BOOK REVIEW: Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen

First off, yes: The book is dedicated to Soon-Yi. It also happens to be dedicated to those of us who enjoy reading the words of a great writer. And make no mistake — Woody Allen knows how to write, something he says (in his newly published autobiography, Apropos of Nothing) he could do even before he could read.

Not that he enjoyed to read, of course. As he fondly tells it, the overlapping worlds of old-time radio and magic shops and hot New Orleans jazz recordings and midtown-Manhattan movie palaces offered his Brooklyn teenage self far richer diversion. In the opening pages of this plucky new book, Allen even goes so far as to describe himself as follows: “Illiterate and uninterested in things scholarly, I grew up the prototype of the slug who sits in front of the TV, beer in hand, football game going full blast, Playboy centerfold Scotch-taped to the wall, a barbarian sporting the tweeds and elbow patches of the Oxford don.” Here, then, stands perhaps one of the book’s biggest revelations: although most often associated by the public with the fastidious neuroses of The Odd Couple’s Felix Unger (a character created by Allen’s fellow New York borough-bred comedy writer, the late Neil Simon), it turns out Mr. Allen (born Allan Stewart Konigsberg) is largely — and gleefully — much more of an Oscar Madison.

He also, as it happens, remains one of the smartest and deeply funniest comic minds of this or any other time in the Common Era. One is persuaded of this within the book’s first two pages; by the end of the first chapter, readers (this reader, at least, using a Nook because delivery of the hardcover has been delayed) will have laughed out loud at least six times at Allen’s deft turn of phrase and keen presence of mind. And while a piquant breadcrumb trail of jokes and set-ups is dropped throughout the book that either echo — or outright lift — similar moments and routines from his more than 50 films, it all coheres on the page into a smart view of a boisterously creative life the 84-year-old Allen still feels has been predicated mostly on “luck.” For those who love comedy and the movies, our luck is that Allen has built his life strongly around both.

With so many remarkable pictures to his name — nearly one each year, since he debuted with Take the Money and Run in 1969 — Allen chooses wisely to cover each across a series of tight and well-observed paragraphs. There is, of course, no way to sidestep his chaotic personal life events from the early 1990s, once again blunt grist for the mill over the past few years in this increasingly rancid time of “cancel culture.” Suffice to say, Mr. Allen (cleared twice, in courts of law, of any related wrongdoing) tells his side of the story across two chapters in the latter third of the book; and living in a free society means he still has the right to do so.

Moreso than a gifted writer or film director or jazz clarinetist or often sublime comedic actor, Mr. Allen reveals himself in his fiercely absorbing new autobiography as a dreamer; ever, and still, in love with the sophisticate fantasies of long-ago Tinseltown. During this vile time of COVID-19 pandemic and shrill political vitriol, I cannot think of a finer and more delightful book to read — except perhaps Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly. (That one’s for you, Woody.)

Anthony Pomes has worked steadily as a freelance writer/editor and frequent ghost writer for more than two decades. He is presently the vice president of marketing/sales/PR for Square One Publishers, and has worked as research editor on a number of books including a series of trivia titles with showbiz legends Fred Willard, Dick Van Patten, and Joe Franklin together with former Monkees singer/actor Micky Dolenz. He has had the honor of naming a book (Taking Woodstock) that then became an acclaimed 2009 feature film from two-time Oscar winning director Ang Lee, has begun now to work as an audio book director, and continues to work as a session musician and is the “Lennon” in various Beatles tribute bands. He and his writing have appeared in Newsday, The New York Times, and the Associated Press among other sites and publications, and his solo work as a singer/songwriter is available on Spotify, iTunes, and wherever else music is bought and sold. Learn more here.