Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Memoirs of a Beatnik

I am the type of person who will mark up a good book to no end. I am a visual person and to see comments I have written in the margins will allow me to remember more easily. I like to highlight good quotes. I'll highlight references the author makes. I'll highlight a word I'd like to start using in my vocabulary or try to make popular (that never works). This was always a good tool for me in school. When I read, I need a quiet atmosphere, with some low volume music, in this case, listening to The Supremes' Reflections on vinyl over and over was my choice. No one talking to me is always the ideal situation.

Unfortunately my bookcase is overflowing and I have a credit of a gazillion dollars at the used bookstore, I am turning to borrowing books at the County Library. Super great, but I can't mark 'em up. Hence the long awaited review of Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane De Prima. I had to go back and scan the book for items of interest to comment about. I'm not the quickest about things like that.

I was SHOCKED when I read this book. Maybe I didn't pay attention to the reviews close enough, but wow, something I was not expecting. I have never read a romance novel and now I wonder about those middle aged women who do. Memoirs was very graphic about the sexual exploitations encountered in the early '50s. A complete 180 from the stereotyped, young prudish women of the era. The book begins with some nitty gritty details that I hoped would end in the second chapter. They didn't, really. Then, I start questioning my own sexuality. Now, I'm strangely drawn to completing the book.

I feel Di Prima did an interesting take on describing the social class she was partaking in... Her group was coined as the "new bohemians" in which the other classes looked down upon. She wrote about poverty, about the lengths she contrived to live. A bit unorthodox, but much more interesting. Answering ads for "sexy girl models" and also abandoning her cool flat to live in the country for months. I am wondering if these new bohemians were under estimated? Making references to Brahms Requim, lots of jazz music, Chanel's Russian Leather perfume, and many classic writings. Were people back in the day just more educated and intellectual around??? Nowadays those who scrimp to live have never had the chance to experience such cultural references.

I was a little dissapointed with the name dropping near the end. I felt it was a bit shameless. But, it did give an opportunity to recognize other writers in the era.

I took this reading out to the streets, as I do like to shock my friends. :-) The first fella I tried to talk about this with, did not get the point. As someone who has never read a beatnik book, he missed the whole romanticized idea of this generation. I mentioned the sexual exploitations and he just wanted to talk about the sex part. He didn't want to hear my thoughts about the sociology of the book. Thumbs down on this.

A couple days later, went to the bar and chatted with the bartender who loves to read and has read every book under the sun. I mentioned the same things as I did guy #1, right away, he suggested another book that was similar in content. Thumbs up. No sex talk occured. LOL.

This was an easy read, and was okay, in my opinon. I may check out another one of Di Prima's books. But later on down the line.

Sheharazad from The White Mole emailed me to chat about this book, recommending Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir by Joyce Johnson. A little toned down with the love affair she had with Kerouac. (Thanks, sweetie, this book is next on my list!)


Sheharazad said...

Looking forward to hearing what you think of the book, Michelle! It's been a while since I read it, I'll poke around my bookshelves and see if I can't find my copy to send to you!

Leather Made Nice said...

Michelle, Oh my gosh! I am so anal retentive about my books. They are in pristine condition even after I have read them. I have never read this book but sounds like worth a read.
Anne ^i^

PsychicReader said...

Michelle, Oh my gosh! I am so anal retentive about my books. They are in pristine condition even after I have read them. I have never read this book but it sounds like it's worth a read.
Anne ^i^

Michelle said...

Sheharazad- Ooh I am excited! I will email you later today. :-)

Anne- I used to be crazy about keeping my things immaculate. When I started at the University, I realized I learned quicker, I guess being more "hands on" did it. I get a kick out of it- stuff is easier to remember!

Lauren London said...

Just ordered it off Ebay! :) Can't wait to get it! x

Michelle said...

That's awesome, Lauren! I hope it enlightens you as it did me! :-)

Let me know what you're thoughts are on the book!

Johanna said...

I don't get the whole middle-aged-women-with-the-romance-novels thing either! But I have to admit, when I get to to the back of BUST magazine where their "one-handed-read" is, I can't help but look! I usually read magazines during my work commute & I'm so paranoid, I have to look around me to make sure no one is looking over my shoulder... and sure enough, every time, about 1/2 way thru the story, I'll feel the eyeballs of some gross guy (who magically appears out of nowhere) reading along with me over my shoulder. meh. *icky shivers* Serves me right for not waiting to read it 'til I get home, I guess...

Michelle said...

Ewww! I despise it when people look over my shoulder...

Eeek I would be horrified if I got caught reading a dirty novel in a public place LOL.

I brought the book to work at one point- I am so glad no one asked me what it was about because I cannot tell a lie! Then I would be made fun of to no end. Haha

Anonymous said...

nice review! i just have a few things to say though. I also enjoyed this book when I read it, however after analyzing in my English class which was based on the Beat Generation, I learned a lot more about it and it made more sense to me. Although yes-I'm sure Di Prima had numerous sexual encounters with many men, it is very much fictionalized in order to appease her editors. Keep in mind at the time Diane Di Prima was tryhing to get this book published, women were not yet accepted in the writing world. It's almost a statement in itself for the book to SCREAM so much sexual content, because it's so so so overdone that you know it's not true. It's like Di Prima is saying "do you see this? this is what i have to write about and include in my book if i want it to be published". her editor would just keep sending her back notes that said. nope, not good enough, more sex. anyways, over all i think it's a great outlook into the developing beat community in NYC at the time and provides a new perspective that is outside the one's we always read about like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs.