Ashley Brodie's Reviews > A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints by Dito Montiel
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May 14, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites
Read in February, 2010

I read A Guide to Recognizing your Saints by Dito Montiel a couple of years ago. I bought it, along with the DVD of the film adaptation, at the same time on Amazon. The film has Rosario Dawson, Channing Tatum, Shia LaBeouf, and playing the older version of the title character, Robert Downey Jr.

Now, this title seemed to have been popping up a lot in my peripheries around then, and something about it had always drawn my attention. When I spotted RDJ was in the film, I decided to make the purchase, and get the book for comparitive reasons if nothing else. For me, Robert Downey Jr is always the best thing in whatever he is in, so I expected to like the film. And I did. It was powerful. Beautiful even, in its stark story-telling and emphatic emotion. It's the sort of realist film that I always love, but I can totally see why a lot of people would hate it. Maybe even find it boring, or a little unsatisfying. When I read the book, I could tell the movie was directed by the author. What I didn't expect, was how much I would like the book.

It was different to the film of course. They picked one cohesive storyline from the book's series of out of sync vignettes, and focussed on Dito being a writer rather than a musician. They omitted a great deal and added some elements in. They mixed up his friends to make the story easier to tell onscreen. As with everything in the world, the book has some flaws. Montiel even references the criticism he received over his (lack of) punctuation. But most of them can be over looked. I choose to over look them. The writing is just so powerful.

I waited a day after I finished reading to start writing about it, thinking a little time to reflect would be ideal, as I may have been over zealous in my initial fangirl-style adoration. That my admiration would diminish somewhat, so I wouldn't turn into a total gushing nit. It hasn't. At all. So to quote that Aussie bloke off Got To Dance, 'gush, gush, gush, gush. Gush, gush. Gush, gush, gush. Gush, gush, gush, gush. Gush. Gush. Gush.'.

The most common word that I have seen used about this book (though mostly the film. It is a sad fact that fewer and fewer people are frequent readers nowadays) is 'moving'. I would have to agree with that, but there are a dozen other words I'd love to tag on to it. Like 'raw', 'powerful', and (whether elements of it are fictionalized or not) 'honest'.

The book wasn't what I expected at all. It is a memoir, and it is totally unsynchronized. I think I went into it with no expectations, which was to say, the usual expectations. That being, a linear story. I loved how it was a selection of moments, interspersed with poetry, but all coming back to the same messages. This book actually made me rethink my stance on poetry (which before rested at 'blaaah, poetry', not very educated, articulate or enlightened of me, I know. It's just a gut reaction thing). I found the structure really inspiring.

Dito tells us everything about himself, by focusing all the time on people he encountered during his life. The people he felt lucky to have met. What's that quote from The Craft? 'You are who you hang with'. Well then Dito Montiel is the single most interesting person you've ever met. The people he tells you about during the novel, some of them are so out there that you just want to meet them. You want them to be real, to be exactly how he wrote them. You want to run into them on the street and recognise them from his writing. You want to go to a party in Astoria and get drunk with them, and just know them with the same affection you can feel radiating from the pages.

It also gives you this unbelievable urge to go and explore New York (not easy for a broke English bird). The sense of freedom, impulsiveness and exploration is just infectious. It's an urban coming of age story, so I guess that's the point, but it just works. One of my favourite parts was when he is telling the reader about a road trip he went on with an ex-girlfriend. It just gave me this urge, this feeling, like I wanted to jump into my car and drive somewhere, anywhere. His story telling is beautiful. It grabs you by the collar and doesn't let go for the whole ride. Poetic, personal, visceral, every flaw is in a gem, every person is described with compassion. Even the violence doesn't bring you down from the high his writing has you floating on.

I'm going to end this with my favourite line from the book, which I think also says a lot about it. At least, it's the message I came away with. It's a line from one of the poems, which, if you want to read in full, you'd better read the book. ;)


'You will rationalize no more dreams'
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