BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Have you ever wondered ...

This is another of those books that I'm pretty sure wouldn't have found its way into my library if not for the dollar store … rah, rah, rah for serendipity, I suppose. However, poking through the books at my most-frequented Dollar Tree (of the five in town that I know how to get on public transportation), I saw Shirley McLaine's What If . . .: A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know for Sure, and I just couldn't find a good argument for passing it up for a buck. Not that I'm a fan in particular of Ms. McLaine … although her years of media ubiquity are long past, she's still a bit of a punch-line first and an actress/dancer second when searching through my mental files.

In some sense this is a “gimmick” book, it's a collection of “what it?” musings on a variety of subjects, running from one or two sentences (there are a lot of pages with just that much text – quick read!), such as:
What if our subconscious controls out destiny?
What if evolution itself is speeding up?
What if there really is reincarnation?
... etc., etc., etc. … on to longer biographical pieces (like 24 pages inspired by her getting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute in 2012), with most (well, most might be the 1-2 sentence ones) clocking in at 2-4 pages. One thing I found quite odd was that there were two or three sections that didn't start off with “what if” … but somehow these didn't feel like they were there in some 4th-way “look for what seems out of place” state of significance, but more like they were somehow stuff that she just couldn't figure out how to phrase in a “what if” structure.

The subject matter is all over the place, from reminiscences of “the old days” in Hollywood, to the expected “space aliens” and assorted woo-woo spirituality, to quasi-political ramblings (for having come out in 2013, she still sure has a bug up her butt about Dick Cheney). Interestingly, one of the more “things that make you go hmmmm” entries here starts off with a “what if” about Cheney … it's talking about “cellular memory” and the effects observed in transplant patients:
Medical reports say that heart transplant patients often undergo a change of philosophy, personality, and values once they recover from surgery. The heart is a special organ, not to mention one that has tremendous cultural, symbolic, and psychological meaning. … Transplant transference has occurred in many heart recipients. … {One} transplant recipient, a health-conscious choreographer, found herself inexplicably attracted to all kinds of junk food, … She also began behaving in an aggressive and impetuous manner that was uncharacteristic of her, but was like the personality of her organ donor.
Another interesting section here deals with the “usual suspects” among the Founding Fathers leaving behind writings indicating that they believed in a "plurality of worlds”, and claims that
Franklin … wondered if there was a God for every inhabited planet.
She even uses that ever-convincing “Ancient astronaut theorists claim ...” phrase several times (of course – ALIENS!). On the plus side, she mentions a character I'd not previously heard of … a free black man by the name of Benjamin Banneker, who was a surveyor who participated in laying out the various “mystical patterns” incorporated into Washington D.C.'s design. What is notable here is that he was supposedly from the Dogon tribe, the same group that is purported to have had a great deal of advanced scientific knowledge maintained in their myths, included detailed information on the Pleiades … which she claims the Washington Monument is sited to align with on particular days. Oh, she also lets us know which revolutionary era figure she believes she's a reincarnation of … but you'd be disappointed if she didn't, wouldn't you?

Again, this book is all over the map … but every once in a while it lands squarely in the “preaching to the choir” (in terms of my beliefs), and that's always refreshing. I especially liked the following, from a piece where she's bitching about the TSA (where she notes that, over the years of radiating us, has discovered via the x-ray scans 0 terrorist threats, 1,485 hernias, and 3 natural blondes):
More important than any of the aforementioned, what if the “security” measure have never been predominantly about security, but more about the purposeful dumbing-down of Americans, making us subservient to control and authority? What if the point of amplifying fear is to render the population cooperative with its own individual captivity? Fear breed handing over control, and handing over control breeds cooperative dumbing-down. In the name of protecting freedom and democracy, we've become prisoners of our own induced obedience.
Preach that libertarian philosophy, girl!

Needless to say, the book is “uneven”, with a lot of goofy open-ended “what ifs” (what are we supposed to do with “What if we could experience psychic liberation?”?), but these are ephemeral enough that they don't really effect the over-all tone of the book. There are moments of actual “deep thinking” here about significant topics, and the autobiographical bits are often quite fascinating. I doubt many people would find McClaine's What If ... a life-changing read, but it's light, informative, and entertaining, so is a good “treat” if one's been delving into too many “heavy” books.

This is still in print in both hardcover and paperback (and various other formats), so it must have its audience out there. Like many books that have found their way into the dollar store channel, the hardcover can be had for a penny (four bucks with shipping) in “very good” condition. Obviously, if you stumble across this at a Dollar Tree, do pick it up – for a buck you can't go wrong … but you might even consider it in the retail channels, if the above sounds appealing enough.

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Tags: book review

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