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Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances

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Fred Thompson has enjoyed a remarkable career in Hollywood and politics, but when he sat down to write a memoir about how he got to be the person he is, he discovered that his best stories all seemed to come out of the years he spent growing up in and around his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was a small town but not the smallest—after all, it was the county seat Fred Thompson has enjoyed a remarkable career in Hollywood and politics, but when he sat down to write a memoir about how he got to be the person he is, he discovered that his best stories all seemed to come out of the years he spent growing up in and around his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was a small town but not the smallest—after all, it was the county seat and it did have a courthouse, a couple of movie theaters, and its own Davy Crockett statue. For truly small, you had to travel to nearby Summertown, where the regular Sunday dinner was possum and chocolate gravy. But Lawrenceburg is where Fred got to be a kid, get in his share of trouble and scrapes, get to know folks he didn’t realize were so colorful at the time but sure does now, get married, have a few kids, become a man, and start his career as a country lawyer (pretty much in that order). And as Fred tells it, getting that law degree was something of a surprise for him, since in school he’d been less than stellar as a scholar. “Teaching Latin to someone like me,” he says, “was like trying to teach a pig to dance. It’s a waste of the teacher’s time and it irritates the pig.”   In these reflections, as hilarious as they are honest and warm, Fred touches on the influences—family, hometown neighbors and teachers, team sports, jobs, romances, and personal crises—that molded his character, his politics, and the way he looks at life today. We get to know the unforgettable characters who congregated at the Blue Ribbon Café, like the rotund gentleman called “Shorty” whose claim to fame was his ability to quickly suck in his stomach and cause his pants to fall to the floor. Or Fred’s Grandma Thompson, who became an early TV adopter for the sole purpose of watching “Wrestling from Hollywood” and who once had a “gourder” removed from her neck and subsequently walked around town with it in a handkerchief showing it to folks. One day Fred and an accomplice placed small explosive Fourth of July “cracker balls” under the four legs of their teacher’s chair. Mrs. Garner sat down and, despite the racket, didn’t flinch so much as a muscle—but Fred felt a twinge of the one emotion he hated most—shame. Fred idolized Coach Staggs from his high school football days, even though he was “like Captain Ahab without the humor” and didn’t like smart alecks, comics, or individualists, which put the young Fred at a disadvantage. More than anyone else from those days though, Fred remembers his mom and dad, who taught him that kids are shaped most of all by the love and support they can take for granted.   Teaching the Pig to Dance will delight everyone who admires Fred Thompson for his contributions to politics or for his work in movies and on TV, along with all those who just love to hear rollicking but unforgettable stories about growing up in a place where, as one of the local old timers put it, “We weren’t big enough to have a town drunk, so a few of us had to take turns.” From the Hardcover edition.


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Fred Thompson has enjoyed a remarkable career in Hollywood and politics, but when he sat down to write a memoir about how he got to be the person he is, he discovered that his best stories all seemed to come out of the years he spent growing up in and around his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was a small town but not the smallest—after all, it was the county seat Fred Thompson has enjoyed a remarkable career in Hollywood and politics, but when he sat down to write a memoir about how he got to be the person he is, he discovered that his best stories all seemed to come out of the years he spent growing up in and around his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. It was a small town but not the smallest—after all, it was the county seat and it did have a courthouse, a couple of movie theaters, and its own Davy Crockett statue. For truly small, you had to travel to nearby Summertown, where the regular Sunday dinner was possum and chocolate gravy. But Lawrenceburg is where Fred got to be a kid, get in his share of trouble and scrapes, get to know folks he didn’t realize were so colorful at the time but sure does now, get married, have a few kids, become a man, and start his career as a country lawyer (pretty much in that order). And as Fred tells it, getting that law degree was something of a surprise for him, since in school he’d been less than stellar as a scholar. “Teaching Latin to someone like me,” he says, “was like trying to teach a pig to dance. It’s a waste of the teacher’s time and it irritates the pig.”   In these reflections, as hilarious as they are honest and warm, Fred touches on the influences—family, hometown neighbors and teachers, team sports, jobs, romances, and personal crises—that molded his character, his politics, and the way he looks at life today. We get to know the unforgettable characters who congregated at the Blue Ribbon Café, like the rotund gentleman called “Shorty” whose claim to fame was his ability to quickly suck in his stomach and cause his pants to fall to the floor. Or Fred’s Grandma Thompson, who became an early TV adopter for the sole purpose of watching “Wrestling from Hollywood” and who once had a “gourder” removed from her neck and subsequently walked around town with it in a handkerchief showing it to folks. One day Fred and an accomplice placed small explosive Fourth of July “cracker balls” under the four legs of their teacher’s chair. Mrs. Garner sat down and, despite the racket, didn’t flinch so much as a muscle—but Fred felt a twinge of the one emotion he hated most—shame. Fred idolized Coach Staggs from his high school football days, even though he was “like Captain Ahab without the humor” and didn’t like smart alecks, comics, or individualists, which put the young Fred at a disadvantage. More than anyone else from those days though, Fred remembers his mom and dad, who taught him that kids are shaped most of all by the love and support they can take for granted.   Teaching the Pig to Dance will delight everyone who admires Fred Thompson for his contributions to politics or for his work in movies and on TV, along with all those who just love to hear rollicking but unforgettable stories about growing up in a place where, as one of the local old timers put it, “We weren’t big enough to have a town drunk, so a few of us had to take turns.” From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Teaching the Pig to Dance: A Memoir of Growing Up and Second Chances

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Raymond

    A memoir of Fred Thompson's life growing up. A lot on his childhood and his time in school, not a lot about his acting or political career. He's as he is in print as he is when out and about, so the read was pleasant enough, but I'm not sure he's someone I needed to read a memoir about either. Then again, I say the same thing about nearly every memoir I read, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Roberta

    Warm, funny memoir. Very little about politics.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Fred Thompson is the former Senator and Law & Order star who also ran for President in 2008. The memoir focuses mostly on his early years, with a few glimpses into more recent times. It is very engaging. He is open about making many mistakes and how his teachers, family, and friends helped him get past the stumbles to still work hard and succeed in life. Lots of humor and solid values. Overall a fun read. Fred Thompson is the former Senator and Law & Order star who also ran for President in 2008. The memoir focuses mostly on his early years, with a few glimpses into more recent times. It is very engaging. He is open about making many mistakes and how his teachers, family, and friends helped him get past the stumbles to still work hard and succeed in life. Lots of humor and solid values. Overall a fun read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    I loved it. Want to know why it took me so long to read it? It's because I had it on my nightstand and did my reading before going to sleep at night. That's a really slow way to read, but at least Fred's book put me in a happy mood, which is a good way to end the day. What I love most about it is that Fred doesn't take himself seriously; he's willing to poke fun at himself. How many lawyers, actors, and/or politicians do you know with that great quality?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tina

    A very good read, regardless of which side of the political aisle you prefer. Its a look back at a time that was, and what it was like growing up in the heartland surrounded by people of strong ethical constitution.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    I really like this book. It is too bad we don't have more like him both in politics and Hollywood. He was such a wellspring of wisdom and good ole' common sense. He will be missed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Daire Paddy

    I'm hugely torn... I think I wanted to enjoy it more than I did. Possibly because of the title. I found the second half of the book so much more interest, because it had actual insight to offer. The first few chapters seemed to just be cliched advice about 'life' and anecdotes about a boy I would have HATED if he was in my class at school. The adult life sections were definitely more interesting, it's just a shame there weren't more of them!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    Honestly this is a pretty standard politician memoir with Thompson's own spin on it. There's nothing surprising or especially insightful here, it's what you might expect if a popular neighbor wrote a book. There's nothing upsetting or exciting in it, and it comes off as a bit hackneyed. However there's enough good here that it was enjoyable and I didn't feel like it was a waste of time. This is a "check out of the library but don't buy it" kind of book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was completely surprised with how good this book was. I knew that Fred Thompson was an actor and a senator, but that was about it. In some cases, I liked roles he played. In others, I didn't like him at all. However, his writing style was engaging and it felt like we were having a conversation.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gail Burch

    This was a great book about growing up in the small-town south and learning common sense. It's about appreciating friends and neighbors, and all types of people. Fred Thompson may have been a politician and a move and TV star, but you can tell from this book that he's a real person, too.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Gish

    A quick look back at his life. He doesn't spend a lot of pages on his Watergate years or acting, but more on his growing up years and how he feels those experiences shaped the person he is today. Interesting pieces of info that I did not know.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Fred Thompson delivers a humorous and yet thoughtful description of his life and thoughts on politics and growing up in the south. An enjoyable, quick read for those who admire Fred Thompson and even those who don't know him very well.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Enjoyed the tale of growing up in "small town" middle Tennessee.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Maze

    Fun and fast read if you like Fred Thompson. He has a down-home flavor to his thought-processes that I identify with!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Jordan

    Fred Thompson has a very appealing way of writing his memoirs! And what an interesting life he's had, too! Great book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    It is always fun to read about your hometown!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    Simply written, but with good messages.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Witty and hard work does pay off.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    Wish Mr. Thompson wrote about his Nixon Watergate days. I did enjoy the book and how he became a Senator and an Actor.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lorrie Meade

    Fred Thompson is open about his life. What an example he is to not taking yourself too seriously while growing up with values and a great attitude. Take note

  21. 4 out of 5

    Noelle

    A very good read whether you agree with his politics or not. He has a very interesting life story & I enjoyed it immensely. A very good read whether you agree with his politics or not. He has a very interesting life story & I enjoyed it immensely.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Funny sometimes, but mostly boring and flat.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paschalis

    elibrary

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    This was a fun glimpse into a person I hadn't known much about. I enjoyed his sense of humour.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael W. Berry

  27. 4 out of 5

    crystal dixon

  28. 4 out of 5

    prevento1 citlink.net

  29. 5 out of 5

    kim Pennington

  30. 4 out of 5

    James Pierce

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