THE ART OF ASKING
by Amanda Palmer
Grand Central Publishing, 333 pages
reviewed by Justin Goodman
“Art is the Artist”
I first heard of Amanda Palmer while driving a flashy, cherry red Mustang convertible blasting “Girl Anachronism” from a speaker system clearly not made to handle any song at full volume, let alone one already deafening at standard volume for an ipod-earbud combo. It didn’t help that it was my car, and that my first girlfriend and I were the ones in it. By 2009 a year had passed since Palmer’s band, the Dresden Dolls, broke up, and three years before she would give the TED talk that would inspire the memoir The Art of Asking. My relationship and my car had both broken down by that point and as I, that bachelor now in a minivan, would likely have said about Palmer’s memoir-essay, there is one thing the three have in common: they deeply affected my life, and then repeated themselves enough that I wanted them to be done with.
Memoirs often annoy me, in part, because they take Whitman’s advice too literarily: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.” And that’s not to ignore that such songs lend themselves to marketing nicely. That is the function, generally, of celebrity memoirs. But Amanda Palmer, musician-blogger turned memoirist, was already given this treatment, wrongly, when her more than successful and record-setting Kickstarter became journalist gossip about, as she summarizes, “what a terrible person I was, on top of being an untrained, unprofessional, shitty musician.” This book doesn’t feel like it intends to sell itself. It even comes across as if it has no idea who the audience is, as when she explains crowdsourcing, “for the uninitiated.” (What Palmer fan purchased this book “uninitiated?”) Like any good memoir, be it Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being, or anything by David Sedaris, it uses its jointed memory to propel it towards insight. How the joints connect, though, is what makes a memoir work. So, while Sedaris uses a series of essays, and Woolf the titular moments of being, Palmer’s book seems nebulous in that it has no organizing function. The text switches between her budding romance with Neil Gaiman (now her husband), to her record label experiences, with essentially random stories intermixed, as new experiences accrue over time.
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