John Hodgman's last book, Vacationland, was a kind of absurdist memoir of a weird kid who'd grown up to the kind of self-aware grownup who really wanted to dig into how he got to where he was, with bone-dry wit and real heart (I compared it to Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, but for adults who'd outgrown it); in his new book, Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms, Hodgman offers something much more uncomfortable (if no less funny), a series of vignettes that explore the hollowness of privilege, the toxicity of comparison, and the melancholy of accomplishment. Read the rest
I will never forget the moment on June 9, 2013, when I watched a video of a skinny, serious, unshaven man named Edward Snowden introduce himself to the world as the source of a series of blockbuster revelations about US spy agencies' illegal surveillance of the global internet. Please, I thought, be safe. And Please, don't turn out to be an asshole. Read the rest
King of King Court is "a memoir that is both devastating and restrained in detailing Travis Dandro's childhood growing up in Western Massachusetts with an addicted and unstable father and a mother incapable of keeping him at bay," Julia Pohl-Miranda Drawn and Quarterly says. "What's such a gut-punch about this book is how revealing it is about the everyday slog of having mentally ill or abusive family members, the seeming inevitability of intergenerational trauma repeating itself."
Drawn and Quarterly kindly gave me several pages from King of King Court to run here:
In the 1990s, student filmmaker Christopher Seufert talked his way into Edward Gorey's life and convinced him to record a series of memoirs and tales from his life; the project blossomed into a documentary, only to be derailed when Gorey died. Read the rest
I've spent most of my adult life in Los Angeles, so musician/magician/actor Rob Zabrecky's new memoir Strange Cures hit home, literally. Growing up in a lower-middle-class 1980s family in Burbank, California, Rob was a shy, awkward kid who kept his wart-covered hands in his pockets. He idolized his uncle, who told Rob he was a special government agent. Rob was too starstruck and too naive to understand that his uncle was an unemployed drunk sadist, until an incident took place that made him realize just how seriously messed up Uncle Ed was.
Strange Cures is one amazing true story after another, told in chronological order. During a summer spent in a village in Scotland (where his mother was born) Rob's aunt told him he could get rid of his warts by plunging his hands into warm fresh cow dung every morning. Rob followed her advice, and to his surprise, the strange cure worked. That same summer trip also brought Rob into contact with a group of kids who introduced him to punk rock (which became one of the three things that mattered to Rob, the other two being video games and junk food).
When Rob returned home and went back to school, he was shocked to discover that the girls who had ignored him as a gawky, warty kid had taken a sudden interest in him. His love for music grew and he formed the band, Possum Dixon, which was signed by Interscope to much fanfare. He also developed a drug addiction. Read the rest
J Michael Straczynski (previously) is known for many things: creating Babylon 5, spectacular runs on flagship comics from Spiderman to Superman, incredibly innovative and weird kids' TV shows like The Real Ghostbusters, and megahits like Sense8; in the industry he's known as a writing machine, the kind of guy who can write and produce 22 hours of TV in a single season, and he's also known as a mensch, whose online outreach to fans during the Babylon 5 years set the bar for how creators and audiences can work together to convince studios to take real chances. But in JMS's new memoir, Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty to Hollywood, we get a look at a real-life history that is by turns horrific and terrifying, and a first-person account of superhuman perseverance and commitment to the right thing that, incredibly, leads to triumph Read the rest
If you saw the critically-acclaimed 2004 documentary Dig! about the frenemy neo-psych bands The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, you'll remember that the real star wasn't either of the bands' frontmen but rather the BJM's inimitable, lovable tambourine player Joel Gion.
Rocking his impressive mutton chops and 60s shades, Joel has spent the last 25 years performing with the BJM and releasing his own excellent music while slinging vinyl to make ends meet in the impossible city of San Francisco. Combine that unconventional life with Joel's skewed sense of adventure, razor wit, and relentless pursuit of laughs, and you end up with some killer yarns. Joel's got stories for ages. And now he's writing a memoir to share the weirdness with the world. I've read bits of what he's been writing and it is far fucking out, a modern Beat's notes from the underground.
Support Joel Gion's Patreon so he can get it all down on paper.
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I’ve just launched a Patreon page for my book focusing on the few run-up years before the documentary-era. Click on the link on my profile page and become a patron to read over 3K words posted right now. I’ll be posting new writing or project related stuff every week. #joelgion #bjm
By the time Prince died in 2016, he had completed 50 hand-written pages of his memoir, titled "The Beautiful Ones." The memoir, filled out with photos and other material, will be published by Random House on October 29. From the Associated Press:
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″‘The Beautiful Ones’ is the deeply personal account of how Prince Rogers Nelson became the Prince we know: the real-time story of a kid absorbing the world around him and creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and the fame that would come to define him,” Random House announced.
“The book will span from Prince’s childhood to his early years as a musician to the cusp of international stardom, using Prince’s own writings, a scrapbook of his personal photos, and the original handwritten lyric sheets for many of his most iconic songs, which he kept at Paisley Park. The book depicts Prince’s evolution through deeply revealing, never-before-shared images and memories and culminates with his original handwritten treatment for his masterwork, ‘Purple Rain.’”
(Prince's collaborator on the book Dan) Piepenbring’s introduction will touch upon Prince’s final days, “a time when Prince was thinking deeply about how to reveal more of himself and his ideas to the world, while retaining the mystery and mystique he’d so carefully cultivated.” Piepenbring, whom Prince had called “my brother Dan” and “not a yes man at all,” is a Paris Review advisory editor who also contributes to The New Yorker.
Terry Gilliam’s memoir is as unique as the man himself. Known for his work with Monty Python and as a director of films like Brazil, Time Bandits, and Twelve Monkeys, Gilliam’s work has always had a surreal quality that makes it instantly recognizable. His “Pre-posthumous Memoir” happily possesses a similar quality.
Most authors would write a memoir that is a prose account of their life, and maybe they would include a couple pictures of the highlights for added effect. Gilliam, originally a cartoonist and animator, naturally flips this idea on its head and sticks pictures all over the book, drawing attention to them with handwritten notes. Sometimes the pictures are a direct reference to the text, sometimes they are tangentially related to the text, and occasionally they have no apparent connection to anything outside of Gilliam’s head.
What we get reads less like a book and more like a collage of many art pieces. The actual text of the memoir ends up being just one piece of many that ties the others together. You could probably only read the handwritten notes and pictures and still get a good sense of Gilliam’s life and personality. The pictures scattered throughout the book are a collection of old family photos, sketches, illustrations, magazine ads, set photos, and more. Gilliam’s early years in advertising and comedy magazines include some of the most surprising work, with hints of what the artist Gilliam would later become. Read the rest
"Overshare: The links.net" is Justin Hall's biopic telling the story of how he became one of the earliest, most prolific, transparent humans of the net and one of the first real web-writers. Read the rest
Halfway through reading Alex Stone's memoir, Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, I read Ricky Jay's blisteringly negative review of the book in the Wall Street Journal. Cleverly titled "Slight of Hand," Jay described Stone's book as "an ostensibly self-effacing memoir by an inept amateur conjurer."
I love Ricky Jay's magic, his books, his quarterly magazine, and his performances. Jay is a talented magician and a fascinating storytelling historian of magic, con artists, and sideshows. He's certainly a more talented magician and a more knowledgable historian that Stone. And Jay rightfully calls out several errors of fact that Stone made in Fooling Houdini.
But even so, I finished Stone's book because I was fascinated by his story. Read the rest
Told in a series of one- and two-page comic strips, Boey describes his life growing up in Malaysia: finding a condom in his parents' bedside drawers, "fishing" for his dogs by tying a biscuit to a string and dangling it off a stick while standing on his balcony, making a tiny matchstick kite with his dad, fighting with his sister in the backseat of the family car while his mother reaches back to try to pinch their legs to make them stop, learning how to use a plastic bag to catch spiders, crying until his mother retrieves his favorite (but worn-out) pillow from the trash where she'd tossed it, falling out of love with his He-Man doll when he gets his first computer, and and dozens of other funny and sometimes poignant slices of life.
The art is simple, but effective, and I finished the book hoping he'll do a sequel. Read a sample story below. Read the rest