Month: March 2015

Review: Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

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Many folks know Kim Gordon best for her contributions to Sonic Youth, the popular band. While my musical tastes tend to fall more into the folksy, Alison Krauss vein, Sonic Youth has certainly made appearances in my musical life. So, I was interested to pick up Gordon’s memoir.

Memoirs and I have a pretty tough time together. While in theory I like the idea of someone recounting their life in their own words and attempting to convey their own emotions and reactions to their experiences, I have a tendency to doubt the truthfulness. Though I don’t believe everyone who writes a memoir is lying, I don’t think anyone can be wholly neutral about their own lives or free of biases when recounting their interactions with others.

That being said, I love memoirs that seem to be genuine and truthful about the author’s emotional experiences and the complexity of their relationships.

Gordon’s memoir follows her musical and artistic life following her departure from her hometown after high school. Occasionally, she recounts some of her more major adolescent experiences as explanation or context for later events. Her storytelling is not linear. Like when most people tell you a story, the context comes as needed. I found this appealing.

Gordon’s memoir talks a lot about the art world, in particular, Gordon’s perception of herself as an artist who is a musician, her time in New York among the 1970s and 80s art scene, and how her experiences as a musician developed out of art. There was a lot of information about who she was around and what was going on. I think the most interesting part of it was Gordon’s identity.

Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t find that Sonic Youth as a band features very heavily in her memoir. The development of the band, Gordon’s relationship with the members, and much of the impact of Sonic Youth on Gordon’s life isn’t really discussed, and, when it is, the discussion is very dry-bones facts. I thought it left something to be desired.

I also expected there to be discussion of Gordon’s experiences as a woman. Though she does have some interesting and relatable experiences as a young adult coming into her own style and feeling a bit outside the loop when it comes to other teen girls and other twenty-somethings, there isn’t really a discussion about the way gender impacts the relationships in the music world, which would have been interesting from a woman who was in such a unique recording and musical space. Often our current discussion surrounds the treatment of female solo artists or young women in particular. I think Gordon would have had an interesting position on the discussion as a whole and I was a bit surprised that it didn’t feature really much time at all.

The book was, overall, a bit distant. Though there are some interesting stories about Gordon’s family, her father and brother in particular, I found the rest of the book to be rather dry, if still interesting. It distinctly lacked the sense of intimacy that may have made it fantastic. It was enjoyable, just left something to be desired.

Overall, I gave this one a 3/5.

You can pick up a copy of Girl in a Band off of Amazon at: http://amzn.to/1BSDn6n

She also narrates the audiobook herself: http://adbl.co/1EN9DXZ

A big thanks to Dey Street Books who sent me a copy of Girl in a Band for free in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

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It’s been a week or two since I read this one, but the more I think about Among Others, the more I like it. I’ll be the first to admit it, this story is total sucker-bait for a scifi nerdlette who loves character building and magic that just may be someone’s hallucinations. It follow Mor, a young girl from Wales who has escaped from her mother’s home after an accident killed her twin sister. Mor has bunkered down with her father’s family and is attending boarding school far from home, hoping against hope that her mother who may or may not have magical powers won’t find her.

The best part of this story is Mor. She’s the kind of 16 year old girl that feels so familiar to me. She loves books. She’s smart but spends a lot of time in fantasy land. Mor is funny and clever in a way that’s very accurate to her age. Yes, she’s a bit angst-y (what teenager isn’t) but she makes sense.

Walton spends a lot of time with the idea of grief and family illness. She looks at the way they create complex relationships between family units as a whole. Mor has just lost her sister, which she attributes to her mother’s mental instability combined with volatile magic. But Walton doesn’t just leave the blame solely in that relationship. Mor’s grief affects the way she perceives her largely absent father, her aunt and grandfather who lived with the twins, and herself. In this way, Walton’s portrayal of grief and family mental illness is very accurate. Mor doesn’t just mourn her sister, she blames her mother for the part she played; she holds her father accountable for leaving the girls in a vulnerable position; and she strongly believes that her aunt, who knows about both her mother’s instability and magic, should have done more to protect the twins.

The magic system Walton uses is complicated, largely because the reader is never quite sure if it’s actually magic or the fantasies of a young girl who reads more than may be healthy. Mor’s magic is conducted through faries who look like trees or rocks and who only speak Welsh. If something goes wrong, she’s pretty convinced it’s because of the magic, but Mor is clear, magic doesn’t work in obvious ways; magic almost always looks like something that could have just happened on it’s own. The reader is often left guessing. I really liked that aspect of the story.

The book has a lot going for it, and it’s the kind of book that sticks with you after you’ve read it. No, it’s not your typical fantasy, but it’s enjoyable in a slower-paced, more literary way. If nothing else, I immediately went out and got another Walton book, just to see what her other stories have to offer.

Overall, a 4/5.