Wednesday, January 06, 2010

First book review of the year

Santa was good to me, and gave me a copy of Craig Ferguson's book American on Purpose. I've been a fan of Craig's since his work as Mr. Wick on The Drew Carey Show, although I must admit I kind of lost track of him once the show went off the air. I remember he was up for the Late Late Show when Kilborne decided to quit, and I'd occasionally catch the show when I couldn't sleep, but it wasn't until this last spring that I realized two important things: first, he's goddamn funny, and second, I have a DVR and could watch the show whenever I wanted.

Over the summer Craig started plugging his book, having various celebs read exerpts from it. It sounded funny, and more importantly it sounded like he wasn't sugar-coating things. And if you know anything of Craig's story (which, now that I've read the book, I do) you know he's no saint. Had he been born 20 years later and pulled the same alcohol and drug-fueled stunts in the '90s and '00s he would have been all over TMZ (or the Scotish / English equivalent). But hey, back in the '70s and '80s such behaviour was, if not approved, I suppose accepted. And he managed to get clean and sober before the booze killed him, for which I am (and you should be) grateful.

So, how's the book you ask? Great. It's funny, it's touching, and it's a great insight into his life. But two things really stand out for me.

First is the glimpse it offers into the world of the functioning (and at times non-functioning) alcoholic, something I know almost nothing about. I know a number of recovering addicts, both those who go completely dry and those who now drink occasionally, but I don't really know what they went through, what it was like to need a drink or a shot. And while I still don't know what that's like first-hand, I feel I have a better grip on it than I did before.

Second, it gives an outsider's view on what makes the U.S. a great country. The final chapter shares the book's title, "American on Purpose," and is a great explanation of why Craig, who probably could have had a very nice life and career had he stayed in the UK, chose to emigrate and why he eventually chose to become a naturalized citizen. It sums up a lot of what I feel as a natural-born citizen, sentiments that weren't popular (and may still not be popular) during the Clinton and Bush administrations. And since I can't explain it nearly as well, here's a quote (from page 265 of the hardback edition, if you want to look it up...):
It seemed to me that American patriotism had been hijacked by politicians who used it for their own jingoistic ends, and I wanted to use my television show to get away from that. I wanted to get back to the image of the gum-chewing GIs who brought swing dancing, fruit, and hope to Scotland when my parents were kids. I wanted to share the feeling I got when I received my big color poster from NASA in the mail. I wanted as many native-born Americans to understand the thrill and exhilaration that comes from joining the land of the free.
If this sounds trite I don't give a rat's ass. I believe in it. America truly is the best idea for a country that anyone has ever come up with so far. Not only because we value democracy and the rights of the individual but because we are always our own most effective voice of dissent. The French may love Barack Obama but they didn't fucking elect him. We did.
We must never mistake disagreement between Americans on political or moral issues to be an indication of their level of patriotism. If you don't like what I say or don't agree with where I stand on certain issues, then good. I'm glad we're in America and don't have to opress each other over it.
We're not just a nation. We're not an ethnicity. We are a dream of justice that people have had for thousands of years.

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