Books

Alan Cumming Talks About ‘Baggage’

The actor and author discusses his new memoir, and Allen C. Guelzo talks about “Robert E. Lee: A Life.”












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The actor and author Alan Cumming was happily surprised that his best-selling first memoir, “Not My Father’s Son,” inspired many readers who had suffered their own childhood traumas. But he was disappointed, he says on this week’s podcast, when people characterized him as having “triumphed” or “overcome” his adversity. “I haven’t, I haven’t, I absolutely haven’t,” he says. And he stresses that point in his new memoir, “Baggage.”

“We all have baggage, we all have trauma, we all have something,” he says. “But the worst thing to do is to pretend it hasn’t happened. to deny it or to think that you’re over it. And that’s what I felt was in danger of happening with the way that my first book was reacted to. So in this I’m trying to say: You never get over it, it’s with you all the time.” He adds: “You have to be very vigilant about your trauma. If you deny it, it will come back and bite you in the bum.”

Allen C. Guelzo visits the podcast to discuss “Robert E. Lee: A Life,” his new biography of the Confederate leader.

“Since it had been at least 25 years since another serious biography of Lee had been published — this was by Emory Thomas, in 1995 — it seemed to me that the time was right to begin a re-evaluation of Lee, and especially to ask questions about Lee from someone like myself coming from what was, quite frankly, a Northern perspective,” Guelzo says. “After all, all the books I’ve written up to this point have been about Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause in the war, and I thought it might be productive to look at Robert E. Lee through the other end of the telescope.”

Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Alexandra Jacobs and Molly Young talk about books they’ve recently reviewed. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed by the Times’s critics this week:

“Our Country Friends” by Gary Shteyngart

“Solid Ivory” by James Ivory

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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