Monday, May 28, 2012

'Then Again' ...

I knew I wanted to read it but I didn't know what to expect.

It had been on my list of books to read, the list I keep on index cards in my wallet, and Angelo recommended it and his opinion is surely sound, but then I saw her on Colbert recently and I wondered if she was drunk. There's "flighty" and then there's "downright strange."

But "Annie Hall" is one of my all-time favorite films, and so odds were good that I was going to like Diane Keaton's book. I checked it out of the library. It is in extraordinary shape. I wondered if I was the first.

I started it and then set it aside. Rare is the book that I read without interruption anymore. I blame this machine.

But I picked it up again the other day and then set it down, but only long enough to retrieve the pad of sticky notes from my office. For there, on page 43, was something worth flagging:

"I always thought I'd be crushed by people who didn't buy into me. But I wasn't."

And then, 13 pages later, this:

"I'm still the dumbest person alive. One apparently does not grow out of stupidity."

She wrote that while she was in the company of "Hair."

Clearly, early success had not gone to her head.

Nor did success that came later. Of winning the Academy Award for "Annie Hall," Keaton writes: "I knew I didn't deserve it." Of the fame it brought to her, she wrote: "I wasn't prepared for the discomfort—or, rather, the guilt—that came with it."

Guilt?

Fascinating.

Turns out, her memoir is amazingly well written. There are passages that are truly beautiful. Speaking of her relationship with Al Pacino, she writes:

"One night—my favorite—I listened to him tell me about being a kid on the street. He loved the fall and how the shadows amplified the broken-down brownstones. He told me the world would always be that street in the Bronx. Every beautiful thing was compared to those days, with the light shining its gold on his friends and the street. Always the street. I listened."

And there are phrases like this: "... Dexter has stolen his waffle .... ."

How can you not be charmed?

And I loved her description of family: "One day you end up having spent your life with a handful of people. I did. I have a family—two, really. Well, three if you think about it. There are my siblings, and there are my children, but I also have an extended family. The people who stayed. The people who became more than friends; the people who open the door when I knock. That's what it all boils down to. The people who have to open the door, not because they always want to but because they do."

It is a beautiful portrait of her and her mother, of trying to understand who she is, who her mother was, and who they were to each other. The fact that her life has been punctuated with relationships with Woody Allen and Warren Beatty and Al Pacino is fascinating but incidental. This is not a book about Keaton and her leading men and luckless loves. But they do contribute to the portrait of a woman who exemplifies that even a life as seemingly enviable as hers offers no guarantees. Fame and fortune may be tickets to grand homes and expensive cars but self-awareness has no price tag.

Diane Keaton hasn't figured out a lot about herself, but she proceeds, figuring it out as she goes.

"What is perfection, anyway? It's the death of creativity, that's what I think, while change, on the other hand, is the cornerstone of new ideas."

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