There’s something about Alan Cumming, isn’t there? The actor has the sort of personality you’d like to let wash over you over drinks at a fabulous party or bar. He’s a character with stories to tell – and tell them he does in his latest book, "Baggage: Tales From A Fully Packed Life" (Dey Street Books, 288 pp., ★★★ out of four, out now).
The stage and screen star has always been a captivating fellow, and he's no different on the page. His first memoir, "Not My Father’s Son," which focused mostly on his childhood, was a far more harrowing tale of abuse. In his new work, Cumming takes a stab at the life he made for himself after confronting all of that, and the result is a far more gregarious collection of tales fans of his will surely want to sink their teeth into.
Despite – or maybe because of – all he’s been through, Cumming has managed the sort of enviable outlook on life to which many aspire. Throughout the book, there is a sense of contentment and understanding that life is what it will be, though our memories of and relationship to it may change, and there is beauty in that process. As Cumming says in the epilogue, he spent more time researching Alan Cumming than any character he has ever played, and through that process has found clarity and come to terms with the constant change and fluctuation of life.
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Reading this memoir, you may find yourself feeling similarly about your own experiences. And really, does it get much better than that?
Though that’s not to say the memoir isn’t fun. It’s full of the glamorous stuff; casual celebrity name drops and delectable bits of gossip abound. There’s a stolen butter dish with consequences for Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow, motorcycle rides with Camryn Manheim and anecdotes from the "Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion" set that are sure to make you giggle.
But it is the way Cumming understands himself and his journey that really engages. Perhaps because he is an actor and seeing the whole of a character is his job, there is a kindness with which he understands his own experiences that allows the reader to rethink how they may come to terms with their own life that is admirable and feels somewhat achievable for the rest of us. His reflections on the human experience show such compassion for humanity, it’s hard not to internalize them for one’s self.
There’s a duality to the book's title: On one hand it references the emotional tumult of Cumming's upbringing, on the other his globe-hopping, celebrity lifestyle filled with excitement and opulence. From taking ecstasy at the Tony Awards to voicing a horse in "Black Beauty," Cumming’s is a life wholly lived. And, yes, there are tales from his time with the Spice Girls filming "Spice World," too.
Fans of Cumming will delight in how tonally familiar the writing on the page feels – you can hear Cumming’s voice saying the words on the page as you read, making for a delightful companion. Though it's helpful to have read his first memoir in the lead-up to this it is not wholly necessary, as the multihyphenate gives enough background story to help the reader understand the totality of his experiences.
What is most important is that you come to this book with a heart ready to break and grow stronger through the imparting of Cumming’s experience. To wit, "Baggage" is the most delightful after-dinner aperitif – something worth savoring.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alan Cumming's memoir 'Baggage' has the right perspective on life