An Improvised Life: A Memoir

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Overview


Alan Arkin knew he was going to be an actor from the age of five: "Every film I saw, every play, every piece of music fed an unquenchable need to turn myself into something other than what I was." An Improvised Life is the Oscar winner's wise and unpretentious recollection of the process--artistic and personal--of becoming an actor, and a revealing look into the creative mind of one of the best practitioners on stage or screen. In a manner that is direct, down-to-earth, accessible, and articulate, Arkin reveals ...
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Overview


Alan Arkin knew he was going to be an actor from the age of five: "Every film I saw, every play, every piece of music fed an unquenchable need to turn myself into something other than what I was." An Improvised Life is the Oscar winner's wise and unpretentious recollection of the process--artistic and personal--of becoming an actor, and a revealing look into the creative mind of one of the best practitioners on stage or screen. In a manner that is direct, down-to-earth, accessible, and articulate, Arkin reveals insights not only about himself (and his audience and students), but also truths for the rest of us about work, relationships, and sense of self.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, 1/1/10
“Arkin’s approach to autobiography is a bit unexpected—the intensely earnest, verging-on-New-Age tone is distinctly at odds with his familiar brusque, comedic persona—but rewarding, as the author illustrates the principles of his acting philosophy with a wealth of concrete details taken directly from his experience, resulting in a coherent and provocative manifesto…He also displays a refreshing lack of egocentrism…Earnest, intelligent and well-observed—less a celebrity memoir than a serious consideration of the principles of acting and improvisation.”
 

Publishers Weekly, 1/10/11
“More a reflection on acting than a straightforward memoir, Academy Award-winner Arkin's musing on the creative process is a welcome window into the mind of an artist…[An] engaging and instructive book.”
 

Library Journal (starred review), 2/15/11
“A profoundly honest and revelatory reckoning of an artistic and personal awakening…As honest and truthful a story of a life journey and arc toward artistic freedom as you are likely to find. All artists would benefit from Arkin’s accrued insights and wisdom.”
 
Village Voice “La Daily Musto” blog, 2/23/11
“A great read—probing, educational, and wise.”
 
Bookviews.com, March 2011
“Arkin, unlike many actors, has an intellect that takes in more than just acting.”
 
Albuquerque Journal
“Stimulating, thoughtful and instructive. Readers familiar with Arkin from his recent, rather brusque comedic roles may be somewhat surprised by the earnest, introspective, circumspect character on these pages, but the warmth of the real man emerges in his intimate sharing of something he so obviously and deeply treasures—his life’s work.”
 
Local IQ (Albuquerque)
“An uncommonly well written and thoughtful memoir by an actor with a career that speaks for itself.”
 
A.V. Club, The Onion, 3/10/11
“For anyone curious about the thought processes of one of America’s finest working character actors, it’s worth a breezy look.”

New York
Journal of Books, 3/1/11
“[Arkin] communicates his philosophy and principles of acting articulately and clearly. His easy-going prose is entertaining to any reader, but to those with a deeper interest in theater, the book contains valuable gems.”

Blogcritics.org, 3/11/11

“Arkin tells his story simply, easily drawing the reader into his world. At only 191 pages, An Improvised Life is not a long book but there is a wealth of life experience in those pages. If you are at all interested in reading about the craft of acting from the point of view of one who values it above fame, you’ll want to read Alan Arkin’s An Improvised Life.”

Toronto
Globe & Mail, 3/5/11  “A memoir of an acting life, full of inside details.”

PhiladelphiaInquirer, FLICKgrrrl Blog, 3/8/11
“I'm charmed by [Arkin’s] new memoir, An Improvised Life, and am delighted to report he has the same gravity and levity as a writer that he has as a performer…Read the book. Then treat yourself with an Arkin film.”

WashingtonPost, 3/13/11
“[An] uncompromising, thoughtful and surprising book.”
 
Bookgasm, 3/14/11
“[A] wise and unpretentious recollection of the process—artistic and personal—of becoming an actor, and a revealing look into the creative mind of one of the best practitioners on stage or screen. In a manner that is direct, down-to-earth, accessible and articulate, Arkin reveals insights not only about himself, but also truths for the rest of us about work, relationships and sense of self.”
 
Richard Crouse, noted Canadian film critic, 3/18/11
“Anyone who is an actor or who has ever thought of becoming an actor should read this candid, fascinating book.”
 

PopMatters.com, 3/21/11
“[Arkin] establishes himself fully as an intelligent man, serious but not pretentious, who writes with graceful honesty and a welcome economy. He has things to say—from both sides of the camera—about performance as a vehicle for emotional reality, and its attendant effects on the performer’s psyche, that even the casual film fan can recognize as valid.”

Huffington Post,
3/21/11

“[A] thoughtful look back at a long and distinguished career…Fans and admirers of the Academy Award-winning star will enjoy An Improvised Life for the insight to be gained from this personal visit with an actor who proves to be quite deft with a pen. Those who share Arkin’s interest in the acting life will find a great deal to like here, as well.”

January
, 3/21/11
“[A] thoughtful look back at a long and distinguished career…Fans and admirers of the Academy Award-winning star will enjoy An Improvised Life for the insight to be gained from this personal visit with an actor who proves to be quite deft with a pen. Those who share Arkin’s interest in the acting life will find a great deal to like here, as well.”
 
MassachusettsDaily Collegian, 3/24/11
“This pleasure read does not require sitting with an encyclopedia or Google search open, simply an interest in the mind’s workings of an icon in the arts.”

Kingman Daily Miner
, 3/25/11

“A lot of food for thought…Highly recommended.”

Total Film, UK, May 2011
“A readable look at how the young New Yorker found his way to Chicago’s Second City improv troupe and made the most of the opportunities it opened up for him.”
 
Los AngelesTimes, “Jacket Copy” Blog, 4/1/11
“A charming little book that throws open the door to improvisational theater, inviting us all to engage in a little ‘make believe’…An unassuming, self-effacing book.”

WomanAroundTown.com, 3/29/11
“Alan Arkin brings as much truth to his autobiography as he does to his work as an actor.”

 
Reference and Research Book News, April 2011
“Arkin takes readers along on a journey through his career and the discoveries he made about acting and life along the way.”
 
New YorkPost, 5/29/11
“It’s hard to read [Arkin’s] memoir without hearing his voice—gruff, semi-sarcastic but wise—in every sentence.”

Times Literary Supplement (UK),
6/1/11
“[Arkin] employs his anecdotal discoveries with elegance and his observations are sharp and unrelenting…For the layman there is an unflinching glimpse into the creative process. For the professional it confirms the simplest of rules: stick to the basics—to the truth of the moment.”


Portland
Book Review, June-August 2011
“Who would’ve thought one of the best books of the year would be written by an actor?...For the aspiring actor, it provides inspiration as well as clear-eyed instruction, and for the cinephile, it provides insights into what makes actors stand out.”
 
ForeWord, July/August 2011
“Much like some of his personas on screen, Arkin is charming and warm in these personal recollections…The advice he offers can extend into anyone’s life and help them to be more flexible and open to whatever changes might arise. To improvise, Arkin believes, is to grow closer to the self in an authentic way, and for him, that growth has led to a type of clarity and serenity that’s inspiring.”
 
San Francisco Book Review, 7/25/11 “This intimate look into the life of Alan Arkin…is a creation well worth exploring. It not only brings the reader into Arkin’s professional life, but shares glimpses into his personal life that will resonate with the reader.”

AlbuquerqueJournal
“More a musing on a life in acting than an autobiography…Arkin comes across as wry, sometimes brusque, but earnest almost to the point of nurturing. The book is less a celebrity memoir than a serious look at the principles of acting and improvisation that have driven his life.”

January magazine, 12/18/11 “Best Books of 2011,” Biography category. “While Alan Arkin’s An Improvised Life is disguised as a memoir, it’s really something more than that…A journeyman’s thoughtful look back at a long and distinguished career…A working actor’s contemplation on a vocation that can be consuming, both personally and professionally…Fans and admirers of the Academy Award-winning star will enjoy An Improvised Life for the insight to be gained from this personal visit with an actor who proves to be quite deft with a pen. Those who share Arkin’s interest in the acting life will find a great deal to like here, as well.”

Library Journal
If you pick up esteemed character actor and Academy Award winner Arkin's memoir hoping to find salacious stories of working with Sondra Locke in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, behind-the-scenes machinations between director Mike Nichols and Orson Welles in Catch-22, or the dirt on Steve Carell and Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), you will be disappointed. With very few exceptions, name-dropping and anecdotal bons mots are conspicuously absent in this story of a 45-year career in film and theater. What you will find is a profoundly honest and revelatory reckoning of an artistic and personal awakening grounded in the methodologies of improvisation that Arkin learned in his early work with the seminal Second City. His experiences with individual psychotherapy, ongoing study of Eastern thought and philosophy, and leading improvisational workshops also infuse this narrative of the blossoming of an actor. VERDICT As honest and truthful a story of a life journey and arc toward artistic freedom as you are likely to find. All artists would benefit from Arkin's accrued insights and wisdom.—Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX
Kirkus Reviews

The famous funnyman gets serious about his profession.

Arkin looks back on his career as an actor, but this memoir forgoes the backstage gossip and star-studded anecdotes readers might expect. In fact, the author largely ignores his accomplishments in favor of charting his inner evolution as an artist, focusing on intellectual and spiritual epiphanies that have shaped his approach to acting. Arkin's approach to autobiography is a bit unexpected—the intensely earnest, verging-on-New-Age tone is distinctly at odds with his familiar brusque, comedic persona—but rewarding, as the author illustrates the principles of his acting philosophy with a wealth of concrete details taken directly from his experience, resulting in a coherent and provocative manifesto. There are some intriguing glimpses at the process and personalities behind Chicago's seminal Second City acting troupe, in which Arkin first made a name for himself, and a handful of familiar tropes about the struggling young artist looking for work. But the author's interest is primarily in the discoveries he has made conducting improvisational-theater workshops, working with various acting mentors and performing on stage and screen. Arkin's basic premise is that good acting is born of an actor's commitment to the present moment, an embrace of spontaneity and willingness to give up rigid control. This Zen-like approach, which largely consists of the actor getting out of his own way, is hardly revolutionary, but Arkin has a knack for making it feel fresh and wholly sensible. He also displays a refreshing lack of egocentrism; many of the most profound lessons he recounts are the result of watching other actors, often amateurs, struggle with the challenges of improvisation laid out in his workshops. For an actor famous for his anxious, intense brand of comedy, Arkin's tone is surprisingly cool and measured, often wry but rarely laugh-out-loud funny.

Earnest, intelligent and well-observed—less a celebrity memoir than a serious consideration of the principles of acting and improvisation.

Mindy Aloff
At the outset, this memoir by Alan Arkin…promises to keep the focus on acting, and it does exactly that. You'll find more personal detail about the author in his Wikipedia entry than in this uncompromising, thoughtful and surprising book…The high security, so atypical of the contemporary memoir, seems at first a little tight-lipped. However, after a couple of chapters, a reader catches on: Arkin is bringing forward only those indiscretions and confessions that have a direct bearing on his interior progress as a performer…By the end he has made many aspects of acting interconnect: acting as product, as entertainment, as process, as a route to self-knowledge and even—for both actor and observer—as catharsis.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306819667
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 971,943
  • Product dimensions: 5.59 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author


Academy Award-winning actor Alan Arkin, who has starred and appeared in more than 80 films, is also a director, musician, and children's book author. Born in Manhattan, he currently lives in New Mexico.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 3, 2011

    Open, honest, wonderful.

    Alan Arkin has always intrigued me. Decades ago, his onscreen intensity was constant and often volatile. The intensity abides, but these days, it has a much more considered quality. I chalked it up to the kind of self-possession that comes with the knocks I imagined Arkin experienced. When I stumbled across his memoir, I figured hey, 224 pages, what have I got to lose?

    The book. is. wonderful. Starting with the cover photo, Arkin's genuine pleasure speaks volumes. He writes with such openness and generosity that I hated to put the book down. I read it a chapter or two at a time as much to absorb his wisdom as to prolong the experience.

    Arkin's insights on acting have given me a new perspective on the craft and a fuller appreciation of a successful performance. In turn, willing readers can take away useful life lessons. This is a terrific book by any standard.

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