[--BESTSELLER HELL--]

We read 'em so you don't have to.


Jon Carroll
December 25, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)

The first thing to do when reading a book like
"Babyhood" by Paul Reiser is to find out who actually wrote
it. Paul Reiser did not write it, because he is a millionaire
TV actor and he doesn't have to write a book in order to
write a book.

Celebrities have been refraining from writing their own
books for over half a century. There's nothing shameful
about it or, if there is, we've all gotten over it.
Sometimes, the actual author's name appears on the cover,
usually "as told to" or "with," but not often. More
frequently, the actual author is mentioned as though he or
she had just been hanging around the house during the time
when the celebrity was bent over his word processing device
-- in the case of "Babyhood," like this: "A huge thank you
to my friend Brad 'Zippy' Kesden, whose smart, funny brains
and invaluable input helped me make this book a lot better
than I was planning to."

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And then a line space, letting you know that Zippy
Kesden is the sole author and the next person mentioned
really is a personal assistant.

Paul Reiser is an engaging fellow and probably a smart
one, so it seems likely that he read the book that he wrote.
This is not mandatory; indeed, basketball player Charles
Barkley once complained that he was misquoted in his
autobiography.

The second thing to do is examine the cover and see if
you can detect the retouching. I have stared at Paul Reiser
on television for (let's see) roughly eight hours of my life
(I'm figuring 36 22-minute segments of "Mad About You"
viewed, with two-thirds of that time spent staring at Helen
Hunt), so I know his face pretty well. The miracle of
Photoshop has made his cheeks smoother, his hairline
cleaner, his brow less furrowed, his chin unscarred and the
chest hair peeping out from the collar of his T-shirt all
but invisible. (You can see it if you really
stare, but that would be unnecessary. I have done that work
for you. That's what I'm here for.)

Also, you should speculate on whether the baby he's holding on the cover is
stuffed. There is no way of knowing for sure, but it makes
an interesting game over dinner. "Stuffed or not?" you can
ask your guests, passing the book around.

The third thing to do is read the book. This is not an
unenjoyable experience. The book purports to be about Paul
and his actual wife, who is never named in the book, and
their experience having their first child. However, since
the book came out at exactly the moment that the character
Paul Reiser plays on "Mad About You" had a baby with his TV
wife Helen Hunt, it seems probable that this is, as they say
in lit crit, a conceit.

Reiser (the character in the book by Reiser, alias
Kesden) talks like Paul Buchman, the character that Paul
Reiser plays on "Mad About You." Nameless, the real life
wife of Paul Reiser, talks like Jamie Buchman, the TV
character. One wonders what her standing would be if she
claimed to have been misquoted.

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It seems probable that Zippy Kesden has seen or even
written more than a few episodes of "Mad About You." Indeed,
this book may be a compilation of unfilmed scripts for "Mad
About You," brought to you uncluttered by commercial
announcements in this portable form. As in:

"You okay?"

"Mm-hmm."

"You sure?"

She said, "Ask me what I did from two-thirty to now."

"Okay. What?"

"Ate a banana and cried."

OK. That was a sentence I had literally never heard.
To my knowledge, eating a banana and crying is something you
would do only if you were, say, auditioning for a part in a
dramatic monkey movie.

I didn't know exactly what to say.

"Why are you crying?"

"I don't know."

"You want to talk?"

"No."

A few moments of silence.

"Do you want me to get you anything?"

"No, I'm so nauseous."

"How many bananas did you have?"

"Eight."

And then the studio audience goes nuts. We readers can
hear it all in our head, if we are the kind of readers who
are likely to buy this book, that is, people who enjoy
watching "Mad About You." It's like having a television set
that doesn't make any noise and keeps playing the same show
over and over again. It's a pretty good show, actually. Lots
about vomiting and diapers and tiny testicles that father steps
in to help wash. If you want TV in book form, this is the
book for you.

I just don't want any of those people who keep
nattering on about what great shape the book business is in
because more people are buying more books all the time to
include the fabulous success of "Babyhood" in their
calculations, because "Babyhood" is really a clever
souvenir, which is an OK thing but it's not
exactly a book. If you know what I mean.

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Jon Carroll

Jon Carroll is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and author of "Near-Life Experiences: The Best of Jon Carroll."

MORE FROM Jon Carroll

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