(Audio)Book Talk: *American on Purpose*

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot
Craig Ferguson (Twitter)
Read by the author
It Books (HarperCollins) (2010), Paperback, 288 pages (ISBN 0061998494 / 9780061998492) (Audio edition 0061961450 / 9780061961458)
Source: Purchased audiobook
Reason for reading: Personal

Book description, from the publisher’s website: “In American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson delivers a moving and achingly funny memoir of living the American dream as he journeys from the mean streets of Glasgow, Scotland, to the comedic promised land of Hollywood. Along the way he stumbles through several attempts to make his mark—as a punk rock musician, a construction worker, a bouncer, and, tragically, a modern dancer. 

To numb the pain of failure, Ferguson found comfort in drugs and alcohol, addictions that eventually led to an aborted suicide attempt. (He forgot to do it when someone offered him a glass of sherry.) But his story has a happy ending: in 1993, the washed-up Ferguson washed up in the United States. Finally sober, Ferguson landed a breakthrough part on the hit sitcom The Drew Carey Show, a success that eventually led to his role as the host of CBS’s The Late Late Show. By far Ferguson’s greatest triumph was his decision to become a U.S. citizen, a milestone he achieved in early 2008, just before his command performance for the president at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. In American on Purpose, Craig Ferguson talks a red, white, and blue streak about everything our Founding Fathers feared.”

Comments: Maybe it’s part of a mid-life identity crisis, but as a second- and third-generation American, I’ve discovered that I’m becoming increasingly interested in immigrant stories. Craig Ferguson has quite the immigrant story. He’s also got an addiction-and-recovery story; a true Hollywood story; a not-quite rags-to-riches story; and a couple of “triumph of hope over experience” stories (he’s on his third marriage after two divorces). All of those stories are his own life story, told in this straightforward, traditional autobiography, and I found it very funny, occasionally shocking, and surprisingly moving.

Growing up in Glasgow, Scotland as the third of four children in a working-class Presbyterian family, Craig Ferguson hated school and had no idea what he wanted to do with his life – until he discovered America. A visit to New York City as a young teenager firmed up his ambition: he would live in America one day. He had no idea how he’d get there, or what he’d do once he did, but it was going to happen. And it did, eventually, although there were quite a few rocks and forks in the road, and the first attempt didn’t take.

While Ferguson became an American on purpose, much of his early work came about by accident and/or by acquaintance – that is, there were people he wanted to hang out with, and he was drawn to try the things they did. Ferguson left school at sixteen, but he was an avid reader and eager to educate himself on his own, and he gravitated toward creative people – musicians, actors, writers, and artists. He also gravitated toward illicit drugs and, especially, alcohol, and the combination led to an increasingly unstable life of small successes and larger disappointments until he finally admitted he had a problem and that he needed to make it stop.

Sober for almost 20 years now, and in America for almost that long (as a naturalized citizen since 2008), Craig Ferguson has had varying degrees of success in a range of show-business jobs – actor, screenwriter, novelist, producer, director, stand-up comic, and currently as the host of a late-night TV talk show. I’ve been watching that show for a little more than a year (via DVR – I am NOT a late-night person) and I’ve really grown to like it. In addition to the humor, I think one of its strengths comes from Fergsuon’s genuine interest in having real conversations with many of his guests.

In this book, particularly in the audio version, Ferguson’s genuine interest seems to be in taking an honest, warts-and-all look at where he’s been and who he’s become. Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes deeply self-critical, and sometimes seemingly awed by the turns his life has taken, he’s a good writer and an engaging narrator, and I found his story far more interesting than I expected to – I listened to it at every opportunity. I appreciated his openness about his less-laudable life choices, and his generosity toward those who’d been particularly significant both professionally and personally, including a few long-term girlfriends and three wives. In spite of – or perhaps partly because of – his somewhat regrettable past, Craig Ferguson strikes me as being a genuinely decent guy, and America’s lucky to have him.

My husband read American on Purpose in paperback last year and has been after me to read it for months now. The book’s still on my nightstand, but thanks to audio, I get to move it to the “read” column; I’m glad I listened to it – and to my husband.

Rating: 3.75/5
This book counts for the Memorable Memoirs Reading Challenge.


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