Let me just preface this by saying: I fucking love Alan Alda. I loved him on The West Wing. I grew up with his voice always on in the background when my mom was watching M.A.S.H. I don’t know what it is about his voice, but I just love listening to him talk.
So he could have written a terrible book, and I still would have loved it if he was the one reading it.
Luckily, he also wrote a great book! Sure I may be a bit biased. But I really enjoyed this book.
I guess I would rate it on par with many of the other celebrity memoirs I’ve read. He kind of talks about his early experiences in acting, his family, and his life, but that isn’t really the focus of the book. It’s mostly just some reflections on life, of which he has many, rather than a biography. There are a lot of funny stories in here, but there are also sadder and more serious parts.
He also gives a lot of sage advice. A lot of the book reads as if he’s giving a speech to graduating students, which for part of it he actually is as he repeats a commencement speech he gave.
Also, while he was talking about acting, he just drops this advice about controlling anxiety, which really spoke to me, as someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder:
“Anxiety is a powerful toxin. You can think you’re calm, in command of the moment, and be undergoing an anxiety attack as big as the Norman conquest. Learn what makes you anxious, learn how to control it, or it will control you. You’ve probably already developed defense against anxiety that seem useful to you. They may even seem attractive — little smiles and perky gestures — but you’ll feel better when you can drop them. There’s no power like the power of the calm and confident. Jack Nicholson said acting is 90 percent nerve. Sometimes when I’m anxious, I remember that and it helps. It helps, as I go to sleep sometimes, simply to say to myself, I can do it. I’ve done it before, and I can do it now.“
Though I said I was a fan of Alda’s, I never really realized just how good of a person he is. At one point, he talks about how he put his family in debt for some acting job, and was offered a role in a cigarette commercial, the pay ($50,000) for which would have brought him out of debt. And he turned it down for ethical reasons. Like damn, Alan.
He also talks about helping out in the aftermath of 9/11. Like not just donating a bunch of money, but actually being there, keeping up morale, and organizing various things to help out.
I’m definitely much more of a fan of his after having read this. Maybe it’s time to actually watch through M.A.S.H. in its entirety?
This book feels like it’s meant to inspire, and that it does. Plus, 6 hours of listening to Alan Alda’s weirdly soothing voice is a good time. But maybe that’s just me?