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September 6, 2016
Book Review: Alan Cumming’s “You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (My Life in Stories and Pictures)”

41DhdFEmYGL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As a wee boy in Scotland, Alan Cumming was visited by a strange man who turned up outside his house and bestowed upon him a plastic Kodak camera that he’d won, it transpired, via a tombola ticket at the church jamboree. This treasured item could be interpreted as belonging to a roll of a great deal of lady luck. But not so. Cumming’s success as a film, television and Tony Award winning stage actor, director, photographer, scriptwriter, novelist and memoirist has come from needling into just about every creative discipline to critical acclaim. His coexisting reputation as an all-round celebrity alphabet list magnet, a chat show raconteur, part-party boy, part-polite, sensitive chap, adds to his personal appeal.

His latest memoir, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (My Life in Stories and Pictures), delves into all of the above in mostly snapshot musings and memories. Collectively, they partner up with a photographic gallery of random body parts, many a gay West Village adventure, celebs, friends, family, dogs, an abundance of pre selfie-era selfies and Glenn Close’s extraordinary map-of-muscle back. The quality of the photographs matters little in the context of this memento portfolio. The few that are blurred or questionably framed are either referenced in comic vignettes or produced and directed by a good night out.

Despite its lighthearted tone, there are a number of things that differentiate You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (the title comes from an Oprah Winfrey comment to Cumming’s Oprah-obsessed pal) from your average celebrity scrapbook cash-in. One is Cumming’s previous page-turning memoir, Not My Father’s Son, which recalls a childhood oppressed by his Brontë villain father on a wily, windy private estate. Two simultaneous family mysteries ensue that could challenge any fictional thriller. It is an excellent read, and so You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams seems like much deserved light relief for anyone who has read the previous book as well as for Cumming himself. He’s allowed a cheerful reminiscence or a rant or two.

A road trip with his dog Honey from New York to Vancouver picks up and drops off a list of roadside attractions. Drive-by insect farms, a curiously named store (Wall Drugs) and the Mitchell Corn Palace are accompanied by various local talk radio shows, which spout a belief system that mystifies and infuriates so many non-American US dwellers including Cumming. His opinions on politics and the US are consistent with his unfolding character. An outspoken liberal and active supporter of Scottish independence, he is vocal about the Land of the Free’s double standards on general tolerance and foreign policy. In this same road trip section, there are lot of Honey the dog photos in tourist mode. The book is reminiscent of looking at someone’s photo album when they are present to describe the dramas and tenuous links that form the premise of each picture. The results are sometimes unexpected, sometimes puzzling and more often than not reveal the best of someone, the celebratory, sociable side à la Instagram.

The icon related anecdotes are interesting, in particular one about Gore Vidal. In Cumming’s company, Vidal is as dexterous and acidic with his intelligence as one might expect, but on the stubborn side of a debate on the freedom of surrendering to love, Vidal’s stoicism serves to highlight Cumming’s general optimism.

“So you’ve never loved, Gore.”
I didn’t believe him.

Elsewhere, the nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel, whom Cumming meets at a glamorous shindig, is in his own words “a rabid Republican”. Her wrath is such that Cumming opts to omit her comments on Obama.

Cumming comes across as a character whom turning down a cocktail rendezvous with might mean missing out on devilish wit, filthy gossip, the chance of spontaneous hedonism and a good ear. It stands to reason that those who tell good stories must also be attentive listeners. There is something of the confidante in his written persona.

“For those of you not initiated in bull’s penises, I should tell you that dogs love them” is a Cumming quotable that is at the very least, informative. If you’re a fan of Cumming, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams is fun and lively enough to sustain interest. For those less familiar, it is a teasing glimpse into an impressive achiever’s high life and downtime.

You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams (My Life in Stories and Pictures)

by Alan Cumming

272 pages. Rizzoli Ex Libris.

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Written by: K Krombie
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