Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: 'Brief Encounters' by Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett, seventy-eight, is known for his erudition, witty conversation, and appreciation of comedy greats. He has written material for many television personalities and hosted popular talk shows. The pieces that appear in his latest book, "Brief Encounters," appeared earlier in Cavett's online column for the New York Times and, as the author states, were edited "into presentable reading form."

In fifty-seven brief chapters, Cavett provides snapshots of his life as a boy growing up in Nebraska; his friendships with such luminaries as the aforementioned Groucho, Muhammad Ali, Mel Brooks, Stan Laurel, and Nora Ephron; and his thoughts on humor, political correctness, sex, dreams, and maligning the dead. The target audience is, for the most part, sixty-five and over, since older folks will be more likely to appreciate Cavett's references to Arthur Godfrey, Jack Paar, Marlene Dietrich, and others performers of an earlier era.

Cavett writes with style, care, and ease. He makes us feel as if we are sitting together on a comfortable couch having an intimate chat. The quality of his essays, however, is uneven; some are downright dull. His reminiscences of boyhood hijinks in Nebraska should not have made the cut. Nor will many readers care much about Cavett's one and only drinking binge. Fortunately, there are some gems about Liz Taylor's earthiness and ability to laugh at herself; George S. Kaufman's put-down of a young and arrogant Eddie Fisher; Muhammad Ali's approachability and courage; the trouble Cavett had with network executives when his guests discussed the Vietnam War; and Groucho's final years with a controlling wife who insisted that the frail comedian could still perform. You may choose to read every word, or skim through and stop when something catches your fancy. Cavett is a raconteur who is eager to share his ideas, feelings, and experiences. "Brief Encounters," although intermittently entertaining, needed a more ruthless editor to eliminate the repetitious, self-indulgent, and tedious passages that keep it from earning a more enthusiastic recommendation. (Three and a half-stars)

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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