In the past, I’ve spent little time reviewing books, and I fear people might developed the impression that I am in fact the Illiterate Librarian of that short story I wrote a few months back. To insure that indeed I am not in fact illiterate, and do in fact read, I have decided to post a review of a book I recently finished: Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. In the future, I’ll do my best to post a few more.
Tell all Hollywood memoirs are a dime a dozen in publishing, so Martin’s memoir is particularly shocking because he avoids telling all by telling pretty much nothing. There were nuggets here and there (such as he lost his virginity, at the age of 18, to the bestselling Christian author Stormie Omartian). This isn’t to say it wasn’t a good book—it just wasn’t the juicy, insider, read that I have come to love from celebrities.
The other thing I kind of expected from the memoir is for it to follow the comic tradition of other comedians who decided to tell their life story—which is to say they used humor to tell their story. Oddly enough, the memoir from America’s “Wild and Crazy” man is neither wild or crazy—or funny. Instead Martin simply tells the history of what it was like getting started in the business, and how he got famous.
Martin confesses that he had issues growing up with his parents—particularly his father who had been abusive with him—but these things read like issues that Martin wasn’t quite sure how to handle. This is where the book fell flat for me; Martin distanced himself too far from the story—as if he was trying to pull a Henry Adams and remove any feelings from the story and simply tell things as they were with no personal bias. I got the feeling that he simply didn’t want to talk about family, but the editors forced him. He also writes about how he wasn’t close with his sister until later in life, and implies that he is going to share how they rekindled a relationship later in life, but never really reveals how or when.
He writes about how lonely he was on the road, but never talks about how he overcame this and never shares why he left standup comedy for good; he reveals that he was tired, but as I finished the final page, I couldn’t help but wonder if he loved it so much why he never even thought about trying it again for old-time sake.
As a personal memoir it didn’t work for me. As a history of standup comedy, it wasn’t too bad—although, I hoped that he’d talk a little more about the comedy going on around him; one would think, having read this, that Martin was the only one doing standup comedy in the seventies. Martin definitely knows how to write, as anyone whose read his stuff in the New Yorker knows, but a part of me wonders if this was the write story to tell.