Sunday, 25 August 2013

never have your dog stuffed

While on holiday I bought (in Blythswood charity shop in Inverness) Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, by Alan Alda, and subsequently read it. It was very enjoyable. Well written (I didn't realise he'd done so much writing of scripts himself, as well as acting), in a way which wasn't just a detailed run through the CV but which focussed on key episodes and elements through his life, in a way which made you feel like you were getting the full story in a satisfying way which might make you not realise that in fact it was being quite selective.

(It made me think of visiting the Roman site near Shrewsbury and using the audio guide, where I had just that same experience at the end of thinking I had had a very good tour around the site and looking back and realising that I had been led very carefully through it and that there were lots of areas I hadn't walked through at all - but I hadn't felt I was being limited as I went and I didn't feel that I'd missed anything and needed to explore any of the other areas afterwards.)

Quite a lot of it was about his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, who was mentally ill. He's the kind of person you see on telly and think he seems like a nice person, and you hope he is, and the book supported that hope.

The title was a metaphor relating to something that actually happened. His family did have their beloved dog stuffed after it died, but it was badly done, especially the face; but he found that his memory of what the dog was actually like was replaced by his image of the stuffed dog; the preserved memory pushes out and distorts the reality of the original. 'I see now that stuffing your dog is more than what happens when you take a dead body and turn it into a souvenir. It's also what happens when you hold on to any living moment longer than it wants you to. Memory can be a kind of mental taxidermy, trying to hold on to the present after it's become the past.' (p31).

Two more quotes:

It was on that carpet [of that childhood home] that I lay with books from the shelves and, propped on my elbows, read them for hours during long afternoons. The living room shelves must have been decorated with books by the yard, chosen mainly for their bindings. I pulled down dozens of large, beautiful red leather books called the *Congressional Record*. I was delighted to see they were written in dialogue, my favorite form, and I enjoyed them. I especially enjoyed the sarcasm these people used against one another, even after the elaborate show of courtesy to 'the distinguished gentleman from Vermont.' *These* guys were funny.
- p42, Arrow Books, 2007 paperback edition

The difference between listening and pretending to listen [on stage], I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I'm willing to let them change me, something happens between us that's more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues. Like so much of what I learned in the theater, this turned out to be how life works, too.
- p211

Like most books these days which were first published in America, incidentally, it was not Anglicised for the British edition, which I still find annoying.