19 January 2015

Review: The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help
The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was wrong about Amanda Palmer.

I'm not saying I wasn't a casual-ish fan - I liked The Dresden Dolls, I really enjoyed her solo albums, but there was always something that didn't register for me. I appreciated The Art, but it wasn't For Me, if that makes any sense. It was similar to, say, Tori Amos or (ironically) Neil Gaiman for me, or how others feel about Radiohead or, for a literary equivalent, Area X. I was happy to listen, found the fanbase a little difficult, and left it at that.

The genesis of this book came at least in part from the backlash from her Kickstarter campaign for one of her albums and the completely ridiculously overblown "she's not paying her musicians" controversy following that. She had a TED talk that was, in part, about the culture she comes from - one that encourages giving, favors, and not being afraid to ask permission. This is really key to understanding The Amanda Palmer Experience, and was lost on her critics anyway.

The Art of Asking is an extended treatise on her TED talk, for sure. It's mostly anecdotal, with tales of her experiences as an artist in a number of forms and how the culture she exists in matters to her art, to how she goes about her business, and so on. It's also a memoir of her life, of her struggles, and of a lot of her own personal conflicts with her philosophy and her lifestyle and how her life was trending (famous musician, marrying a famous author, and so on). All of it matters, all of it is out there and raw and real, which is pretty much how Amanda Palmer operates anyway.

I loved this book. I read it in basically two sittings because her writing style is engaging and conversational, and because, really, the story is pretty fascinating. And, really, it made me realize that I didn't really understand Amanda Palmer either. While I always understood where Palmer was coming from, I didn't realize how ingrained it was in her. I didn't know a ton about her history, only a lot of second-hand stories and third-party tellings. While there is reason to be careful about taking things directly from the source, there is something to understanding how one is trying to be portrayed and the parts you missed.

I'm a bigger fan of Palmer now because of this book. I doubt that was her intention in writing it, but it happened regardless. I learned something, too, in dealing with the sort of "I'm a fraud" voices to seeking out the help you need. Even if I improve marginally in those areas, it will be an improvement.

I can't say this will be for everyone, just because of how divisive Palmer can be. With that said, though, I do think everyone who is trying to be successful doing the things they love should at least give this one a shot. You very well could learn something from it.

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