Ambitious Reading List: Born Standing Up By Steve Martin (2007)

As I’m nearing the end of this Ambitious Reading List, I find myself looking forward to the next one and have even started assembling that stack. The problem with that is that I want to burn through the four books I have left with a quickness. While I did return to Devil In The White City and am working my way through it, I started getting a little antsy and wanted some immediate gratification, so I grabbed Steve Martin’s 207 page Born Standing Up and read it in a few days. And you know what? I got exactly that.

The first time I read Crime and Punishment, I was in high school and someone in the class said they wanted to know what happened to Raskolnikov after he was SPOILER imprisoned and the teacher responded that the book would need a new title then. He went on to make the point that stories need to have a focus. Raskolnikov’s story could go on until he died, but Dostoevsky was telling the story of Crime and Punishment, not Crime and Punishment and Whatever Happens After That Until He Dies. Steve Martin took a very similar approach to Born Standing Up. This is not a complete history of the man from birth to the stage, through movies and on to his current turn as a concert banjo player, it’s just about his life and performing career up to the point when he left stand up in the late 70s/early 80s.

I appreciate that kind of focus and while I would definitely be interested in reading another biography about more of his film work and recent endeavors, this book does a great job of telling what feels like a complete tale with beginning, middle and end, something Martin says he liked to bring to every one of his performances. The only real problem I had with Laurie Lindeen’s Petal Pushers was that it didn’t feel like a complete story because she glossed over the break up of the band. I did not have similar problems with this book.

One problem I thought I would have is that I wasn’t sure how serious Martin would be. His comedy lies in the realm of the absurd, so I wasn’t quite sure. Many years ago I borrowed Leslie Nielson’s supposed autobiography The Naked Truth from the library in hopes of learning more about a comedy icon I held in great esteem only to discover a few pages in that it was all a joke, one that I wasn’t in on or expecting. Though I had heard good things about this book, I did have the nagging feeling it might not be as honest as I wanted it to be. Again, that wasn’t a problem.

Martin offers a poignant, honest, real memoir here that not only proves that anyone who works hard can have a chance at making it, but also presents show business in a very truthful light (it ain’t all great). It sounds cliche, but this book really does have it all, ti can make you laugh and cry and really think about life. It’s refreshing to see someone who achieved such huge success — at the time he was the most comedian of all time between ticket and album sales — look back on his life and give a balanced account of what he did and went through. If you’re a fan of Martin’s stand-up and films or the real life portrayal of the life of comedians expressed on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, do yourself a favor and read this book.

With Born Standing Up out of the way that leave me to finish Devil In The White City and then read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Please Kill Me which I plan on reading in that order. Devil is one of those weird books that I enjoy reading while I’m reading it, but once I put it down it’s almost like a mind wipe and I don’t want to jump right back in, a feeling that grows the longer between reading sessions. I’m dedicated to getting back into it the rest of this week and deciding once and for all if I’ll keep on with it.

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