Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review - My Footprint by Jeff Garlin

Having never watched Curb Your Enthusiasm (yeah, I'm THAT guy), my only familiarity with Jeff Garlin in the past has been recognizing his voice as the Ship's Captain in Wall-E. So when I picked up his book, My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World, I did so with no preconceived notions or expectations, other than that I was about to read a humorous story about one man's quest to lose weight and 'Go Green'. I give this disclaimer only to separate myself from those familiar with Garlin who have gone on to either devotedly praise the book or trash it because they expected so much more.

As someone who has struggled with weight loss, I found a great deal of sincerity and honesty in Garlin's writing. Unlike many books on the subject, Garlin focuses more on the ease of failure rather than success, and how hard it can be to change ingrained and previously unrecognized habits formed over a lifetime. Like most comics, Garlin turns as harsh an eye onto himself as he does others, and he is the first to make a joke at his own expense, adding a glaring truthfulness to the recording of his attempts at weight loss. Without this kind of sardonic and insightful self-awareness, the book (and his journey) would ring hollow. In this respect, Garlin's book is a resounding success. Where it falls short, however, is the overall reading experience. Despite the author's obvious desire to take the reader on a journey through his own experiences, there is no real flow to the novel, and progressing through it feels more like a stumble through disjointed thoughts and anecdotes than it does a trip through one man's story of self-discovery.

Perhaps what hurts Garlin's book more than helps it is the diary format. While this approach might seem like the logical choice for the author's desire to bring his readers along on his journey of self-improvement, it can often feel as random and disjointed as, well, a diary. Much of the ground covered within the book is spread thin and jumbled nonsensically, resulting in a disjointed structure that continually fails to draw the reader in. If Garlin had taken the time to arrange his thoughts and experiences into whole chapters dedicated to a particular focus, like a chapter about the pitfalls of dieting on set ("How to CURB Your Appetite") or his experiences with Ed Begley Jr. ("My Green Guru"), then perhaps his struggles would have had more of a literary impact. Even more importantly, he might have been more successful in thematically joining his desires to lose weight and decrease his carbon footprint, rather than have them continue to feel like two almost unrelated personal goals. If the idea behind the format was that our increasingly Twitter-truncated communication culture would make a book in bite-sized segments more popular, it was a bad idea. Most readers, despite the popularity of text messaging and Facebook status updates, prefer to read books that are more than just random thoughts and musings jotted down throughout the day and faxed to an editor.

This isn't to say that Garlin's book is bad. As I said earlier, his struggles with weight loss and environmental awareness are inspiring as they are humorous. But the way in which he tells his tale makes the book feel like little more than an afterthought. In the end, as endearing and humorous as it might be in spots, My Footprint comes off as haphazard and unstructured as Garlin's admittedly slipshod approach to dieting, leading to the wish that he had struggled to improve his writing before writing about his struggles to improve.
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