This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection
By Carol Burnett
Published by Random House
Read by Carol Burnett
The Book and Audiobook:
I normally review the content of a book separately from the audio edition, but seeing as this is an autobiography being read by the author it seems somehow wrong to separate the two. I’ve been a big fan of Carol Burnett since a junior high school English class when my teacher (who was also active in the local community theatre) played an audio-only recording of “Once Upon a Mattress.” I didn’t know who the actress was playing Princess Winnifred, but I knew I wanted to hear more from her.
A while back I reviewed the autobiography of another favorite actress, Lis Sladen, and it is hard not to compare it with this. Ms Sladen’s story, while mostly lineal, centered on those parts of her career and her life involved with the hit TV show, Doctor Who and its spin-offs. It was anecdotal, but she frequently went into detail as to what she was going through during those parts of her life and the people she worked with. It was an entertaining story that I enjoyed a lot.
Carol Burnett’s autobiography is similarly entertaining but rather than really telling a whole story it is tightly packed with short anecdotes some of which are far too short, but I will admit that many are laugh-out-loud funny. This is not so much a life-story as it is a compilation of the answers Ms Burnett has given at the start of each show back when she had her variety show on TV and in various live road shows she has done.
As she states at the start of the book, after a while she noticed that a lot of the questions had been asked many times and this was her chance to record her answers for posterity. The stories are interesting and are intimately involved with the people she worked with and met, such as the chance meeting with author John Steinbeck in the elevator of the apartment building they both lived in. She jabbered on, trading compliments with Steinbeck, completely forgetting her husband who was not so patiently waiting for an introduction. When they finally got to their floor and with the elevator doors closing she finally blurted out the introduction, and got her husband’s name wrong.
Most of the anecdotes only connect because they happened to her, but I suppose this is to be expected and while, on the surface, it seems like Ms Burnett is opening up parts of herself, I got the feeling there were major barriers, just out of sight most of the time, that she would not allow herself to breach. I don’t mind that so much. I think everyone has the right to privacy and to keep whatever parts of their lives to themselves that they want to, but when, near the end of the book, she begins to discuss her daughter’s death, the barrier – a great glass wall – was all too apparent and I felt I was being kept at a distance. As I say, this is understandable and I doubt I will ever write an autobiography (who would want to read it?), but I have always felt that the point of writing about one’s own life was to be completely open, so while I do not mean to criticize Ms Burnett for being reserved concerning that particular part of her life, it felt that while we were allowed to laugh with her, we were not allowed to cry as well.
Well, that one bit aside, I greatly enjoyed listening to this book and all the happier that Carol Burnett was reading her own book. It did not quite have the sparkle of the Q&A sessions that are her signature opening act, but you can’t write a book in front of a live audience – and even if you could, the spontaneity would be lost in the editing process. However, this could be the next best thing and in my opinion is best enjoyed as an audiobook rather than simply read to oneself.