Thursday, January 09, 2014


Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: The Modest Renaissance Man

Backing into Forward

by Jules Feiffer
Doubleday 2010, 445 pages, $30
ISBN 978-0-385-53158-0

I have to admit that Feiffer's memoir sat on my 'to be read' shelf for a long while. Two reasons -- first, the book is rather lengthy, and second, I didn't know that Feiffer's story would hold my interest.

Because Feiffer's cartoons primarily appeared in the Village Voice, my only encounters with him came through reprint books. Although very much impressed with his poignant strips that dredge all the dark places of the human psyche, I found reading the books to make his cartoons seem quite repetitive ("oh great, another dancer..."). I know had I seen the cartoons at the real-time schedule of once per week I would have been a huge fan. But I didn't have access in that mode, and I've never been one to strictly mete out the reading of a book. 

So though in theory I know Feiffer is one hell of a cartoonist (and many other things -- screenwriter, novelist, playwright, etc.) I felt a bit standoffish towards reading his biography.

Once I finally jumped in, it seemed almost as if Feiffer knew that I would be his audience. The early chapters, covering his childhood, are uproariously funny and heart-rendingly touching, where most memoirs have us wondering when the author will jump ahead to the meat. Feiffer makes his readers fall in love with him right from the start, no matter what baggage you carried into the book. From there we go onto his teenage years, and becoming a cartoonist. Here he is self-effacing, droll, instructive, and, of course, talks about my favorite subject. The love deepens.

From there we go on to his rich middle and later years, in which he was politically active and started branching off into his other careers. Now that he had me in the palm of his hand, he feeds me the stuff I thought I didn't care about. What's it like to rewrite a play over and over in Boston? I didn't think I cared. But Feiffer had me. Heck, he even had me talking about his kids and Martha's Vineyard and all sorts of other stuff that should have had me start riffling pages.

Buy it. Even if you're not a huge Feiffer fan, you might well be by the time you finish the book.


Have you ever read his plays? He is unjustly forgotten as a playwrite. His Little Murders could be staged today.
I read one of his novels (Ackroyd) and wasn't crazy about it; but I might have been too young -- think I read it in my early teens. Unfortunately haven't seen his plays.

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