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That’s What I Am

by Al Waxman

In our celebrity-devouring culture, it is a rite of passage for the famous, the would-be famous and the infamous to cash in on their Warhol-allotted 15 minutes by penning a memoir. And thus we are treated to the oft-hazy remembrances of tarnished starlets, freeloading houseguests, and assorted hangers-on. But there is another kind of memoir, too, one that draws on a lifetime of experiences and weaves them together in a remarkable narrative. Al Waxman’s That’s What I Am is just such a book. Waxman, who is forever imprinted on the collective Canadian consciousness as the King of Kensington, has penned a heartfelt, funny, and richly lyrical memoir. After working for decades in the entertainment business, Waxman clearly still knows how to hold an audience’s attention.

The picture he paints is sweet without being saccharine. He writes with love and humour about his wife, Sara, his children, his faith, and about the CBC. But time has only partially softened the memories of the early death of Waxman’s father, his run-ins with anti-Semitism, his difficult years in Hollywood, his brother’s late-in-life acknowledgment of his homosexuality and his early death, and Waxman’s own health problems. While Waxman has arranged his story in a roughly chronological fashion, his meandering brand of storytelling takes him to and fro through time. But he always follows his tangents back to his story, thus creating an impressionistic portrait of his life and times.

Waxman maintains an emotional honesty throughout that elevates this book above the celebrity tell-all genre. He writes of mistakes he’s made and feelings he’s not proud of, but his unblinking – albeit sentimental – view makes him all the more human.