24 May 2010

"Inside Inside" by James Lipton

Inside Inside
James Lipton
Date of publication: 18 October 2007
512 pages
Cover Price: $27.95
ISBN: 978-0-525-95035-6

Like many people, I was largely familiar with James Lipton from his hosting duties on Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio series and sporadic appearances on Late Nite with Conan O'Brien.  I've long prided myself on my vocabulary, so Lipton has existed for me on a particularly high pedestal; he's one of those few people who bandy about uncommon words with such ease that it does not feel pretentious or condescending.  It's rare enough to find someone who will challenge the anti-intellectual strain of the masses and rarer still to find someone who does it with such ease and familiarity with the English language.  In other words, this is a particularly well told story.

Lest you fear that Inside Inside is little more than a wordy exercise in linguistic excess, Lipton's had quite the life to discuss.  There are passages of his time spent living in Paris that are among the most page-turning tales I've read yet--and you should know that last year, I read The Sexual Life of Catherine M.  His experiences within the various fields of acting (as an actor, ballet dancer, producer, writer and director) offer great insight to that world, and he does not hesitate to invoke remarks quoted by A-list stars to complement his thesis.  When you can cite Paul Newman as a reference, you've got some serious credibility when you're talking about acting.

Lipton's relationship with his estranged father dominates the book, and this anchors the tome.  Time and again, Lipton explores not only his own circumstances, but includes discussions he has had with other folks about their relationships with their parents.  It should come as no surprise that he dedicates no small amount of time to remembering time spent on stage interviewing Angelina Jolie.  In the hands of so many others, their frank conversation would be passed off as celebrity gossip; in Lipton's capable hands, it becomes a genuinely touching exploration of a very universal theme of the human condition.

There is one thing I feel compelled to note here, and that is that when I first set out to read this book earlier in the year, I had great difficulty concentrating long enough to absorb more than a paragraph at a time.  As it happened, I was also having a difficult time absorbing vitamin D; my tested levels were at 5.1 nano-grams per milliliter, far below the 34 recommended minimum.  It's hard to read a work of this caliber under those circumstances, and it took me nearly nine weeks to finish.  I suspect my enthusiasm would have been more forceful had I been able to dedicate myself to reading this in earnest, and I consider it a credit to James Lipton's sensibilities as a writer that his verbose stories sustained my attention at all during those weeks.

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