Thursday, August 1, 2013

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox

This story is more like looking at merchandise through a store's glass window than owning it. Michael J. Fox lives a different life than the average person and even with Parkinson's it is hard to relate to his experiences. What I like about children's books on disabilities, such as "Wonder" or "Paperboy," is that I can relate to the main characters and their feelings. In the end, they are just kids with feelings most kids experience - myself included. I can't do this with Fox. In the end, he's a celebrity with feelings that show a well-grounded, smart man but a man who has to deal with a public image and disability as he hobknobs with presidents, politicians, actors, singers, and athletes; a reminder to the reader that he is anything but "average." The entire book isn't this way. There are  parts where he talks about family and I enjoyed these the most. It's a tough balancing act as an author tackling a disability and being able make his or her experiences relative to the reader while at the same time revealing a disability that the reader will not have. Of course, I'm comparing this to fiction and this is a nonfiction book so maybe I'm not being fair, but for me, the fiction stories that are memorable rise above the disability to present the character so I forget they have a disability and see the person as having the same feelings as me. I didn't get that for most of this story. While it was entertaining, I won't remember most of it come six months from now.

Fox is funny and describes the Parkinson's symptoms humorously and in a self-deprecating way such as being like a "human whirligig" or trying to listen to Barack O'bama while unsuccessfully controlling "arms wheeling like a board-game spin-arrow." He mentions Lance Armstrong, Katie Couric and others that already date the book. Fox touches a bit on the phases he went through when dealing with Parkinson's such as denial, hiding the problem, then moving forward with a positive attitude. He covers the politics of stem cell research and the roadblocks encountered with the Bush administration. I thought I'd like the chapter on "Faith" the least but it was actually interesting because it didn't deal with his disease so much as look at the inclusive and exclusive nature of religion in different denominations. Fox has no bias toward any particular one and I found his factual, honest look at religion somewhat interesting.

My favorite parts were the funny phrases he'd use describing his children. Again, I could relate to this working with kids and having a child of my own. He quips, "Kids are like Labrador retrievers - show them a car with the motor running and the back door open, and giving no thought to the destination, they'll scramble in and hang their head out the window in anticipation of the wind blowing back their hair and whipping the spit off their dangling tongues." You can't help but like this guy when you read his autobiography even if he lives in a world quite different from yours or mine.

3 Smileys

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