Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Mother Was Nuts - A Review

But, first... A little background history.

As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, my favorite TV show was Happy Days, you know, the show with Arthur Fonzarelli, a.k.a "the Fonz"?
Somewhere in my "Childhood Top 5," was the show Laverne and Shirley, a spin-off of Happy Days that featured two single roommates and acquaintances of the Fonz, Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney.  They also lived Milwaukee and worked as bottle cappers at local brewery.
I haven't watched L & S in at least 20 years, but I can still vividly recall the opening sequence in which Laverne and Shirley are walking down the sidewalk, linked arm in arm, chanting "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"  I grew up with Penny Marshall, I just didn't know her as Penny Marshall at the time.  I simply knew her as Laverne, the tough talking tomboy who loved to drink milk and Pepsi (mixed together) and had her trademark initial "L" monogrammed on all of her shirts.

Given that many of my childhood memories included Penny Marshall, via her character Laverne of course, I figured her memoir, My Mother Was Nuts, would be an entertaining book, especially since Penny narrates the audiobook (the format I utilized).  I thought, "Cool, this will be like hanging out with Laverne for 8 hours or so..."  I am happy to say that I was not disappointed.  

Listening to My Mother Was Nuts often felt less like listening to an audiobook and more like Penny Marshall had dropped by my house one day, parked herself on my sofa, and proceeded to tell me her life story.  Her thick Bronx accent, rapid speaking rate, and various tones and intonations made the experience more intimate, adding to the authenticity of the memoir.  For example, I thought the chapter in which she describes her mother's diagnosis with what we now know as Alzheimer's, was especially poignant.  As she read the emotional passage, you can hear her voice begin to shake as she struggled to keep it together.  

For the most part, the book retells events from her life in a linear fashion starting with her childhood in the Bronx.  The story progresses through her college experience in New Mexico, her move to Los Angeles, her acting career, her directing career, her philanthropic works since 9/11, and her semi-recent cancer scare.  Along the way numerous names are dropped, many that I recognized and several that I did not. 

Often celebrity memoirs are criticized for “name dropping.”  My Mother Was Nuts is no exception.  But, first let’s consider her immediate “circle” for a moment. Her brother, Garry Marshall, is a famous Hollywood writer, director, and actor with lots of friends and connections.  Her second husband, Rob Reiner, portrayed the famous “meathead” role in the wildly popular 70s sitcom All in the Family.  He later became a famous movie director and his best friend is Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss (whom Penny refers to affectionately as "Ricky Dreyfuss").  She dated Art Garfunkel and her best friend is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Even without taking into consideration all the people she's worked as an actress and all the people she's directed, how could she not write a memoir without some name dropping?  I don’t feel if she was dropping names just for the sake of dropping names.  I get the impression that she doesn't care about that kind of stuff.  She named the people she did in her book because those people are/were a part of her life's story.  Seriously, I think the woman knows everyone and if she doesn’t, chances are she knows someone who does.  

When I finished the audiobook, I felt satisfied.  That in itself says a lot.  I learned some things about Penny that I didn't know, which is a big plus in my opinion because when I read/listen to a memoir, I want to learn things from that person's life that aren't already common knowledge.  Listening to her share some of her memories from Laverne and Shirley and from directing Big and A League of Their Own, two movies that I enjoyed immensely as a teenager, elicited many of my own memories that I associate with those pieces of work.  I laughed and I was entertained.  My expectations were met.  

My Mother Was Nuts was a very enjoyable audiobook.  That fact that Penny narrated it herself, definitely added something to my listening experience that one might not experience if reading it in traditional print format.  

I gave My Mother Was Nuts a rating of 3/5 on Goodreads.  If I could give it a fractional rating, I would give it 3.5.

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