Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Still Foolin Em

The reading challenge this year put, put forth by the current National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, is Reading without Walls.  I was lucky enough to see this year's ambassador, author/illustrator Gene Luen Yang at the Carle museum this past spring, and he outlined the three parts of his challenge:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn't live like you or look like you

2. Read a book about a topic that you don't know much about

3. Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun.

I accomplished #1 by reading The Pact, a story about three boys from a poor part of New Jersey that made a pact to all become doctors, and succeeded. I accomplished #2 by reading The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda. I was struggling with the third one though because I'm pretty open to any format in print, but audiobooks have always been difficult for me to get into.

But I'm proud to report that I finished an audiobook yesterday! And it wasn't an audio version of a book I've already read in print. We had a lot of drive time since we traveled out to Western NY to see friends and family, so the day before we left, I went to the local library to scope out the selection. I ended up leaving with Still Foolin Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell are my Keys? by Billy Crystal.  I had just recently re-watched Analyze This,  and remembered how funny he is, so I was looking forward to hearing the story of his career, which spans decades and film, television, stand-up, directing, Broadway and writing.

The book is read by the author, because honestly, how could any one else properly tell the story of his life? His warm voice, and trademark delivery made it very easy to listen to all seven discs. He begins his story at the best place: the beginning. Talking about his parents, siblings and growing up in Long Island, it was the typical coming of age humor that most adults can easily relate to. My first realization that his book was not going to be all laughs though is when he recalls his first night of college; he went into town to get something to eat, and stopped in at a diner.  He was asked to leave, due to the Star of David necklace he was wearing.

I know it was the 1960's, and I know he went to college in the South, but I guess I never fully realized that anti-Semitism was still a concern then, only two decades after the world learned of the horror of the Holocaust.

He tells his story with ease, even the painful parts of it like the death of his father, and interspersed with the joys and sorrows of his personal life are episodes dedicated to his long career. From his first time on Johnny Carson to writing and directing his one man Broadway show 700 Sundays, and of course the film that cemented his movie star status, When Harry Met Sally.

I always enjoyed his movies and his comedy, but I never realized how interesting he is.  He married his wife in 1970, and they're still together now, 47 years later. He enjoyed close friendships with legendary athletes Mickey Mantle and Muhammed Ali. He lived his boyhood dream of playing for the New York Yankees (at least for one day). And there's one chapter in which he recalls an encounter with a black shrouded figure in the night, and is convinced it was his father speaking to him from beyond the grave, despite the dismissal and scoffing from others.

After each disc ended, we were eager to put the next one in. It made the drive time much more enjoyable, and I'd recommend the book, especially the audiobook, to anyone who is even a little familiar with his movies or comedy.

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