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The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir Hardcover – September 16, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 126 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Novelist Brown (Lucky Town; Hot Wire; etc.) mines the explosive territory of his own harsh and complicated life in this gut-wrenching memoir. The youngest child of a mentally ill mother and an absent father, Brown (b. 1957) grew up in the shadow of Hollywood with two older siblings: a brother, a moderately successful actor until his suicide at 27, and a sister who also dreamed of acting but took her life at 44. Brown's tales are harrowing: at five, he and his mother traveled from their San Jose home to San Francisco, where she set an apartment building ablaze. Arson couldn't be proven, but she was imprisoned for tax evasion. At nine, he shared his first drink and high with his siblings; when he was 12, a neighbor attempted to molest him; by 30 he was an alcohol- and cocaine-addicted writer-in-residence. During his marriage's early years, Brown often left his wife to feed his addictions, repeatedly promising her he'd reform. Desperate to fuel his writing career, he attempted screenwriting, but everything he pitched seemed too dark. Brown's genius compels readers to sympathize with him in every instance. Juxtaposed with the shimmery unreality of Hollywood, these essays bitterly explore real life, an existence careening between great promise and utter devastation. Brown's revelations have no smugness or self-congratulation; they reek of remorse and desire, passion and futility. Brown flays open his own tortured skin looking for what blood beats beneath and why. The result is a grimly exquisite memoir that reads like a noir novel but grips unrelentingly like the hand of a homeless drunk begging for help.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Novelist Brown adopts a blatantly confessional tone in his memoir of growing up with an emotionally disturbed mother and then drifting with his brother and sister into addiction even as he crafted award-winning stories. Looking back from the uncertain shore of sobriety, Brown alternates between his troubled childhood and even more troubling adulthood. In tragically tough prose, he details how he screwed over his first wife, children, sister, writing students, and agent--all while feeding addictions to booze, crank, and novels by hustling hollow teaching and scriptwriting gigs. But this feels like a tale written more for cash and catharsis than for connection. Brown says meeting his second wife changed his life and then keeps the process to himself, omitting the third act. Even though his is a story of selfishness selfishly told, Brown's blackout days make for a darkly alluring read. This is the kind of book that becomes an underground classic for all the wrong reasons. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060521511
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060521516
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #849,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Brown is the author of the memoirs, This River and The Los Angeles Diaries, and co-editor with Diana Raab of the anthology Writers on the Edge. The most recent reprint of The Los Angeles Diaries from Counterpoint Press includes a foreword by Jerry Stahl, as does the French edition, Les Carnets de L.A., from 13 eNote Books, and is currently under option for a feature film with producer Jude Prest and Lifelike Productions, LLC. Brown has also written several novels, including Final Performance and Lucky Town. He's received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing and the Nelson Algren Award in Short Fiction. His work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Ploughshares, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New England Quarterly, and anthologized in Best American Sports Writing; Fathers, Sons and Sports: Great American Sports Writing; and the college textbooks Oral Interpretations, and Creative Writing: Four Genres in Brief.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There's something terribly disturbing about confessional writing. In the hands of a man or woman at the top of their craft, a writer of immense skill and transparency, the experience for the reader can border on the pathological. Honesty without the slightest hint of pretence, particularly from an experienced and intelligent individual, knowing full well that what they tell the world is deeply personal and the honest to goodness truth, is rare. There's always some other agenda. For example, the two most famous confessional pieces in world literature are St. Augustine's Confessions and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions; both author's had an agenda in writing these works, whether for purposes of religious conversion or literary immortality - both achieved their respective ends. Brown's book, however, is different. This is a writer telling a story because this particular story needed to be told. I get the impression that Brown needed to communicate his life in the only form he knew how to as a writer. This is a memoir about writing, addiction, alcoholism, relationships and human responsibility. It is about madness, suicide, compulsion, irony and love. This is a heartbreaking story that leaves the reader with a tiny glimmer of hope. As a true confessional does, it doesn't raise feelings of sympathy or thoughts of self-righteous condescension, but a real empathy, because we've all experienced, in varying degrees, this man's life.
Brown's vivid and deceptively rendered prose reminds me of a style of American writing that's all its own. One reads this simple, clear-eyed style of writing and thinks that it would be easy to imitate. Wrong. It appears simple but is awfully difficult to do.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Los Angeles Diaries" continue the tragic story begun in the book "Final Performance". dealing with the author, James Brown's

ability to cope with the issues of a tumultous childhood, which contributed toward the suicides of his older siblings Barry (a rising TV/movie star of the 1970's) and Marilyn.

The first part of the book describes the frustrations of the author (a college professor) at his ill-starred attempts to sell screenplays to Hollywood, and the familial way of handling disappointment with drugs and alcohol. Interspersed throughout

are vignettes (told in flashback) of his childhood, some sentimental, some chilling.

Brown also relates the difficulty of maintaining a sober facade before college professors and students(well acquainted with the

drug scene) who view him cynically.

One bright spot is the hilarious narrative of Jame Brown's attempt to mollify his angry wife with a pot-bellied pig as a peace offering.

The Machiavellian porker is named Daisy, and Brown's problems

burgeon in direct proportion to Daisy's expensive appetite -

and expansive girth.

Man and pig butt heads; in a contest between man and animal,

the animal will win hands down because it has "cuteness" on its side. (The end of the chapter is a riot...)

The second half of "The Los Angeles Diaries" is depressing, describing the downward spiral, and subsequent suicides of

Brown's brother, Barry, and his sister, Marilyn.

By the end of his life, Barry Brown was out of control: impersonating a police officer (a character from a movie) and

drinking compulsively. He shot himself to death at age 27.
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Format: Paperback
There are a number of things going really right for The Los Angeles Diaries, but none moreso than Brown's conception of his memoir - each chapter a different essay detailing a different discrete portion of his life, so each chapter will jump back and forth a decade or two. It could be disjointed, but instead it's the notion of one consciousness getting out exactly what it needs to for our understanding and letting us crane our necks a bit to fill in the details. This works because James Brown is a writer of such fierce conviction that the notions carry over from one section to another, the reality of his experience connected by spurts and sources of identity, linked by the fierce honesty of his experience. If you're like me, this is hardly the first "addiction memoir" you've picked up (it's practically a genre in itself), but it's especially distinct by a narrator who doesn't "hit bottom" in the typical fashion; Brown is a man always on the fringes of total oblivion managing to salvage himself. It makes for an unforgettable, even inspiring read, but it does leave a couple giant questions - notably, how was the ultimate breakthrough allowing him to remain clean so different from his others? He'd discussed other times he spent days or weeks without drugs or booze, what made this book's ultimate conclusion so distinct? It's abrupt ending won't answer that question, which is tantalizing, but it will leave you with an indelible picture of hope, and a gloriously specific, scrappy image of survival.
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Format: Hardcover
What a great book. If you have grown up in a dysfunctional, truly dysfunctional, family then you need to read this book. I'm tempted to write the author and tell him he is awesome (maybe he checks these reviews). These stories/memories bring back a lot of pain of my own but I cannot help but think that he is healing himself by writing this and hopefully passing this along to his children and his niece. This is a book for someone who is ready to recover, not just from alcohol or drug addiction but from dependency.
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