Friday, May 31, 2013

Lessons learned the hard way

book review

Book: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future – Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned
Author: Michael J. Fox    
It’s hard not to love Michael J. Fox and it’s even harder not to admire his resilience. As an actor, he has seen immense success, and his career has been quite remarkable. He is still much adored for his portrayal of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy, and has also played some unforgettable characters, including Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties and Mike Flaherty on Spin City, as well as voicing the title character in the Stuart Little movies. But he has also faced a major personal challenge; at the height of his success, the star was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition that forced him into semi-retirement in 2000.

He has since authored three books that have taken an autobiographical look at his life and shared stories from his past, the most recent of which is 2010’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future – Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned, a tome in which he shares his experiences with students and new graduates.

“I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education,” said Mark Twain, but in Michael J. Fox’s case, he never let his lack of schooling interfere with his education. A high school dropout who has since earned his GED (at the urging of his son, “approximately fifteen years after I left high school in the eleventh grade”) and has even been awarded several honorary doctorates, Fox says he has been “alternately fortunate and unfortunate enough to receive an amazingly comprehensive education, albeit unstructured, and often unbidden.” “I had been a humble and grateful student of, if not the School of Hard Knocks, then at least the University of the Universal,” he says, and these “Life 101” lessons are relayed by the author with his standard wit and charm in this book.

“What I’ve done here is draw a few observations based on my life experience and organise them in response to the broader question: What constitutes an education?,” writes Fox, before elaborating that he feels that while “there really is no substitute for a solid education to inform a maturing mind,” at the same time it is inappropriate to “make character judgments based solely on one’s alma mater or post-graduate degree.” He then draws a parallel between his learnings and the courses students are taught at school, and speaks of prospering “not through avoidance of a classic education, but by finding a way, if not to replicate it, then to approximate it”. “Whether you go to school or set out on your own, certain lessons are unavoidable,” he says. “Speaking from personal experience, it might be less painful to learn them in the classroom.”

For the most part of the book, he maps his life experiences onto various subjects. For instance, he talks about learning economics from Alex P. Keaton, encountering the concept of “supply and demand” as an actor, and coping with financial troubles at the start of his career; experiencing physics on the set of Back to the Future; appreciating geography while shooting the Vietnam drama Casualties of War; and his love for reading as well as the comparison between books and their movie adaptations under the guise of comparative literature, before eventually coming to the conclusion that “one’s education is never complete”.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future is both witty and inspiring, but its major flaw is that it’s too short. At only about a hundred pages, the book is a very quick read, and is perhaps a little light on content, especially new material. If you have read his previous books (Lucky Man: A Memoir and Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist), then you might find A Funny Thing repetitive and a bit redundant, as the author has mentioned most of the same topics and stories in his earlier books. Still, Fox shares his insights in a humorous and engaging style, which makes the book fun to read, and students and recent graduates might glean some inspiration from the wisdom he shares with his readers.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 31st May, 2013

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