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Marathon Reading Celebrates Beloved Books

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John Lithgow

This book changed my life. That oft-mouthed phrase was the title of a 12-hour reading marathon on Saturday, October 22 featuring actor John Lithgow, actress Rosie Perez and dozens of others all celebrating 70 years of The New York Times best-seller list. Lithgow's life-changing book was "Winnie the Pooh."

"The characters are not hesitant to use wonderful words like 'pathetic' and 'bracken' reeds along the river. He uses those words, knowing kids will ask 'What does that mean?'" said Lithgow, star of the Broadway musical "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels."

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Rosie Perez

Rosie Perez read an excerpt from "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." But the writing that changed her adult life was "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman, where a grandfather reads to his granddaughter while skipping from fairy tale to reality and back.

"Oh, the humor! It's hysterical," said Perez. "And it's smart and goofy at the same time, kind of like a Neil Simon play or a Mel Brooks movie. I read it over and over again, and it changed me in the way of storytelling, seeing things differently."

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Philip Roth Honored in Newark Neighborhood

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Philip Roth

Philip Roth has been honored in his hometown of Newark, which has served as the setting for many of his 26 books. Roth, whose American Pastoral" was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, was greeted at his childhood home by 75 fans who were on a bus tour Sunday, October 23, of places in Newark that have been featured in his novels. Mayor Sharpe James helped Roth unveil a plaque on the home and a street sign renaming the road "Philip Roth Plaza."

"Today, Newark is my Stockholm and that plaque is my prize," the 72-year-old writer told the crowd at the Weequahic Branch Library, in comments reported by the Star-Ledger of Newark. He was referring to the Nobel Prize awarded every year in Stockholm, Sweden. Roth was considered a front-runner for this year's Nobel, but the award went to British playwright Harold Pinter.

Roth last visited the home, where he lived from 1933 to 1942, two years ago. At the time, he was writing "The Plot Against America," a book about what might have happened if Charles A. Lindbergh had run for president and defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. The novel is set in Newark's Weequahic neighborhood.

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Alda's Book Contains a Lifetime of Wisdom

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Alan Alda

Alan Alda titled his new book "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed and Other Things I've Learned." But rest assured he didn't write it as a guide for self-improvement. He doesn't aim to be your guru. "I tried to tell as good a story as I could," he sums up. Alda is a veteran actor who had written numerous screenplays but never a book. The resulting narrative, at 224 pages, is as lean as its author, and as engaging, and as flush with ideas and observations.

"There are things that were very, very difficult to put into words," says Alda. "That was what I had the most fun with the things that don't want to go into words. But the hardest part was how to take a life and make it one simple story, not just a bunch of anecdotes. I didn't like the idea of writing a memoir or an autobiography. I only put in stuff that moved the story forward."

The story: One man's advancement toward accepting the uncertainties of life. Letting go, notes Alda, 69, is a drawn-out process, "so you don't just decide to do it. You have to creep up on it. Practice it. Get used to it. I think the guy who winds up at the end of the book would say, 'Destiny is just what happens.'"

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Alan Alda in 'The Aviator'

Alda should know. A lot has happened for that guy this year. He got an Oscar nomination for his role in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator," a Tony nomination for his Broadway performance in David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross" and an Emmy nomination for "The West Wing," in which he plays flinty Republican presidential hopeful Arnold Vinick.

Alda continues this season on the NBC political drama which airs at 8 p.m. EST on Sundays. For its Sunday, November 6 show, "The West Wing" is following the current trend for live television. Another NBC program, the comedy "Will & Grace" opened their new season with a live show. On this episode, Sen. Vinick will square off against the Democrat (Jimmy Smits) in a debate aired live.

Which candidate will succeed President Bartlet (series star Martin Sheen) by season's end? "I wouldn't spoil the surprise even if I knew," Alda replies when pressed for details about his contractual commitment to the series. But then, flashing his incandescent grin, he pledges to remain "as long as necessary to turn this great country around."

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Alan Alda as Arnold Vinick in 'The West Wing'

When he isn't shuttling to Los Angeles to shoot the series, Alda leaves his Long Island home to hit the campaign trail for "Never Have Your Dog Stuffed," which in recent weeks has won warm critical response as well as entry to The New York Times best-seller list. Its first sentence establishes the book's matter-of-fact, often darkly witty tone.

"My mother didn't try to stab my father until I was 6, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that," Alda writes. He was the son of a mentally ill mother and an actor father, Robert Alda, who was subject to the vagaries of show business during a career that ranged from the hardscrabble vaudeville circuit to Broadway in the original production of "Guys and Dolls."

All in all, it was a dizzying childhood for Alan. But by 9, he had decided he would be an actor, too, setting the stage for his push-pull life of embracing make-believe while defiantly inquiring into how things really are. He is a man in love with facts and verifiable truth (his decade as the gung-ho host of 'Scientific American Frontiers' makes that clear). But he has also studied what it means to yield control to forces beyond reason.

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Alan Alda, at age 8, with his mother Joan and

father Robert, seated on the steps just below

where Rhapsody the dog had expired.

He had an early brush with that as a boy when his dog died suddenly and his dad, in a misguided attempt to console him, had the creature stuffed. "Stuffing your dog," Alda writes, "is more than what happens when you take a dead body and turn it into a souvenir. It's also what happens when you hold on to any living moment longer than it wants you to."

Of course, that experience didn't stop him from sending away for a mail-order course in taxidermy a few years later. "There was a lot of stuff in there, and most of it was gooey," he found before abandoning his effort to preserve an owl's carcass.

At 21, Alda wed a pretty clarinetist named Arlene, with whom he soon had three daughters (and now shares seven grandchildren they dote on). But the family's early years were marked by false starts and dead ends in his drive to find acting success.

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Alan Alda as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in the

CBS comedy hit, 'M-A-S-H'

In his mid-30s, he struck gold as Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in the beloved CBS comedy, "M-A-S-H," whose finale after 11 seasons airing on February 28, 1983 was seen by nearly 106 million viewers and remains the highest-rated telecast in TV history.

But rather than playing doctor two years ago, Alda was on the receiving end of emergency surgery for an intestinal obstruction while in Chile doing a segment for "Scientific American Frontiers." It was an operation with which he was professionally acquainted, he writes although, as Hawkeye, "all I operated on was a piece of foam rubber."

He came through the procedure OK, and "when I woke up," he says now, savoring the memory, "was I glad to be there! I was almost manic about being alive. Then I started going back over my whole life, and I began to realize how connected the whole part of my early life was to this euphoria I was feeling. I really did want to understand everything that went before, and see what I could learn from it."

"Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" is the outcome Alda's learning process deftly put in story form; reflections galore, but no how-to advice. "Letting somebody else tell me what to think is a way of stuffing the dog," he says with a laugh. "My telling somebody else what to think is the same thing."

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Celeb-Itaphs: Stars Write Their Headstones

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Celebrities reach from beyond the tombstone to plot

a grave Halloween message with their final words.

Steve Carell ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin")

I did the best I could, but clearly, I'm dead

Carrie Underwood

It will probably say 'American Idol,' even if it's 2080!

Robert Downey, Jr.

Gimme back my money

Adrian Grenier ("Entourage")

He kept it real, from 1976 to whenever

Selma Blair

I'm taking this one from Isaac Mizrahi:

'Finally.' There will be no more worrying about death

Mo Rocca

Neither of his kids was named Phinnaeus nor Hazel

Diane von Furstenberg

It's a wrap

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Kirsten Dunst

I'm 23 years old. I'm too young (to feel mortality)

Chris Harrison ("The Bachelor")

This is your final rose

Andrew Firestone ("The Bachelor")

'Super Bowl MVP, Major League World Series MVP, nicest guy in the world'

Actually, how about this: 'Wasn't a pain in the ass'

Damien Fahey (MTV veejay)

I am not Carson Daly

Fran Drescher

Her laugh made them laugh

Morgan Freeman

Shucks, I was having such a good ride

Chevy Chase

Dig 'em up!

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Anne Rice: Out of San Diego

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Anne Rice at home in La Jolla

Less than a year after buying a luxury home in San Diego, author Anne Rice is selling the dwelling and moving to the desert for a warmer climate and simpler life, her real estate agent said. "She had been used to the heat of New Orleans for so many years, and she found La Jolla cold," said Bonnie Adams of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, referring to the San Diego neighborhood.

Rice, 64, is the best selling author of 27 books including "Interview With the Vampire" and, most recently, "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt." Rice decided to move West in 2004 after attending a book-signing at Warwick's bookstore in La Jolla.

Her son, Christopher, lives in Los Angeles and her husband died in 2002. She bought a 3,000-square-foot home for $2.35 million, but quickly decided she needed more space and put it back on the market.

Last February, she bought the three-story, 10,089 square-foot La Jolla home for $8 million, said Adams, who represented her in the purchase. Rice recently bought a $4.2 million home in Rancho Mirage, a desert community 85 miles northeast of San Diego.

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