Saturday, May 5, 2007

Two Guys, Two Life Stories

I've read two memoirs recently, "The Tender Bar" by J.R. Moehringer and "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" by Alan Alda. These men have lived very different lives and have written two very different memoirs.
Moehringer grew up mostly in Long Island. "The Tender Bar" is a story about growing up poor, raised by a single mom and an assortment of local barflies. This may sound like a tough life that he might portray as either humorous or terrible. Instead, although there is both humor and sadness, he really does approach his story in a sweet, tender way. You see the great affection he holds for his family (well, some of his family), the men at the bar who he feels raised him to be a man, and the bookstore owners who he feels educated him. It is a very well written story. The "characters" are interesting and seem very true to life. They must be pretty close, as only a couple of ex-girlfriends asked him not to use their real names. The last part of the book, about the effect of 9/11 on the town, feels a bit like an add-on as he had already moved away at that point in his life. However, as a bedroom community, it was one of the towns hit very hard by the destruction of the World Trade Center, and 9/11 had a huge impact. I can see why it was important for the author to include that in his book. All in all, this was a very good memoir that I enjoyed very much and would recommend to anyone who likes memoirs. Thanks to Janet for recommending it!

I've enjoyed Alda's work on M*A*S*H* and on Scientific American Frontiers. I heard him discussing his memoir on the radio, so I read it with high expectations. I have to say, if I hadn't read it soon after reading "The Tender Bar", I probably would have liked it better. It contains a lot of humorous anecdotes about Alda's life, and is not a typical celebrity memoir that is more about name-dropping than about the subject. However, it sometimes reads like a string of stories that he has told and retold for years. I got the feeling that he has been dining out on these anecdotes for a long, long time. There are some more serious chapters about his mentally ill mother and his sometimes troubled relationship with his father, but most of the book is light and humorous.
It was an easy book to pick up and read for a little while, then put down again. It didn't really hold together as a complete book, or as an overall picture of Alda's life. I felt like he was just sharing bits and pieces that he had been asked about in interviews throughout the years. It isn't a bad memoir, and for a celebrity memoir it is actually pretty candid, but it isn't a great book either. But if you are a fan of Alda, it may be worth a trip to the library.
If I had to give grades, I think "The Tender Bar" would get an A-, and "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" gets a B-.

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