Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier

"I have no wish to play the pontificating fool, pretending that I've suddenly come up with the answers to all life's questions. Quite that contrary, I began this book as an exploration, an exercise in self-questing. In other words, I wanted to find out, as I looked back at a long and complicated life, with many twists and turns, how well I've done at measuring up to the values I myself have set." —Sidney Poitier

In this luminous memoir, a true American icon looks back on his celebrated life and career. His body of work is arguably the most morally significant in cinematic history, and the power and influence of that work are indicative of the character of the man behind the many storied roles. Sidney Poitier here explores these elements of character and personal values to take his own measure—as a man, as a husband and a father, and as an actor.

Poitier credits his parents and his childhood on tiny Cat Island in the Bahamas for equipping him with the unflinching sense of right and wrong and of self-worth that he has never surrendered and that have dramatically shaped his world. "In the kind of place where I grew up," recalls Poitier, "what's coming at you is the sound of the sea and the smell of the wind and momma's voice and the voice of your dad and the craziness of your brothers and sisters...and that's it." Without television, radio, and material distractions to obscure what matters most, he could enjoy the simple things, endure the long commitments, and find true meaning in his life.

Poitier was uncompromising as he pursued a personal and public life that would honor his upbringing and the invaluable legacy of his parents. Just a few years after his introduction to indoor plumbing and the automobile, Poitier broke racial barrier after racial barrier to launch a pioneering acting career. Committed to the notion that what one does for a living articulates to who one is, Poitier played only forceful and affecting characters who said something positive, useful, and lasting about the human condition.

Here is Poitier's own introspective look at what has informed his performances and his life. Poitier explores the nature of sacrifice and commitment, price and humility, rage and forgiveness, and paying the price for artistic integrity. What emerges is a picture of a man in the face of limits—his own and the world's. A triumph of the spirit, The Measure of a Man captures the essential Poitier.

My journey toward blogging pretty much started with joining Oprah's Book Club, and that is where I originally 'met' Kailana, and so it is somewhat apt that we do a joint review of this book, which was an Oprah pick earlier this year. Kailana's thoughts are in black and mine are in blue. It took a while for me to read this book because I am not really of the generation which was a big Sidney Poitier fan, so I read it because I have read most of the Oprah books over the years. It was also fitting to finally buddy review an Oprah book with Marg.

I will start off by saying that Sidney Poitier stars in one of my favourite movies ever, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner....yes, the original version, not the Ashton Kutcher version, but other than the fact that he was generally regarded as one of the major Hollywood stars during the 60s I didn't really know all that much about him. I had heard of Sidney Poitier before, but I have never seen any of his movies before. One of these days I will have to because I have of course heard of his movies before. Most of my knowledge of him comes from my grandmother and mother who both were happy to see me reading his memoir.

In some ways this book wasn't actually what I expected. I think I expected more of a traditional autobiography following a chronological order, but instead this book was more a series of reflections on some of the issues that people face in life. One of the major focuses of the book was racism, and the discrimination that Poitier faced throughout his career, and also the opposition that he faced as a man who was seen to be typecast as a good guy, and not necessarily someone who fought against the racist Hollywood system. I thought it was interesting to hear what Poitier went through to get where he is. It is really an amazing story, even if we know that it would have had to been hard considering the time that he grew up in. Growing up in a white, middle-class home, it is always helpful to see other sides of the picture and to know what other people had to get through to become the people that they are today.

Along the way there was also reflections on the current generation of kids who need everything now, particularly material goods, and on near death experiences that he had.

In terms of the writing style, there were occasions throughout this book where I could just hear the voice of Sidney Poitier, with his distinct accent, coming through on the pages. It wasn't however consistent, and there were definitely other times when that voice was indistinct. I was interested to see how he sees the society today, though.
We are from very different generations and from different societies, so it is always interesting to see what society is like from a different point of view. I do think that I would have liked this book more if I really knew who Poitier is, because while I have heard him talk, it is not enough that I heard his accent in my head while reading it. I did reflect on how he talks about his education and how he went for years with little education and yet was able to write such a reflective book.

After reading books like this, I am reminded that I really should read more non fiction....one of these days! I have actually been reading a reasonable amount of non-fiction lately, so this just adds to the ranks.

Marg's Rating 4/5
Kailana's Rating 3.5/5

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read non-fiction in forever. I've been curious about this book because I'm a Sidney Poitier fan. I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing him interviewed and thought I might like the book. Thanks for the review.



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