Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself by Alan Alda; narrated by the author
This book is one of the more up and down memoirs I’ve encountered. Alda tells stories well, and his anecdotes shine throughout the book. His stories about working with Osse Davis on Broadway or meeting his business manager crackle with detail and zip along nicely. At the same time, the organizing principle behind this book is a set of speeches he’s given to various groups and venues over the past thirty years or so. In most cases, the speeches themselves have kernels of truth but they weigh heavily like aphoristic speeches usually do, and they’re the least interesting part of the book.
- I like his approach to autographing — namely that he offers to shake peoples’ hands instead of signing autographs. This tidbit comes from the chapter on celebrity, which is one of the most interesting.
- I also really liked the story about giving a speech about Jefferson to a group of historians and trustees at Monticello. He decided that there was nothing he could say about Jefferson that would be news to them, so he used a very Ulmer-ian method to find his speech topic. He decided that someone on his upcoming trip to China would tell him something about Jefferson that he didn’t know. He ended up meeting and talking to a scientist who’d come up with a way of crossbreeding rice that resulted in higher yields around the world. This man, self-educated and fighting the establishment throughout his life, was one of the only people in China who knew Jefferson. Then Alda reveals that Jefferson also risked his life for rice, smuggling an Italian strain of rice out of Italy at a time when doing so carried a death penalty.
- Another great story comes from his early theatre days, when Alda had to bring his infant daughter to rehearsal because his wife had the flu. His daughter started crying while he was on stage, stuck at the top of a telephone pole. The director–most of the time a total hard-ass–asked Alda if that was his daughter. When Alda affirmed that it was, he said “Why don’t you come down and attend to her, and we’ll work on something else?”