If you’re a reader of this column, you’ve probably noticed that I gravitate toward self-help books that are practical, science-based, and without much fanfare. And it might surprise you that I was delighted with Kristin Chenoweth’s book I’m Not a Philosopher, But I Have Ideas, a book that’s more faith-based, earnest, and frankly, kind of silly. But in a good way, I promise. Allow me to explain.
First, an acknowledgment that I adore musicals deeply, embarrassingly so. “Wicked” was the first show I saw on Broadway, when I was 16 and it was filled with teenage vibes that made me the target audience for a show about women, finding yourself, and friendship. While I missed Chenoweth’s original run on the show, the cast recording has been a loyal and constant companion in my life for the past 20 years, and every note in her performance has become part of my DNA. When I saw her in Promises, Promises years later, there was a very small part of me that felt like I was reuniting with an old friend, (someone who just happened to look like a flawless live CD). I’ve read her memoir, A Little Wicked, more than once, I know she’ll be at her earliest 7-11 on 7/11 for a free slurpee every year. I could be, as the kids say, Stan.
So yes, I am in many ways the readers’ heart that Chenoweth hoped to reach by saying “I’m not a philosopher.”
While the overarching personal narrative runs through Chenoweth’s latest novel, it’s clearly designed to be a book you reach for whenever you need a little grit. After a beautiful introduction by Ariana Grande, heiress to Glinda’s throne in the upcoming “Wicked,” Chenoweth introduces us to the guiding principles that readers will find in its pages. “This book is my gift to you: a celebration of all that makes this day joyful, a little vacation from all that makes it challenging.” And it is, for the most part.
Some pages even have space for notes, like the one that asks you to write the love letter you need and hide it somewhere to stumble upon in the future. Other pages are filled with short meditations or quotes meant to inspire or whimsical ideas, like a list titled “Words and Phrases I Can’t Say Because They Lose Me,” which includes both the “cervical spine” and the “honor just to be” candidate. If you’re not religious, there may be a lot of God’s words here for you. (I found it easy to take what works and leave the rest.)
Chenoweth also gets darker than I expected in a book this fun, touching on the loss of a good friend who died by suicide, her depression after suffering an injury on the set of The Good Wife, and her later ambivalence and acceptance about meeting her mother. I found it refreshing: There is some strange comfort in knowing that celebrities aren’t immune from life’s pitfalls.
Even in her darkest moments, Chenoweth possesses a bubbly lightness. After her injury, she knew the laceration would have been much worse if she hadn’t had hair extensions. I owed the rest of my concussed brain to a well-connected line of hair extensions. Never — ever — underestimate the power of good knitting.” It’s like stalking your favorite slightly eccentric aunt over a glass of bourbon. Maybe you believe little of what she says, or maybe none of it hits the mark, but the joy of her company is what you’re really after. You’ll laugh, you might cry, and you’ll be left feeling a little lighter and more loved than before.
“I’m not a philosopher, but I have ideas,By Kristin Chenoweth, Harper Celebrate, $22.99.