Book Review: Alan Arkin's An Improvised Life: A Memoir

One of the strangest memories I have of my father was watching him lope quickly and frantically in sidewinder fashion down the long pathway that led from our driveway to the house while screaming, "Serpentine, Shelly. Serpentine!" It is, of course, the advice given to Sheldon by the father of his future son-in-law as he tries gracelessly to dodge bullets in the 1979 classic The In-Laws.

For me, it was the first glimpse of the comedic genius of Alan Arkin.

Having just finished his revealing zen-like memoir An Improvised Life, I was taken aback by the number of personal revelations and the openness of his writing. I'm not really sure what I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised by his intimate knowledge of his craft and his willingness to impart every morsel of knowledge he's accumulated over his long career to those in need of guidence and skill-honing.

His comparison of being able to jump in as an actor and assume a role to the belief and emotional commitment that children have in their daily playtime, taking on and shaking off pretend characters with wild abandon, made more sense to me than the last ten self help books I'd picked up off the shelves. Mostly though, it's a nostalgic walk through his career and his life because the two have been seemingly intertwined forever. His unquenchable thirst for all things related to film, music, acting, and the arts turned quickly to compulsion, setting him down a path that would result in a long list of impressive accomplishments and personal satisfaction with a few gut-wrenching disappointments along the way.

If you're looking for shocking industry tidbits and behind-the-scenes scandal, this probably isn't the memoir for you, but it was a refreshing and new perspective from a guy who's lived the way he needed to live from the cradle not quite to the grave.

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