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Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself    by Alan Alda order for
Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
by Alan Alda
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Who hasn't heard of Alan Alda, who tickled our hearts and funny bones for so many years as Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H and recently wrote the hilarious but very touching memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed? In it he shared - in his own inimitable fashion - much of what he has discovered about acting, about creativity, and about life.

Now, Alan Alda begins Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (where does he get these great titles?) where the last book ended, discussing his near death experience in Chile and the lease on life that surviving it has given him. He tells us that he kept asking himself 'What should this new life be like?', looking for a fresh approach. In an interview, he talks of wanting to get the 'most juice' out of the life given back to him, and to have it filled with 'aliveness and satisfaction'. So he looks back on the advice he's given to others over the years - in college commencements and similar addresses - and considers whether or not he's lived up to his own words.

Having suffered through several high school graduation speeches in the last couple of years (only one of which impressed me) I was thrilled to read Alda's words to his daughter Eve and her graduating class, and wish my sons had heard his heartfelt wisdom (they'll just have to read it instead). Father tells daughter to 'Love your work'; that 'you have the chance to keep getting better at the things you work at'; to 'keep laughing' and challenge assumptions; 'Be fair with others; then keep after them until they're fair with you'; 'that life is meaningless unless you bring meaning to it'; that 'you can dig into the world and push it into better shape'; and to 'have chutzpah.'

He continues through the book to review past speeches, and to talk about values, pushing limits, trying new things, and always challenging yourself. He suggests that we rank our values and then consider how much time we actually spend on what's important to us. He compares Thomas Jefferson to a Chinese scientist named Yuan Long Ping; reflects on Simon Wiesenthal's soul; talks of the joy involved in performing any art and of the 'daunting challenge of the humanities'; recalls actors' response 'through the only action they knew' in the aftermath of 9/11; muses on the death of friends and 'What made their lives count' to him; and - based on his work with Scientific American Frontiers - suggests how to make science more accessible to modern Luddites.

In Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, Alan Alda offers remarkable life wisdom, reminding us that 'time is all we have'. He advises us to 'Find someone to laugh with'; 'Find something to laugh at'; and 'Keep moving.' On creativity, he tells us that 'The poet puts the right words in the right order so that the colliding of their sounds and meaning makes your neurons flash like a pinball machine.' There's poetry in Alan Alda's soul and he uses it to communicate his own recipe for a good, even meaningful, life. Do yourself a favor - read this amazing book and share copies with the people you care about most.

Listen to a podcast interview with the author at

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