1.21.2015

Book Review | The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

From the book description (Goodreads page):
Rock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world's most successful music Kickstarter.

Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn't alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.

Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.


My review (Goodreads version):
Though Amanda Palmer has inspired strong emotions in countless people, ranging from extreme, vocal hatred to cult-like devotion, I had never heard of her before learning of The Art of Asking. The only reason I knew about her book was because I follow her husband, Neil Gaiman, on Goodreads. He wrote a post when her book launched, urging his readers to go and check out his wife's first foray into the world of published writing. The premise sounded intriguing, so I left my usual preferred genre (fantasy fiction) to give Palmer's memoir a try.

I put a hold on the book via Overdrive/the library and waited for my turn. Eventually, it came around and I downloaded the audio version to listen via my phone. Palmer narrates her own story and does a fairly decent job of it, though there is a clear distinction between the quality of her reading vs. a professional narrator. There are odd pauses and abrupt sentences, but nothing that irritated me to the point of distraction. Palmer also plays some of her music throughout the audio version, which I really enjoyed. The music itself isn't really my style, but I thought it helped a lot in understanding where she was at different points in her life/story and offered helpful additions to the written content, the way you'd enjoy a sketch or world map in a fantasy novel.

Palmer's story is well-structured, following her journey in chronological order. She mentions key conversations and makes relevant references to them at later points. Palmer's literary voice is strong, consistent, and clear, carrying readers easily through the narrative.

I was blown away by Palmer as a person. She's incredibly successful and daring (being a living statue would be my introverted self's nightmare). She is a smart musician with a strong understanding of what her fans need and how to grow her artistic business. She talks about getting naked and letting fans write on her and about how she stripped to make money in the early days of her band. And the best part? She does it all without a single apology or lengthy discussions about shame. This is exactly what we need more of - people who don't think that every accomplishment needs to come with a big dose of embarassment; people who are not afraid to own who they are and what they're comfortable with, even if it goes against societal norms. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with nudity in general, but I'm so, so happy to read the perspective of someone who is comfortable with nudity and feels no need to apologize for it.

Palmer is also willing to let us in on her problems, insecurities, and fears. She's honest and direct about both the positive and the negative. Her threshold for discomfort with sharing and personal space are very low and she shares a lot of very personal experiences. So many people spend so much time spinning the positive ("My life is perfect and I'm always happy every day - just look at all of my smiling Facebook photos") or spinning the negative ("[Insert name of person, city, organization, etc.] hates me and the world is a horrible place - just look at [insert event] that happened to me today"). It's refreshing to find someone who is willing to discuss both sides.

The Art of Asking isn't just about asking, but it's a strong theme of the narrative. Palmer makes valuable points about our relationship with asking and loosely backs them with anecdotes. I say "loosely" because she doesn't approach it with a "this is my thesis and here are some relevant stories to back it" attitude. Rather, she shares insights at various points and stories at others and sometimes they tie together. 

One thing I found to be a pleasant surprise was her discussion of artist validation. I hadn't considered that she would have a perspective on the issue, but it resonated deeply with me. As a former accountant with a structured office job with set titles, pay scales, and promotions who recently transitioned into the world of independent art, blogging, and small business ownership, her discussions rang true. It is incredibly difficult to feel validated as an artist, for so many reasons. I appreciated the way Palmer offered perspective and support to her fellow artists.

Palmer is the kind of person who would probably make me feel very uncomfortable in person due to the vast differences in our personalities and styles, but whose story and perspective I loved reading. We need more strong female voices and perspectives, like Palmer's, in our world. I chose to review this book (out of the many I've read lately) because so many of the reviews seem to be skewed by prior opinions on Palmer, her lifestyle, and her music. Since I hadn't known of any of those prior to reading the book, I hope to add a less biased review to the mix.

I couldn't give the book a full five stars because it wasn't top quality author material. I wouldn't expect it of a first time writer whose primary profession isn't writing, but I keep pretty high standards for a five star rating. However, the content itself was top notch.

Content: 5.0/5.0
Audio Narration: 4.0/5.0
Overall:  4.5/5.0

CONCLUSION: Highly Recommended
P.S. I decided to start doing book reviews as part of the rebel book club, started by Cole of Peace and Chaos. Plus, I reviewed 26 books on Goodreads last year and never posted the reviews anywhere else. So I might as well start adding them to the blog! :)

14 comments:

  1. I was thinking of reading this one! I have really mixed feelings on Amanda Palmer. On one hand I DO think it's important to know that it's ok to ask for help when you need it, but I also think she blurs the line of needing help and taking advantage of people. There have been multiple times when she's asked musicians to play in her shows for free, which I think is unfair. She's earning money for these shows, so why can't they? Just things like that. Great review!

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    1. I actually thought the same thing when I had heard about the asking musicians to play in her shows for free (I saw that buzz in the news but didn't know who she was and didn't connect the dots until she mentioned it in her book). It was really interesting, though, to see her perspective on how that happened and the ensuing backlash. I can definitely see why you (and many others) feel that she ends up taking advantage of people at times. It really is a bit of a grey area and I'm not totally decided what I think about all of that yet. Thanks for sharing your opinion - I loved reading what you thought of her! :)

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  2. I love your review! I've heard things here and there about Amanda Palmer but I've never looked into anything she's done as an artist. I'll have to check out the book! Looking forward to reading more book reviews!

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    1. Thanks, Tara! It was an interesting read for sure! I hadn't heard any of her music either, but she shared some songs in the audio version, which was really helpful to the story. So I've now heard a handful of songs. :)

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  3. Awesome book review :) I need to do more reading this year!

    Xo Eeka

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    1. Thanks, Eeka! Yeah, I got back into reading more at the end of 2012. So glad I did! :)

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  4. Great review! I haven't read this book yet but it sounds like a good one. I want to read more this year so I'm adding this to my list!

    Jessica
    the.pyreflies.org

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    1. Thanks, Jessica! You should definitely add it to your list! :)

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  5. I've only heard good things about this book - a group I'm a part of recently reviewed this and they all raved about it, too. Part of my own resolutions this year is to be more assertive, and I bet Palmer has some thoughts on that! Thanks for sharing this review.

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    1. Indeed, she's definitely assertive! Sounds like it would be a great book for you to read! :)

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  6. I'm TERRIBLE at asking for help, and the rest of the topics this book covers sounds so interesting! Definitely adding it to my reading list ASAP!

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  7. I haven't read this yet, but Amanda Palmer's great -- such a big, fun personality!

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    1. Definitely! Hope you get a chance to read it! :)

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