Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up

            “It might seem a bit reckless to be picking up drugs on the way to Heathrow, but my need for a regular supply of narcotics would not be constrained by the exigencies of international air travel. I generally traveled with drugs up my arse in the belief that should customs officers decide to pursue this unsavory line of inquiry my day would be ruined and the discovery of crack or heroin couldn’t make it much worse” (First-Class Twit, section 24). Here you have an apposite excerpt from Russell Brand’s 2010 memoir My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up*. An eccentric celebrity who has been to rehab for sex addiction and drug dependency wrote about the outlandish junkie-riddled escapades of his formative and young-adult years and it landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Why am I reading and reviewing a book by Brand? Well, aside from the fact that he has phenomenal hair and I like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I enjoy having a *back-pocket book*. This is a book(y wook) that I can occasionally whip out when I’m wine-buzzed and I don’t have to take too seriously. If you’re wearing cargo shorts, you can also have a *side-pocket book* but then you’d have to cope with the indignity of owning and sporting cargo shorts in public.  

The memoir popped up under my Oyster books account recommendations--an online book source that I reference in my Your Movie Sucks review. I thought it fell perfectly into the category of books-I-want-to-read-but-don’t-necessarily-want-to-buy. Honestly, his talent surprised me. He dabbles in impressive poetry, references philosophers I personally admire, shares entertaining stories, and knows when to be retrospectively contemplative about his destructive exploits. Basically, it’s a tour through the crazy shit he’s done in his life (your classic prostitute, substance-abuse, self-harming, unemployment cocktail) distilled through a comedic lens. You learn about his early misogynism—like when he broke up with one of his infinite number of exes, returned the key to her apartment, and then used a clandestine copy he had made to go back and steal things when she wasn’t home (Is This a Cash Card I See Before Me, section 18). You hear about the concessions he made, the boundaries he crossed, and the sinking environment he stepped into when his heroin addiction reached its heights. You discover how he latched on to comedy as a means to weasel out of depression and keep his head above the murky waters of despair. And all while maintaining that impeccable mane!

Throughout his book(y wook) is a thread of introspection as lively as the threads of his bohemian-styled wardrobe. He acknowledges that he is a grandiose character, admitting that he treats life as a never ending performance. Brand has never been one to color in the lines or stick to the script. As a youngster, this took a self-destructive turn; the search for identity and “absolute self” was precarious because he constantly adopted different personas that varied depending on his audience at the time. The memoir has a dark tinge to it that reads breathlessly honest—while comedy is a valuable distraction from “the tyranny of life’s minutiae”, the need to resourcefully unwind is very palpable for him (First-Class Twit, section 24). He says, “You might have a glass of wine, or a joint, or a big delicious blob of heroin to silence your silly brainbox of its witterings, but there has to be some form of punctuation, or life just seems utterly relentless” (April Fool, section 1). Now, purportedly sober for 13 years, he relies on creative career endeavors rather than a narcotic abyss.

My typical experience with memoirs is once again confirmed: they’re amusing, light-hearted, and usually contain a dash of philosophical extrapolation to render the author less vain and the reading worth your time (see: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Not That Kind of Girl, and Are you There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea for more of my reviews on memoirs). It’s good, but it’s not bloody brilliant. He’s a charming, dramatic Englishman who is self-deprecating but certainly not self-effacing. You’ll likely enjoy it, but it’s not jaw-dropping spectacular, and its words won’t resonate for days afterward.  Still, truthfully, I like the guy. He’s human, he’s interesting, and he’s exposed. And not just in the literal sense, as when he shares this dashing pic with us: 

I see him in a different light now and I respect his intelligence, which I suppose was a motivating factor behind him writing the book(y wook) in the first place. Balancing his wit and intellectual aptitude with the drawbacks seemingly inherent in the memoir genre, I give My Booky Wook 3 out of 5 camel humps.

*Brand, Russell.  My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up. New York: It Books, 2010.

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