How to Live by Henry Alford

April 1st, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Whiskey Knows How to Live

Whiskey Knows How to Live

How to Live by Henry Alford is subtitled “A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth).”

Though a noble, worthy pursuit, a quest for wisdom encapsulated in book form by one particular individual is a preposterous and inherently flawed hunt. A quest for wisdom is what an individual would consider life. A writer’s quest for wisdom for the sake of an idea or treatment or assignment or ultimately, to warrant an advance, is destined to fail as singularly biased, limited and deficient.

And so it is for Mr. Henry Alford, who is, from what I can discern from this book, a caring and totally decent, well-meaning person. But How to Live provides in no way an answer to “how to live.” As it shouldn’t. But following the inherent flaws mentioned above, Alford’s work ends with no more significance or poignancy than it begins.

How to Live is simply Alford’s menial and insignificant “quest” for “wisdom.” It is a deeply personal story that reads like a person’s diary: boring. How to Live suffers from unfocused rambling, over-sharing and emerges as a too personal, self-absorbed, indulgent memoir-cum-amateur quest for wisdom. There is too much of the author and the author’s mother; two people I was really sick of hearing way before page 262. And it reminded me WAY too much of The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll be Dead, a far more engaging and redeeming book.

Alford’s two other books are titled “Big Kiss: One Actor’s Desperate Attempt to Claw His Way to the Top,” and “Municipal Bondage: One Man’s Anxiety-Producing Adventures in the Big City.” Following my consumption of How to Live, I have absolutely no desire to read these other two chronicles. You are writing about life, Mr. Alford, and if you fail to offer anything remotely significant about your foibles, we have no need to read your work. We are too busy living our own eccentric adventures. Except WE are not harassing others with mediocre details chronicling such mundane and normal goings-on.

How to Lives does provide a smattering of truly fascinating sections featuring such luminaries as Albee, Burroughs, Mailer, and Bloom, but such oases are quickly interrupted by the barren imagination of the author, the author’s dry mother, or, more often, both.

Kubrick said it best: “Real is good, interesting is better.”

My favorite aphorism gleamed from this book comes from a 90-year-old named Peg Franks, a volunteer at a senior center:

“Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”

I will not be so cruel as to suggest that you should not read this book, or to quickly finish it for fear of being found dead with it.

Because the irony alone would make it worth it.

So by all means, read How to Live.

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