Saturday, October 10, 2009

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox

Published in 2009. 279 pages.

Because I loved Michael J. Fox's Lucky Man when I listened to the audiobook last year, I was eager to read this recently published follow-up. While different in format - it is organized in four categories (Work, Politics, Faith, and Family) rather than chronologically - and somewhat different in tone, Always Looking Up is every bit as smart, funny, and insightful as Lucky Man is.

One of the concepts Fox presented that I especially loved was an idea he got from Christopher Reeve: optimism + knowledge = hope. In the section on "Faith," Fox writes:

Chris Reeve wisely parsed the difference between optimism and hope. Unlike optimism, he said, "Hope is the product of knowledge and the projection of where the knowledge can take us." If optimism is a happy-go-lucky expectation that the odds are in my favor, that things are likely to break my way, and if hope is an informed optimism, facts converting desire into possibility, then faith is the third leg of the stool. Faith tells me that I'm not alone. [pages 201-202]

Here is a passage I liked from the "Politics" section of the book (italics in original):
Our little, shingled Martha's Vineyard saltbox is blessed with an unobstructed view of the Gay Head Lighthouse. Every night its beacon slowly turns, and each half revolution paints the house and hillside with a warm swath of light. From dusk onward, fireflies twinkle through the grasses like Bush forty-one's metaphorical "Thousand Points of Light." The beacon completes another thrity-second sweep of the nightscape, and a wave of brilliance washes out the glow of the insects. A thousand fireflies won't generate the luminescence sufficient to read a roadmap. A lighthouse - more powerful and dependable - speaks to the guiding nature of hope. By equal turns, it illuminates and darkens, so the way forward can be chosen in the light, and trusted in the darkness.

Admittedly, I haven't spent much time in West Texas, but given the amount and variety of brush the President clears on his vacations, my guess is that he has a lot of fireflies on that ranch - and no lighthouse. [pages 99-100]

In the "Family" section, Fox writes the following:
I hate to say it, but I know parents who regard their children as instruments to be played. It's all a matter of what strings to pull and how finely they're tuned. I see them, to extend the metaphor, more as jukeboxes. Put in your two bits, maybe give them a bit of a nudge to get them going, but nine times out of ten, if you're lucky, they're going to play their own tune. [page 237]

I also liked the conclusion Fox made during a road trip he made with his son, after Sam asked, "Are we there yet?":
We are where we are. If we keep moving, we'll be someplace else. We'll know when we get there. [page 262]



  1. I love Michael J. Fox! I need to read this.


  2. I was a huge Michael J. Fox fan as a kid, and I've wondered about both of his books. Perhaps I'll give them a try; you make them sound quite good.

  3. I definitely want to read this book. Thanks for the review.