Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor

I love reading autobiographies by funny people. I can see them in my head acting out each part of their life and I’m instantly amused. I feel like I’m being given a behind-the-scenes look into their daily lives every time I pick up the book. It’s fascinating. Finding new autobiographies by funny people, who also do their own audiobook narration, is one of my favorite things to do. I recently found another and decided to give it a go.

Are You Anybody? by Jeffrey Tambor popped up in my Rivershare OverDrive book list one day and I knew I needed it. I put the audiobook on hold and quickly forgot about it. When the email finally came that it was ready for me to check out, I downloaded it instantly and began listening.  Jeffrey Tambor is funny and spends equal amounts of time on each part of his life, which is a great plus.

Now, I must preface this blog by saying that I have never seen an episode of ‘Arrested Development’ or ‘Transparent,’ both shows that Jeffrey Tambor starred/stars in, respectively. Now you’re probably thinking , “Well then, how did you know he was funny? Why’d you check this book out?” I frequently see commercials for ‘Arrested Development’ on television late at night when I can’t sleep and decided to give his book a go. That was a good decision all around.

In this book, Tambor writes a series of autobiographical essays about topics all the way from his childhood to his current life. While some of the topics discussed are indeed humorous, most of his stories are more emotional. Every topic he writes about he labels as a ‘formative event’. Beginning at the start with the question ‘Are you anybody?’, Tambor moves the book right along by answering with a resounding ‘No’. His relationships with his Russian and Hungarian-Jewish parents and his childhood as a husky kid with a lisp shaped his years of work in repertoire theater which in turn led to his first film, ‘And Justice for All’, and then later led to fame in various television roles. Each defining moment in his life is hashed out in relation to what he had to do to get to that point. Tambor’s driving motivation throughout the book is his overwhelming desire to rise above his troubled upbringing and provide a better life/home for himself and, now, his family.

Reaching to the present, Tambor discusses how his ‘Are you anybody?’ question revolves around his family now. His creative process has expanded and Tambor finds that in his more than four decades of entertainment, he still has no idea who he is. That’s not a problem per se, more of a challenge to figure out how to balance the triumphs and pitfalls of the entertainment industry. Tambor also is quick to mention that even if you’re successful, that doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Failing, while disastrous, heart-breaking, and depressing at the time, may actually lead you down a better path to who you want to be.

Jeffrey Tambor may be a television legend, a Broadway star, and an accomplished screen actor, but he is still struggling to figure out just who he is and if he is anybody. I enjoyed that he swept between essays about famous people (check out his shout-outs to said people) and every day discussions of his family (his stories about his young children crack me up). The differentiation between those two types of essays lends a necessary balance to this book that allows readers to view Tambor as a normal person who just happens to be famous. He still gets up in the morning to make his kids’ lunches, takes them to all of their practices, and then makes sure they read every night. Just like the rest of us. If you have the chance to listen to or read this book, I recommend you give it a go. I enjoyed it and now I’m off to start ‘Arrested Development’!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Mother, Can You Not? by Kate Siegel

mother can you notIntroducing your parents or grandparents or even cousins or siblings to any new form of social media means that there is going to be a learning curve where mistakes are made and ridiculous things said. We’ve all been there. Before you bridge the social media gap however, there is one important step that needs to happen: text messaging. Author Kate Siegel’s mother is the queen of off-the-wall text messages, so much so that Kate decided to broadcast their most ridiculous conversations all over Instagram for everyone to see. (Want to follow their antics? Check out @crazyjewishmom on Instagram!)

Mother, Can you NOT? : And you thought your mother was crazy… follows Kate’s Siegel’s decision to broadcast her and her mother’s text messages online and the crazy journey it proved to be for her. This book is chock full of anecdotes featuring Kate’s mom and the conversation that she has with her on a daily basis.

Kate’s mother is the classic helicopter parent and you can even go as far as to call her a drone parent, which Kate certainly does. Kate’s mom is a hovering Jewish mother who only wants the best for her daughter and the best just happens to be married to a wealthy Jewish doctor and pregnant with his many children. Never mind the fact that for a long time, Kate was single and her boyfriends weren’t even Jewish. These are just unnecessary obstacles in Kate’s life that her mother knows all the solutions for: hanging out with the Princeton rabbi, going out even when you don’t want to, talking to a new doctor about sex when your mom is right in the room, etc. All perfectly normal things. This book is a very humorous and hilarious read chronicling the many adventures that Kate and her mother find themselves on and the many different ways all of our mother go on to help better their children’s lives even if their children’s don’t even ask for the help.

Unterzakhn by Leela Corman

unterzakhnUnterzakhn (yiddish for ‘underthings’) by Leela Corman tells the story of Jewish twin sisters at the start of the 20th century in New York City.  Esther and Fanya’s stories are told in graphic novel form, spanning more than a decade from childhood through adulthood, with black and white illustrations reminiscent of Russian folk art. The sisters make decidedly different decisions in their lives, but they both chose career paths outside of community and family expectations of them and drift apart from one another (forcefully in one scene).

Fanya starts this story when she finds a woman bleeding in the street and is instructed to go find the “lady doctor”.  This encounter brings her to Bronia, a feminist obstetrician who performs illegal abortions, and convinces Fanya’s mother to let Bronia teach Fanya to read.  Fanya then begins to apprentice for Bronia, and adapts to the strident expectations of her teacher.  While her sister is learning to work as an obstetrician, Esther begins working at the local burlesque theater and brothel — running errands and cleaning up.  As she grows toward adulthood, her work changes and she loses her family in the process.

This is a quick, but in no way a light read.  The writing and the illustrations show a lot of darkness and pain.  The sisters always seem better when they’re together, showing the quick wit and love that seems to be reserved for each other. I had a difficult time putting this book down, because Corman made it easy to care about Fanya and Esther.  This is a good read for fans of David Small’s Stitches or anything by Charles Burns.