Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Review of "There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say" by Paula Poundstone


Paula Poundstone - comedian, author, actress, interviewer and commentator - is a compassionate woman who's fostered many children over the years, and adopted three. Poundstone has had her share of troubles, however, and her alcoholism (driving her kids to Baskin-Robbins while drunk) led to her arrest for child endangerment in 2001. The upshot was 180 days of rehab, 5 years of random drug/alcohol testing, 12 months of foster care for her children, and financial woes. Some of the humor in this book, published in 2006, stems from these events but Poundstone - a gifted comic - can find the funny in any topic.

In this memoir Poundstone bounces her (often self-deprecating) humor off of brief biographies of Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Charles Dickens, the Wright brothers, Beethoven, and Sitting Bull.*

I'll give some examples:

Joan of Arc
Charles VII set Joan up with a small staff: a confessor, a couple of servants, a couple of heralds, and a page.

Paula: "I had a dozen therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists who evaluated me for the court. The district attorney concluded I had every malady any of these guys suggested: bipolar; mildly depressed; severely depressed; borderline personality disorder; drug and alcohol dependent; alcoholic; obsessive compulsive; manic depressive; compliant; non-compliant; defensive; paranoid; prompt; late; city mouse; and country mouse."

Abraham Lincoln
From ages 16 to 22 Lincoln worked at a variety of jobs.

Paula: "At 16, I worked at Bickford's Pancake House. At 18, I worked at the International House of Pancakes. And even now my kids occasionally ask for frozen waffles or mini-pancakes, so I've kept my hand in it."

Helen Keller
After she became blind and deaf Helen Keller obsessively clung to her mother's dress. Her hands felt every object, observed every motion. In this way she learned many things.

Paula: ''My mother went back to bed after she got my older siblings off to school. I spent my mornings watching Jack Lalanne, Virginia Graham's talk show, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, and the Three Stooges. In this way I got to learn almost nothing."

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens published many books, but did he even once help his kid with integers?

Paula: "I did a whole page of integers with my 11-year-old once. I still don't know what they are or when they're used. I'm in my 40s and I've never knowingly used integers."

The Wright Brothers
When a flight didn't go well they didn't know if it was the design of the plane or if their piloting was off.

Paula: "I have the same problem with driving. My new van kept making a beeping noise before I backed into stuff. The thing I said before every crash was 'what the hell is that noise'? I called the manufacturer to complain, and it turns out it's supposed to be a warning signal. Whose bright idea was that? I don't need that kind of distraction while I'm trying to back up. Its hard enough rewinding the cassette tape, keeping my soda from spilling, and talking on the phone."

Beethoven is one of the greatest composers of all time.

Paula: "They played really loud Nancy Sinatra to the Branch Davidians to get them to come out in Waco. Who comes up with these ideas? It seems so cruel to the artist. They should have asked me. People have walked out of my shows before."

When he was on his deathbed Beethoven's nephew Karl cared for him, giving him enemas and entertaining him.

Paula: "Let all who read this know that when I am on my deathbed I only want to be entertained."

Sitting Bull
The construction of the railroads had been cutting the Great Plains Indians' grass for quite a while. But the country's financial woes stopped it in its tracks for a time.

Paula: "I'm a million dollars in debt right now and its not that bad. I actually felt lighter when I hit seven-digit debt. If I was 100,000 dollars in debt I'd be working my ass off right now because I'd have a shot at paying it off. But once you get to a million you relax into it a bit."

Some of Paula's funniest stories revolve around being mistaken for a man, which she claims has happened all her life. For instance:

Paula's dry cleaner - who wasn't fluent in English - always carefully copied her name from one dry cleaning slip to the next. And he always called her 'sir.' One day Paula got up courage and said "I'm a woman." She pointed to her name on the dry cleaning slip and said "See, my name is Paula....with an A."
"No" he countered, "that's an initial."

When playing basketball with fellow comics, Paula noticed a group of kids on the sidelines staring at her, arguing among themselves, gazing at her some more, having further discussions, etc. Finally, one boy came right up to her, took a close look, and announced: "He a girl!"

I thought this book was hilarious and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a laugh.

* The amount of research Poundstone must have put into these mini-biographies is impressive.

Rating: 4 stars

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