Alec Guinness begins his most recent memoir, a sort of sequel to his bestselling My Name Escapes Me, with what he calls an apology for a "ramshackle book": "It states it is a Journal and yet it doesn't quite aspire to that and it isn't a diary. Not many dates are to be found in it." What is in it are as charming a collection of memories, readings, observations, and anecdotes as could be imagined from an actor whose genius for self-effacement is legendary. Now in his 85th year, the celebrated Sir Alec has made a major contribution to a minor but much-loved literary form, the notebooks of an English gentleman. (It's no surprise to learn in these pages that Samuel Butler, author of The Way of All Flesh and his own published Notebooks, is one of Guinness's favorite authors.) Considering his age and virtual retirement, Guinness's life is an astonishingly active and full one, and for all the reminiscing, much of A Positively Final Appearance is taken up in describing his present-day doings with his beloved wife Merula (married 61 years), their dogs, and the occasional forays they make to visit friends and family. There are trips farther afield as well, to a spa in Baden-Baden and to films and theater, including a hilarious attempt to see the controversial West End hit Shopping and F***ing (with Guinness suggesting several substitutes for the supplied asterisks). His omnivorous reading is simply staggering, and a lifelong love affair with Shakespeare is evidenced not only by his memories of favorite performances but also his readings of scenes from the Bard, which reveal an imaginative scholarship infused with a lifetime's theatrical experience.
One of the strangest paradoxes of this superb actor (and equally fluent prose stylist) is that he seems destined to be remembered primarily for his becloaked performance in the original Star Wars trilogy as Obi-Wan Kenobi. There's a priceless story included about Guinness's encounter with a child who claimed to have seen the first film over 100 times, and the request he made of the boy: "Do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?" The result of this request, along with much else in this entirely captivating memoir, will amuse and delight. --John Longenbaugh