin even the memory of the thing. This is quite a poignant message, in that you can't get back what you've lost, but it's also a sort of inspiring one- you can't turn your back on change, you just have to let it happen, and let yourself go along with it, and eventually it'll feel ok. This is something that I have found notoriously difficult- change leaves me in a state where I don't know what to do, or what I even want anymore, and that's something I'm really trying to work on, because, otherwise, quite frankly, I'll never do anything. Which wouldn't be good.

Wow, this post has taken a bit of a gloomy turn, which honestly is down more to my state of mind at the moment (not very good) rather than the book itself, which was actually pretty funny, touching and amazing. So please ignore my pity party, and go and read the book! Because it is wonderful. I've also been informed that there is a sequel of sorts to Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, Things I Overheard While Talking To Myself; which, just from the title, sounds hilarious, and something I need to read immediately. So I'll be off to do that then!


  1. LOL, I love the title of this book...even though I don't think that I would ever read it. Just not my type.

  2. Alan Alda isn't your type?! But he's so hilarious and lovely and a really good writer! AND I love him! lol