Read 1/13/20 – 1/14/20
This was an absolute pleasure to read. I was heartbroken when I heard of Robin Williams passing, now over 5 years ago. He was one of the earliest influences on my life from Aladdin to Mrs. Doubtfire. What’s more, he was one of the first people that I recognized in my childhood. That is to say, I didn’t recognize every celebrity I saw, but he was one of the first I came to recognize as significant in a lot of the things that I loved. I felt like I knew him and as if he was a piece of my childhood. It was a sad lost. I watched HBO’s documentary of him, Robin Williams: Come Inside my mind, a heartfelt portrayal of his life. I recommend it to any of his finally I’ll probably rewatch myself eventually.
I decided to read this novel largely because I found it on Bookoutlet. I did not hear a lot press about the book, and Robin Williams is the kind of person who likely has multiple “biographies” written about him. I don’t know if this is the best one, but it is the one I read. It was satisfying. I want to make that clear. It felt like a complete picture of his life with context to help us understand his state of mind at each point. That said, it was his life largely as it related to his professional life. It was almost as if I was hearing a run through of Williams’ Wikipedia page of all the different jobs through his life.
The question becomes, what makes it special. How is it more than just a Wikipedia article? I think Itzkoff does a good job of trying these periods together with unique context in a way that is likely to appeal to a Robbin Williams fan. It seems hard to think anyone reading this wasn’t a Williams fan, but if they did, I do wonder if they’d question the substance. The context we get never digs deep into Williams personal life. Don’t get me wrong, we get information about his family life and the things he did and how it effected his personal life, but rarely, if ever, do we learn about a detail of his life that doesn’t connect to his professional life.
It may be said that it is just that his professional life was his life. A fan or friend of Williams may also suggest a truly respectful biography wouldn’t be a scandalous tabloid of his personal life. I think that is why I still really enjoyed this because we get personal details, but it is largely things that he was already public about. Towards the end of his life, there are details we learn about that he wasn’t as open about (e.g. Parkinson’s diagnosis). However, the result of such a work is little to no new details about his life.
A lot of what we learn is public knowledge. The context gives a unique insight into his life. However, most of these details are probably already out there. As a fan, I love that it is presented here in a clear and precise way. It creates a complete story of his life that I found fascinating to learn. Nevertheless, a lot of it felt like stuff I already knew or could have found out easily with a bit of online research. That is why I say I am not sure if this is for someone who isn’t a Williams fan. I valued Williams and I love the opportunity to see his life presented in this fashion. However, it isn’t exactly an expose of never before seen gossip which may be what some readers are hoping for.
That concludes my general assessment of the novel, but I also want to discuss how this effected my view of Williams. I do feel like I have a better appreciation for what drove him and the struggles he was succumbing to. Particularly towards the end of his life. His comedy and wit was his life, and to have that taken from him (as it is now known to have been happening, beyond just Parkinson) must have been unbearable. Everything that he was was decaying, and it makes it easier to understand how he could have succumbed to suicide.
Lastly, this brought attention to Williams often sexist, and maybe even racist at times, comedy. No one is perfect. That said, we can recognize the good someone has done while still acknowledging the harm they’ve caused. It is tough, as a fan, to think about the fact that he was a little shitty in some areas, but does that diminish the good he did. He wasn’t a saint, but nor do I think the sexism was representative of him or his comedy. I also don’t think it is bad enough to absolutely undermine the joy most of his work brings (i.e. opposed to someone like Bill Cosby, where watching the Cosby show, for me, just isn’t possible). Anyways, I am digressing. This last point is a little out of left field, but it was something that I thought worth discussing.
I loved this book. I had hoped for more coming in, but in the end, I appreciate everything it provides 4.5/5 stars.
Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 10/10
Content (15%): 8/10
Structure (15%): 10/10
Summary (1%): 10/10
Engagement (5%): 10/10
Enjoyment (25%): 10/10
Comprehension (20%): 10/10
Pacing (2%): 10/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 5/10
Special (5%): 7/10
Final Rating: 4.65/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.