“Common” experiences of the young white male in the late 20th century/early 21st century: playing in bands, drinking, doing drugs, messing around with girls, masturbating to pornography, dealing with father issues. “Uncommon” experiences of the young white male in the late 20th century/early 21st century: Loosing your virginity to a prostitute, dating four women at a time, engaging in mutual masturbation with a male stranger in a video booth.
When reading a memoir you’re looking to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for two or three hundred pages. I’ve grown a little tired of reading of the aforementioned “common” experiences. It’s subject matter I’ve been so immersed in for years and years that reading a book with these experiences in it is like a little bit like reading a book about breathing or eating breakfast. They’re funny at times and my heart warms to it because I can relate, but the filler vignettes in ACP of drugs and sex veer dangerously close to “slice of life” territory. Ultimately those things just don’t move me anymore, don’t offer me a tectonic shift of thinking, which is what I look for when putting on someone else’s shoes.
I felt the same way when I read Catcher in the Rye. I was expecting something along the lines of the Anarchist Cookbook, a controversial text, dripping with napalm, that would get me arrested if I was caught reading it in public. But halfway into the book it just felt like a buddy of mine telling me about his trip to New York. The voice and subject matter were so common to me that I failed to see what was so special about it.
Luckily the book is balanced with the “uncommon” experiences. I’m using these quotes because these experiences aren’t that uncommon at all. They’re probably more common than you think, but they remain unspoken, looked down upon. But Sampsell is someone that has the guts to write about them. Being as honest as possible is about as essential to a good memoir as printing on paper.
It feels pithy to pass judgment on a book just because you’ve done some of the same things the author has. What makes this book worth the read is Sampsell’s voice. Calm, metered, matter-of-fact without being tepid or monotone. He doesn’t over-emphasize these experiences, doesn’t inflate them with meaning and wallow in denouement. He treats his love of football statistics with the same level-headedness as he does his sister’s mental illness. It’s refreshing to read an author that trusts the reader to put these loose vignettes together like a puzzle. He lets the audience impart their own meaning to these stories instead of dropping emotional cues everywhere, the equivalent of holding up an applause sign.
Google imaging “A Common Pornography” does not yield as many fucked up things as I had imagined it would.