A life in the form of a question : The Answer is............ Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek.

Alex Trebek was a man in search of a vice. It was Los Angeles in the late 70s. Trebek a Canadian quiz show emcee, had been tapped to host a new trivia program, the short-lived. ''Wizard of Odds,''

''I had the world by the tail,'' he writes in his new memoir, ''The Answer is.............'' ''I was the talented new comer in broadcasting. I was the bright, fair-haired boy.'' He was also saddled with a few striking disadvantages, as he saw it.

''I didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't do drugs,'' he writes. ''There were no big negatives associated with me.''

He was too chaste to be trusted...........''it held me back from becoming one of the guys.'' He tried cursing.

He tried boasting about his drinking even though he privately preferred 1 percent milk [sufficiently sinister to my mind] in the end, he reconciled himself in that unnerving wholesomeness and reserve, which have become so integral to his appeal.

The ''Jeopardy!'' champion Ken Jennings has described Trebek, the quizshow's longtime host, as ''a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a Perry Ellis suit.''

It's little wonder that Trebek has written a memoir of consummate caginess, one of the wariest I've read; a friendly, often funny account marked by a reluctance so deep that it confers a curious integrity upon the celebrity tell-all.

For years, he resisted personal questions [''Get a life,'' he'd say in interviews] and resisted writing an autobiography. Only after the outpouring of support following his announcement last year that he had pancreatic cancer did he feel he owed something to the public.

But everything in proportion, please, ''I'm a second tier celebrity,'' he insists. The biggest reason the show has endured is the comfort that it brings. Viewers have gotten used to having me there, not so much as a showbiz personality but as an uncle.

I'm part of the family more than outside celebrity who comes into your homes to entertain you. They find me comforting and reassuring as opposed to being impressed by me.''

On this point, Trebek is remarkably direct : Even if he can't quite understand the public fascination with his life, he knows he means something significant to the culture, something soothing and in short supply.

He knows he fills a need. For the 36 years hosting ''Jeopardy!'' - an industry record - he has been a nostalgic father figure of sorts, showing up reliably at dinnertime and remaining tantalisingly aloof in the autumn of the media patriarchs, he stands practically alone untinged by scandal. His authority derives from his defence of facts, not their distortion.   

He takes pride in his work, and in the achievements of the contestants - when Jennings was ousted after winning 74 games, Trebek teared up. But he never takes himself seriously; his memoir is a shameless dad-joke extravaganza, largely at his own expense.

He is eager to talk about his hairpiece [''a damn good one'']. He shares silly photos of himself in all-denim outfits [''wearing the Canadian tuxedo is my birthright''] and posing in the 1990s ''Got Milk?'' campaigns.

[''I really do love the stuff'']  He recalls the early years of  ''Jeopardy!''  with relish, when the prizes for runners-up included ''Lee Nails. 'delicious low-calorie meat' from Mr. Turkey and Tinactin Antifungal Cream - use only as directed!''

Alex Trebek loves the troops, he loves his wife, he loves the Dodge Ram. He really loves his bromides. His kids? Champs. His divorce? Amazing. He and his ex are still good friends.

Trebek might have inspired dread in his teachers and early employers, but he discovered his real talent was in projecting calm, in allowing others to shine.

As a host, it has been his proudest quality - his ability to buoy an anxious contestant through tone alone.

Of course, any possession in this life is, at best, temporary. ''My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I'm nowhere near having achieved that. And it doesn't bother me in the least,'' Trebek cheerfully concludes.

He ends the book at home, like of all us, in quarantine. He is exhausted by cancer treatments, exhausted by uncertainty but sublimely calm and grateful.

As he's always advised his contestants to do, he's already looking ahead to the next question.

The World Students Society thanks review author Parul Sehgal.


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