JUST KIDS is Patti Smith's haunting elegy to her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe as well as a vibrant personal document of New York in the 60s and...moreJUST KIDS is Patti Smith's haunting elegy to her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe as well as a vibrant personal document of New York in the 60s and 70s. Andy Warhol ruled and Janis Joplin wrote songs at the Chelsea and America lost its supposed innocence to the sounds of warfare in Vietnam that would also erupt at home, civil unrest and the Kent State shootings.
Patti Smith was twenty years old, penniless and drifting through the neighborhoods of New York when she encountered a dark-eyed, curly-haired Robert Mapplethorpe: a mash-up of talent, ambition and sexual magnetism in his self-made beaded necklaces and sheepskin vest. Both of them were aspiring artists who had escaped conventional upbringings and embarked on the tricky work of inventing themselves. With each other as witness, muse and helpmeet, Patti and Robert defined the vocabularies that would in turn -- and time -- define them. They found themselves at a stunning crossroads of artistic characters who inspired and encouraged them while opening up social vistas that would benefit their work (Robert in particular was socially ambitious, hungering for "high art and high society"). They were the favored children of a particular time and place; what happened to them here could not have happened to them elsewhere.
JUST KIDS is one of those books where the reader knows things that the young characters don't -- impending fame and Robert's death by AIDS -- in a way that creates within the narrative a sense of suspense, a compelling thread of destiny, that might otherwise be lacking. Patti is an engaging heroine, wildly idealistic and rebellious and daring ("Jesus died for somebody's sins/But not mine"), in love with art for the sake of art and attaining worldly success almost in spite of herself (says Robert, "Patti, you got famous before me"). Robert is vividly drawn, anguishing over his sexual identity even as he finds an unapologetic beauty in extreme sexual acts and makes work that sometimes disturbs even Patti. This might seem a contradiction in terms, but as Patti herself points out, "Sometimes contradiction is the clearest way to truth." The contradictory truth at the center of JUST KIDS -- that we need each other in order to create our own selves -- lingers after the last page is turned: Patti's farewell to her "blue star" friend, ashes in the reader's hand. (less)
There’s a massive shift of consciousness going on, as the old paradigm dies and the new one takes its place. In the new order, “artists” win the day b...moreThere’s a massive shift of consciousness going on, as the old paradigm dies and the new one takes its place. In the new order, “artists” win the day because what they do cannot be outsourced or automated. Seth Godin calls these people “linchpins” because they “invent, lead, connect others, make things happen…figure out what to do when there’s no rule book.” Godin shows you why this is and inspires you to be one yourself. He’s been criticized a bit for not showing you how to be one, but that’s kind of the point: there is no real map, no “one path” that everyone can follow. You have to figure it out for yourself by developing the state of mind and playing to your own personality. Some good insights on “the resistance”, the culture of gifts and connection, and “the seven abilities of the linchpin.” (less)
I loved this book. Could not put it down. What made it so compelling for me was Franzen's acute psychological eye, his ability to get inside family dy...moreI loved this book. Could not put it down. What made it so compelling for me was Franzen's acute psychological eye, his ability to get inside family dynamics and deconstruct relationships, to create tension and suspense through the ways we get along with each other. And don't.
Patty is a gifted athlete growing up in a family that doesn't value athletics. When she's raped at 17, her mother makes an effort to say the proper things but sells her out to advance her political career. Patty has the wildly uneven ego of someone who knows she's "a star" but considers herself flawed, boring, and unworthy. This makes her vulnerable to predatory relationships and a bit of a predator herself (her relationship with her son is a vivid and sympathetic depiction of emotional incest). Patty faces the age-old dilemma of the safe, sweet guy (her husband) vs the sexy bad guy (a rock musician). This is further complicated by the fact that husband Walter and rock dude Richard are lifelong best friends, and engaged in a complicated rivalry that finds its ultimate expression through Patty. Meanwhile Walter tries to save the environment by colluding with the forces that are destroying it, and their son does his best to turn himself into a "heartless capitalist bastard" even though he can't quite break up with his high school girlfriend or kill off his dawning realization that he has a conscience.
All these characters struggle with their effort to be 'good' and their freedom to be otherwise, but ultimately their identities are so bound up with each other that they're perhaps not as free as they realize -- and this, Franzen seems to suggest, might be what saves us. (less)
Enjoyed this. Grossman mixes fantasy and realism: Harry Potter filtered through Bret Easton Ellis. Quentin is a very smart and secretly miserable teen...moreEnjoyed this. Grossman mixes fantasy and realism: Harry Potter filtered through Bret Easton Ellis. Quentin is a very smart and secretly miserable teenager obsessed with a series of Narnia-like novels that represent paradise to him (a "the grass is always greener on the other side of the magical wardrobe" kind of thing). He discovers he has a talent for magic and attends a special and highly exclusive college for magicians that is veiled from the regular world. Quentin develops his powers and makes friends and falls in love. Upon graduation, he and his friends share a residence in New York and struggle with ennui and aimlessness -- what to do with your life when you can do everything and don't have to do anything? (Ecstasy and orgies for everyone!) Quentin's boredom and constant search for a happiness that eludes him veers in a dark and dangerous direction when he discovers that the Narnia-like world of his beloved novels isn't such make-believe after all. Like arrogant and ignorant travelers bumbling through a foreign culture, however, Quentin and his friends don't realize how high the stakes truly are or the price they will pay.
What I particularly liked about this book was Quentin's reaction to physical violence when he's exposed to it for the first time (and then the second and the third). Although Grossman takes a wry, sometimes deconstructive look at fantasy novels -- the characters tend to go a bit meta, in a way that reminded me of the Scream movies -- the violence in The Magicians is presented as truly horrifying, and Quentin's response to it reflects his true loss of innocence.
An intelligent, engaging, often amusing, beautifully written book. Grossman knows how to give great ending -- the climax hits all the right notes, and the final pages are unexpectedly poignant. Shows just how resonant and literary popular fiction can be.(less)
Interesting book: demonstrates how marketing and advertising are a direct and fascinating reflection on the culture at large. As the culture changes,...moreInteresting book: demonstrates how marketing and advertising are a direct and fascinating reflection on the culture at large. As the culture changes, 'old school' branding and PR doesn't work anymore.
One of the main ideas I took away from this book: the best brands today don't simply tap into wishes and aspirations but turn themselves into 'cultural ideas' with which we the consumers actively engage. As the author says, we want to use our brands. And as a writer facing the necessity of becoming a 'personal' or 'author brand' (whether I like it or not) as publishing continues to go digital, I find this interesting -- and even heartening, since it indicates that promoting a book is much more about direct communication with the reader -- enabling the reader to 'use' and 'engage' with you -- and much less about the hard sell (which people have learned to tune out anyway).
And one of the other main ideas: the 'brand molecule'. Brands are no longer just one big and oft-repeated message. Brands are composed of ideas that grow naturally one from the other, so that a brand becomes a kind of ever-evolving, multi-dimensional entity. I think this is kind of cool. (less)