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Society's Child: My Autobiography

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  642 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
Grammy Award winning singer and songwriter Janis Ian's memoir of her more than forty years in the music business.

Janis Ian was catapulted into the spotlight in 1966 at the age of fifteen when her soul-wrenching song "Society's Child" became a national hit. An intimate portrait of an interracial relationship, "Society's Child" climbed the charts despite the fact that many
Hardcover, 361 pages
Published July 24th 2008 by Tarcher (first published 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,141)
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Sep 04, 2008 karen rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfictions
there is something about the overall tone of this book that i find really off-putting, but i cant articulate what it is. if someone else who has read this can give me a hand...
love her music, the book was just eh.
Sep 13, 2008 Jennifer rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those who enjoyed Positively Fourth Steet by David Hajdu
Recommended to Jennifer by: Cindy D.
Shelves: adult-books
Before Britney Spears, The Jonas Brothers, or Miley Cyrus, there was Janis Ian! Ian was a sixties wunderkind who scored her first single at the age of 15, made millions, lost them, and had both a husband and a wife during her storied lifetime. Unlike many other singers and actors, Ian can actually write, and her autobiography goes down easily in great, gritty gulps of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I especially enjoyed the earlier sections about her hippie-dippy upbringing and summers at "commie" ...more
Apr 21, 2011 Lorena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I wish I could give this book six stars.

Even if you've never heard of Janis Ian, the story of her life will call to you if you have ever felt lost, marginalized, unheard, or brokenhearted. At the same time that I wanted to scoop her up and hug her and tell her everything was going to be all right, I wanted every hurting and confused sixteen year old girl I know to read this book so that they could see that even when you think it can't get worse, it will; but it will also get much, much better.

Oct 06, 2011 Isis rated it it was amazing
Let me start by saying that I love Janis Ian! Her music is beautiful and inspiring! Janis tells a story with every song, in great depth and with a passion that today's "songwriters" (a term I feel is used far too broadly in this day and age) lack in both originality and expression. She is incredibly multi-talented and it is a shame to not introduce her to younger audiences who have no idea what true musical talent really is.

That being said, whether you are a fan or not, 'Society's Child:My Autob
Mar 27, 2013 Florinda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(read as audiobook)

Although she's not widely recognized for it, Janis Ian was a pioneer--as a musician, as an admitted and acknowledged lesbian, and as an independent artist making use of the Internet to connect with fans and market her work. All of that gives her story continued relevance. And the personal tragicomedy of it--the romantic drama, the associates who proved untrustworthy, the vindictive IRS agent who pursued her for years over back taxes--makes it fascinating reading.

I found that I
Lori Paul
Mar 14, 2013 Lori Paul rated it did not like it
This book came highly recommended and since I enjoy autobiographical works read by the author, I purchased it on While it's true that having Ms. Ian perform parts of her songs as her narration went along was interesting and innovative, the story she tells is self-aggrandizing to the point of being nauseating. I made it through the first half thinking it would become more self-aware and enjoyable as she became more mature but no such luck. By the time she (*spoiler alert) marries her ...more
Sep 15, 2015 Ginny rated it it was amazing
I knew very little about Janis Ian's life before I read this book. I had memories of seeing her on TV singing "Society's Child" on a show hosted by Leonard Bernstein and being quite moved by the song. At the tine I was 15 or 16, and so was she. I was mildly familar with "At Seventeen" from hearing it on the radio and with "Jesse" because Joan Baez had recorded it. When I was the branch manager of the Ocean Park Library in Santa Monica in about 1987-1988, Janis lived nearby and was a frequent lib ...more
Jun 25, 2010 Derek rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book by an interesting writer. Janis Ian had her first big hit when still in her teens with the classic "Society's Child," and has had no less than TWO musical comebacks over the course of her career. Who says there are no second acts in American lives? Take that, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Following her life from her very "hippie" upbringing through the present day, this autobiography shows Ian's ups and downs as she deals with fame, personal and professional problems, and all t
Dec 16, 2012 Rachel rated it really liked it
Things Janis and I have in common: Born within a year of each other, to secular Jewish parents with Communist links. Started to talk early, started to read early, were told we had genius IQs. Concert-quality pianist fathers who gave us lessons. Younger brothers named Eric. Voracious science fiction readers since childhood. Self-imposed (maybe) identity as a misfit. Under 4'11". Queer.

What Janis also had, and has: A very high activity/energy level, copious talent, self-motivation, drive, persiste
Nov 06, 2012 Melee rated it it was amazing
I joined a new library system the other week, and was finally able to get my hands on a copy of this book. (I should've have just gone ahead and bought it since I've been wanting to read it for so long, but oh well.)

Ever since I happened upon the song 'Society's Child' a few years back, I have held Janis Ian in high esteem. (Read: I have been a massive fangirl of hers and have spent hours alone listening to or singing her music.) This book just increased my surety that Janis Ian is a matchless a
Nov 01, 2012 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
The best way to enjoy this book is to listen to the audio version, narrated by Janis. You'll get some wonderful, musical chapter openers from Janis that really set the mood. Janis appears to be a very courageous, positive person, someone to be admired. The only thing that puzzled me is that Janis did not express her feelings concerning the death of her friend, Janis Joplin. She mentioned JJ, but did not mention her feelings after JJ had passed away. I found this odd. But I guess she had her reas ...more
Karen Ireland-Phillips
Ms. Ian said she wanted to write her autobiography as if it'd been written by John Grisham. She suceeded. It's fast-moving, covers a lot of years and deep emotional territory without ever dipping very far into the underlying emotional state of the author. It simultaneously tells you a great deal about this phenomenal singer/songwriter's life while keeping the reader at arms length. Far more moving, and immediate, was the talk about the book I had the fortune to hear her give about the book in Cl ...more
Sep 28, 2011 Gerry rated it really liked it
Another librarian posted an article about Janis Ian's talk at a library conference. It was very moving and so I put her autobiography on hold at the library.
It's taken me quite a while to get through it. There was a lot of sadness and sometimes, I just had to put it aside.
I have 3 children who are artists of one kind or another. Reading this book about this artist makes me hope for them that they have enough joy and enough success to have a good life without the awfulness of big success.
It seems
Jan 05, 2010 Harriet rated it it was ok
I have loved Janis Ian's music for 30 years. But I like it less having read this autobiography, which disappoints me terribly for its endless self-indulgence and frequent deviations into irrelevance or self-justification. It's got one of the best first lines of any autobiography I've read--"I was born into the crack that split America"--but it's all downhill from there. Ian doesn't emerge as a very likable character, alas. I wish her well and am glad her life is finally on track, but in this cas ...more
Lesbianfunworld Online
Jul 10, 2016 Lesbianfunworld Online rated it it was amazing
The little I thought I knew about Janis Ian was that she had a Black boyfriend when she was young (and sang about the anguish of racist opposition in Society’s Child), she was an ugly and lonely teenager with acne (as she sang about in At Seventeen) and then some time in midlife she came out as lesbian and so I bought my one and only Ian album, Breaking Silence.

Ha ha ha ha ha what an dolt! At least I wasn’t alone.

Turns out I was wrong on every single thing I thought I knew. And it turns out that
Daniela Botterbusch
Jan 07, 2013 Daniela Botterbusch rated it liked it
If you're considering this book, I highly recommend the audiobook (Audible) version. Janice Ian narrates, and she performs snippets of her own work throughout.
Feb 15, 2016 Ulla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a big Janis Ian fan and hearing herself telling the fantastic story of her rather difficult life, was an uplifting experience!
May 02, 2016 Chrissie marked it as to-read
Shelves: bio, art, history, audible
The audio had her songs and is narrated by Janis, herself!
Apr 15, 2016 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's very easy to see (or, more appropriately, hear) why Janis Ian won an Audie and a Grammy for this audiobook. It's fantastically produced. I loved the snippets of her songs that she starts each chapter off with and sometimes includes within a chapter too.

Her life was fascinating and I loved listening to it. Much of the book, particularly the first half, read like a who's who of the music scene, with Janis dropping names like Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin, and Pete Seeger li
Mar 07, 2016 Shana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: listened
I admit I knew very little about Janis Ian's life or music - but after listening to this book for a few weeks, I feel like I'm going to miss a friend now that I'm finished. Fortunately, I still have music! I have purchased a couple of albums so can listen to those.

This is a very well-written autobiography. Ian is a writer, and it shows. The language, expression, description, emotion - all intertwine beautifully. The uncomfortable parts (her mental illness and abusive marriage, for example) are p
Jan 28, 2016 Msjodi777 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Since I have been a Janis Ian fan since Society's Child (the song) came out, I knew that unless the writing was just awful, (and really, how could someone who writes the songs she writes write an awful book?) I was going to enjoy listening to this book. And then she opens the book with “I was born into the crack that split America.” The crack that split America being the generation gap between baby boomers and their parents. And the book goes up hill from there.

Ms Ian talks about touring as a t
Susan Moss
Jun 18, 2014 Susan Moss rated it it was ok
Society's Child: My Autobiography by Janis Ian (finished 6/14/14): I've been a fan of Janis Ian's music for quite a while. I remember when Society's Child first came out... I lived At Seventeen... I recall her hiatus from the music business and her triumphant return with Hunger and god & the fbi. I've seen her in concert multiple times (as long-ago as college days... at Main Street Cafe in Homestead FL... as recent as the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival). In fact, I bought this book at FRFF 2010 ...more
Jan 25, 2014 Blaire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This is one of those books that is better heard than read. Janis Ian does a wonderful job as narrator. In fact, it's kind of like having her sitting in the next chair telling you about her life. As you would expect from a singer, she has a very appealing speaking voice. It doesn't hurt, either, that this medium gives her the opportunity to sing a few bits of her songs. After all, they are largely autobiographical, too. I had no idea she was quite as big a star as she appears to have been, althou ...more
Vincent Eaton
Jul 18, 2016 Vincent Eaton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have enjoyed Janis Ian's singing and songwriting, and of late her guitar playing, from the very first. This autobiography was pleasant and enjoyable. However, it was much more of the "then this happened, then this happened" than an intimate journey inside the lady. Patti Smith's "Just Kids" was much more interestingly detailed on the musical personalities she met (some of the same Ian meets) and they came alive; for Ian, they are sketched with a few sentences, for a single incident, and never he ...more
Aug 26, 2008 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
SOCIETY’S CHILD. (2008). ****. Janice Ian was one of my idols when I was much younger. Since then, I haven’t heard much about her, but, then, I haven’t been trying to keep up either. In this autobiography, she manages to tell the story of her amazing success and her equally amazing plunge to the depths. She was a smart Jewish girl from New Jersey who had an ear for words and music. She always marched to the beat of a different drummer (or guitarist). Her songs were always soulful, if not downrig ...more
Kathleen Hagen
Society’s Child, by Janis Ian, narrated by the author, produced by Audible Inc., downloaded from

The publisher’s note says it best. I only wish to add that Janis Ian’s narration is really a performance. She has a wonderful voice for narrating, and whenever she is talking about a particular song, she gives us samples of the song by singing it and accompanying herself with her guitar. It is really a performance. I loved this book and wondered what had happened to Janis Ian.
Dec 09, 2012 Jodi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew nothing about Janis Ian before I began listening to her autobiography but I was blown away by it. A hit songwriter at 14 she was very different from today's young pop stars. For one thing, she didn't set out to be a star. She set out to be a song writer. Fame was a side benefit/curse. What she showed so clearly (and what is mirrored in today's young stars) is that families don't know how to handle the fame. Janis wasn't looking for sex and drugs. She was looking for an education but her t ...more
Darlene Vendegna
Aug 30, 2013 Darlene Vendegna rated it it was amazing
Janis Ian is a renowned singer songwriter. Her way with language and story telling is evident in many of the hundreds of songs she has written for herself and others to sing and make hits. This gift is never more evident than in her autobiography. It details her life from the little girl on a chicken farm to a successful multiple grammy winning performer and happily married (even happier now that DOMA has been repealed)woman. She's been witness to a lot of history; from the civil rights movement ...more
Thomas DeWolf
May 03, 2013 Thomas DeWolf rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
When I closed the cover after finishing Janis Ian's autobiography, I took a deep breath, sighed, and wished there were more. It was a walk through her life, and by extension, my own... a walk through the music and history of Janis Ian, and other musicians I've listened to all my life, our country during the turbulent last half century as we've grown and changed our perceptions of each other in terms of race, gender, sexual identity and so much more.

Having read the hardcover, I now look forward t
Linda Lipko
Jul 29, 2014 Linda Lipko rated it really liked it
Highly Recommended

While listening to Janis Ian perform at a local Musikfest, I took a wonderful, magical trip down memory lane. I purchased a copy of her recently released autobiography and read it in one sitting -- late into the wee morning hours.

I know the words to all the songs and now it is a special gift to hear the stories behind some of them and to learn the twists and turns of her journey.

Her well-written, insightful book shines a bright light in the corners of the rough spots of darknes
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this book 3 9 Aug 30, 2013 04:44PM  
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I was was born April 7, 1951, a month and day shared with Billie Holiday. Wrote my first song at 12, was published at 13, made a record at 14, had a hit at 15, and was a has-been at 16. I took a break for 3 years shortly thereafter, and moved to Philadelphia to write and find out if I really could be a great songwriter. "Came back" in 1973 with an album called Stars, and was fortunate enough to ha ...more
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