Two things become apparent as you read actor Leslie Jordan's new book, "How Y'all Doing?" (HarperCollins, 198 pages, $27.)
First, it reads like a sequel to his 2008 autobiography, "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet." In that book, Jordan talked about leaving Chattanooga to pursue his dream of a Hollywood career, the trials and triumphs of getting established in Tinseltown and the characters he met along the way. This book focuses more on the celebrities he has worked with since becoming a star and wisdom he has gained over the years.
He also explains how talking to a bevy of unknown followers to break up the tedium of last year's COVID-19 quarantine led to a second career as a "a social-media maven" with a following of 5 million viewers worldwide.
"This book actually came from my Instagram posts, which I did twice a day. People would say 'You should write a book.' Then HarperCollins came to me to write a book, and I was able to take those stories and I wrote this book in two months. Elle Keck guided me from day one. She knew what she wanted, and she edited as we went along, which was a lot of fun."
Second, although the book is billed as a collection of essays, they flow into one loving tribute to his mother, Peggy Jordan. Through his tales of hilarious memories, it becomes apparent that the actor wouldn't be where he is today without her love, guidance and (at times) extreme patience handling his misadventures.
"I didn't originally plan it to be a tribute to her; it just organically flowed as I wrote it. That's why I suggested we release it Mother's Day because so much is about my mother. It's interesting how close Mama and I have gotten. She is such a good listener, and she's like my best friend," Jordan said in a phone interview.
"I kept this book clean so she would be proud."
"How Y'all Doing?" is a collection of 12 essays that are snapshots of Jordan's life, but not in chronological order. The opening line of each poses a question, makes a statement or repeats some adage that Jordan applies to his life. His writing is authentic, witty and as refreshing as a tall glass of sweet tea. He proves to be a keen observer of human nature.
He describes how the death of his father in a military plane accident when he was 11 devastated him and thrust his mother into the role of single parent at age 33 to Leslie and his twin sisters. This was the mid-1960s when single-mother heads of household were uncommon, nor were women prevalent in the workforce. He says his father had always handled household finances, and now she was suddenly in charge. He and his mother forged a lasting bond as they relied upon each other to get through this time.
He shared this naively charming tale of the first time his mother went to get traveler's checks at the bank:
The teller asked, "What denomination?"
She answered, "Um ... Baptist?"
But Peggy Jordan was a steel magnolia long before the movie made that term part of pop-culture lexicon. She made sure her children were in church every time the doors opened, she helped them cope with the grief of losing their father, she kept her household running and supported Leslie's move to Hollywood.
At age 14, when he came out to her, he says she didn't condemn his choice, but expressed her concern that "he would be subject to ridicule" and that she just couldn't bear that. He writes she suggested, "Perhaps he could just live life quietly." But that was not to be.
Jordan writes that over the next few decades she bore "with great fortitude" his substance addiction, drug overdoses, hospitalizations, a battle with alcoholic hepatitis and wired money when he was starving between jobs.
Considering all those trials in hindsight, Jordan says, "Today I am a good son. But through all of this, one thing has never wavered: how much I value her opinion on things."
Although he shares this little-known, intimate side of his life, Jordan primarily tells stories that will literally make his readers laugh out loud. There's the hysterical story about his encounter with National Enquirer that so embarrassed his mother that it took a phone call from actress Debbie Reynolds to defuse the situation. He tells his side of the story featured in entertainment news when he threw his drink on a bully in a West Hollywood Starbucks.
Readers learn how Jordan discovered he could outrun Lily Tomlin. Why Dylan McDermott heads up his "ever-changing list on Instagram: Straight Men I Adore." Plus behind-the-scenes looks at shows in which he has appeared such as "American Horror Story" or "The Cool Kids" and interesting tidbits about actors with whom he has worked.
Even as you read his droll words, it's inevitable you'll imagine them in his signature Southern drawl. In fact, the only way to enjoy this book more would be to hear it in Jordan's own voice on the audible edition.
Email Susan Pierce at email@example.com.