Stories I Only Tell My Friends (Rob Lowe)

In a word: Compelling

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I listened to this in August, after school started. Can I still call that summer reading? If yes, this might be my surprise favorite read of the summer. I bought it on an impulse when I was trying to use up some Audible credits after hearing Gretchen Rubin give the book a passing positive mention on her podcast. This is my favorite kind of favorite book: one that I acquire almost by accident, and begin with zero expectation.

I confess that I began this book knowing Rob Lowe only for his role as Chris Traeger in Parks and Recreation. Chris is LITERALLY my favorite character on Parks, so that is not a bad association at all, but it turns out that a few seasons on a quirky sitcom is just the tiny tip of the iceberg when it comes to Lowe’s acting career. I think my total ignorance of Lowe’s pre-Parks life is part of what contributed to my enjoyment of the book: I had no idea where the story was going!

Here is what I learned: Lowe’s life story (at least, according to this book) can be roughly divided into three parts: 1) his life prior to his big break into Hollywood, including some really sad but interesting stories about growing up in Malibu in the 1970’s; 2) his early career, beginning at age 17, a dangerous mix of youth, fame, money, and a total lack of adult influence; and 3) his post-rehab life in which he grows up, stays sober, gets married, and pursues a “normal” life as his Hollywood/TV career continues.

Along the way, with a humble, conversational style, Lowe recounts stories of life among the rich, famous and powerful, including (but not limited to!) hanging out with Martin, Charlie, and Emilio at the Sheen’s house, watching his TV debut while sitting on Cary Grant’s bed with Grant and his daughter, sketching on a paper tablecloth with Andy Warhol, hanging out with Pavarotti and Sting at Sting’s country estate, chatting up Lucille Ball in a green room, dating Princess Stephanie of Monaco, sleeping on a fold-out couch with a teenage Tom Cruise in an apartment in Oklahoma, getting photobombed by Bill Clinton in the White House, riding on an airplane with the 9-11 terrorists.

This is a celebrity memoir that reads like an autobiography more than a collection of famous thoughts on various topics. And what a story Lowe tells! He describes his years of wild living with a tone that, while not exactly repentant, is never salacious. He goes from one star-studded episode to the next without ever sounding like he’s name-dropping. From the very beginning, you can hear the voice of the end product: a man who has found ultimate satisfaction in his roles as husband and father, a normal guy with a lot of extraordinary stories to tell.

I listened to the audio version of this book (highly recommended!), which is why  I only managed to note one great quote as I read (it’s the first one). But I snagged a few more from Goodreads to illustrate Lowe’s effective style:

“This insane logic holds right up until I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. Then, very slowly, I turn and face myself full on. I am so hammered that I can barely stand. The girl I love has just left me because I can’t keep my word and I have no integrity. My grandfather is dying. My mother is in crisis, desperate for help and comfort, and I have cowered and hid in shameful avoidance. I have arrived at the bottom.”

“Nothing in life is unfair. It’s just life. To the extent that I had any inner turmoil, I had only myself to blame. I also thought of my two boys and what kind of example I hoped to be. I would always want them to take charge of their own futures and not be paralyzed by the comfort and certainty of the status quo or be cowed by the judgment of those on the outside looking in.”

“[Kids] don’t really listen to speeches or talks. They absorb incrementally, through hours and hours of observation. The sad truth about divorce is that it’s hard to teach your kids about life unless you are living life with them: eating together, doing homework, watching Little League, driving them around endlessly, being bored with nothing to do, letting them listen while you do business, while you negotiate love and the frustrations and complications and rewards of living day in and out with your wife. Through this, they see how adults handle responsibility, honesty, commitment, jealousy, anger, professional pressures, and social interactions. Kids learn from whoever is around them the most.”

“You can’t build a life on a backstage pass or free swag at Sundance.”

Amazon blurbed this book “A wryly funny and surprisingly moving account of an extraordinary life lived almost entirely in the public eye.” For these qualities and many more, I was so disappointed to get to the end of this book!

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