Title: My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Stand-Up
Author: Russell Brand
Type of Book: Non-fiction, memoir, drug abuse
Why Did I Read This Book: Because Mr. Everything and I went to see Get Him to the Greek and loved it. Also, someone somewhere told me that given my grudging (borderline psychotic, actually) affection for the late Sebastian Horsley, Brand’s memoir would be up my alley. Then a friend online revealed her mother was reading My Booky Wook when she passed away due to brain cancer (true story). So yeah, I had to read it.
Availability: Published by HarperCollins in 2009, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Increasingly I find myself questioning my decision to review all the books I read. Because I read voraciously and indiscriminately, I often find myself discussing books that were neither amazing enough to praise nor terrible enough to lampoon. Middling books that were entertaining enough when I read them but really meant little other than the entertainment they offered during the moments as I was reading them are hard to discuss. I mean, I guess I could become a reviewer who routinely just tosses 500 words or so out there and calls it a day but why bother. There are hundreds of sites like that already. And my will to go on at length forbids such brevity. But it’s problematic even beyond not knowing what to say because when I can’t find much to discuss, I put off writing and the books stack up. So it’s a quandry. If I don’t review everything, I’ll take it easy on myself and just review when I want to and if I force myself to review everything I procrastinate. Maybe I just need to man up. I don’t know
(I do know I will not review another Stieg Larrson book even though I love them all and want to discuss them. The search strings that led some people to my review of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo filled me with angst and loathing. I almost want to take the review down so that when I check my site stats I don’t have to see how it is that people never stop trying to rake the dead over the coals.)
Anyway, My Booky Wook is not as annoying as Dandy in the Underworld. Brand can turn a phrase very well. At times he is clever. And he does not openly embrace a lack of substance and wallow in nihilism. He doesn’t seem like he is a rip-off of someone else. It doesn’t suck. But overall, it’s a biography about Russell Brand. I mean, he’s entertaining and all, but he’s a comedian who had a drug and sex problem. He likes bosomy women. He did some really terrible things as an addict and owns it in his amusing way. It is what it is. If you find yourself stuck in an airport for a 5-hour layover and this book is for sale at one of news stands, you should definitely buy this before you buy the latest thriller or horror title. Honestly, this isn’t an amazing book but you won’t regret reading it. But if asked to write a substantive review for your online review site, you may find yourself saying very little in a whole lot of words.
Okay, synopsis: Brand is born. His parents separate. His mom has cancer twice. His dad is a cad. He loathes his stepfather. He is an obnoxious kid using obnoxiousness to shield his tender heart and he grows into an obnoxious adult. He flounders in University. He develops drug problems. He has issues with what in the old days was called sexual continence. He gets a job with MTV and goes from obnoxious to insufferable. He goes to rehab. He pulls himself together. The end.
While this book is not going to be a classic memoir – truly, there is no danger of it surpassing the memoirs of Nabokov, Fox, Dickens or Orwell – Brand has a brave capacity of knowing himself and showing himself at his worst. There are moments in the book wherein you finally understand some of what makes Brand an interesting man outside of his appalling hair. He certainly doesn’t pull any punches with what he chooses to present about himself and as a person who is a notorious head case in my own right, I can appreciate this. And at times, he has a startling depth to his words, and I say startling because having listened to interviews with him, he didn’t initially strike me as a man with hidden depths. But he has them and he presents them very well.
For instance, he summarizes the compelling force behind most comedians – that sense of being a complete loser and adopting a clown persona to compensate:
This is… the reason why stand-up comedy is the perfect career for me. Not just because I’m constantly scribbling notes inside my own mind to deal with the embarrassment I perpetually feel, but also because I’m always observing, always outside. It’s a perfectly natural dynamic for me to stand alone in front of thousands of people and tell ’em how I feel. The fact that I’ve managed to make it funny is bloody convenient, because I can’t think how else I would make them listen.
His thoughts on the driving forces behind addiction were also not only surprising coming from a man with such dreadful hair, but were also eloquent and right on the nose.
All of us, I think, have a vague idea that we’re missing something. Some say that thing is God; that all the longing we feel–be it for a lover, or a football team, or a drug–is merely an inappropriate substitute for the longing we’re supposed to feel for God, for oneness, for truth. And what heroin does really successfully is objectify that need…
It makes you feel lovely and warm and cozy. It gives you a great, big, smacky cuddle, and from then on the idea of need is no longer an abstract thing, but a longing in your belly and a kicking in your legs and a shivering in your arms and sweat on your forehead and a dull pallor on your face. At this point you’re no longer under any misapprehension about what it is that you need: you don’t think, “Nice to have a girlfriend, read a poem or ride a bike,” you think, “Fuck, I need heroin.”
Brand’s ability to mix humor into the darkest of his discoveries was nice. In this passage, he is discussing a therapy program while he was in sex rehab:
In the next program, “Wanky-Wanky,” we addressed the subject of sexuality. As the title suggests, this episode was a little more juvenile than its immediate predecessors, but still interesting nonetheless. The question was, “Is your sexuality constructed by environment and experience or is it innate?” I examined this issue by wanking a man off in a toilet. In conclusion, your sexuality is innate.
He then goes on to recount a sexual encounter he engaged in for a television program he was working for at the time – I can’t recall if it was MTV or not. Regardless, he ended up in a bathroom stall with a pretty foul man while the whole awkward, smelly thing was recorded by a camera crew. It was funny, Brand’s description, but it also created a mental parallel for me, however inappropriately, with scenes Peter Sotos described in Selfish, Little. Oh yes, Brand reaches completely different conclusions about jerking off old, fat men in public toilets, but the sense of darkness, degeneracy and a life out of control in the worst sort of way resonated nonetheless.
Brand also understands and explains well why addiction may serve a purpose above and beyond that which degrades us:
For all the damage it had enabled me to do to myself and my career, heroin had also provided a degree of sanctuary. Marianne Faithfull once said that heroin had saved her, because she was suicidal and it kept her alive.
And don’t I ever know that feeling, that as bad as things had become, they could have been so much worse.
I think I’ll leave this review with a quote from the beginning of the book, another stinger in which Brand expresses himself not elegantly but humorously and with a lot of clarity:
…I realized that the outer surface of what I thought was my unique, individual identity was just a set of routines. We all have an essential self, but if you spend every day chopping up meat on a slab, and selling it by the pound, soon you’ll find you’ve become a butcher. And if you don’t want to become a butcher (and why would you?), you’re going to have to cut right through to the bare bones of your own character in the hope of finding out who you really are. Which bloody hurts.
So… All in all, it’s a memoir by Russell Brand, a man who essentially gets paid in movies to behave as he once did, which may require a lot of skill. I don’t know. As I recited back these quotes, I realized that I don’t understand why I am not giving this book an unreserved hurrah. I think you can do a lot worse than read this book. But maybe it’s because I don’t feel a lot of connection to Brand. Maybe you need a closer affinity to the person writing words that offer redemption, even if it is redemption mixed with spitting at hookers, heroin, manic insanity and lots of humor. Maybe that’s it. I just don’t think I feel Brand. That’s not his fault and this is a good book despite my lack of connection.
Also, Russell Brand loved and was inspired by Bill Hicks, and no matter how much of an asshole his drug addiction made him, loving Bill Hicks makes anyone a good egg. Brand is a good but irritating egg. So, I feel okay saying that this is a good book to read and I may read the next book out there by Brand. I’ve read books for worse reasons than that the author liked Bill Hicks. I think we all have.