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The Basketball Diaries: The Classic About Growing Up Hip on New York's Mean Streets Paperback – July 7, 1987
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“Filled with a kind of vitality. . . a remarkable account of New York City’s lower depths.”
–New York Times
"His terse wit, with its archly contrived naïveté, transforms The Basketball Diaries, a tale of teenage rebellion, into a contemporary classic."-
“A generational hit.” –Esquire
About the Author
Jim Carroll’s bestselling memoir The Basketball Diaries was first released in 1978 and adapted as a film in 1995. Carroll’s work includes several collections of poetry as well as a asecond memoir, Forces Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973. As the leader of The Jim Carroll Band he released three albums as well as several spoken word recordings. He died in New York City on September 11, 2009.
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The obvious and pre-eminent contemporary reason for taking this short work on is to compare it with the 1995 blockbuster film of the same name starring Leonardo DeCaprio. The comparable titles is where the similarities end however...the book and the film are completely different. And in this reviewer's opinion, and as is almost always the case, this book far exceeds the movie.
Starting in the Fall of 1963, we're immediately thrown into Carroll's world of mid-town Manhattan as he romps with a variety of like-minded youth and city scum. With a constant theme of drug searching overwhelming each entry, Carrol extols in very clear and contemporarily charming 1960's hip New York language his escapades getting high, having sex, getting into small but growing criminal activity and becoming a general nuisance. The basketball entries are very cool also... at one point he's at a youth tournament where they've ousted "Lewie" Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabber) for being too good; also Carroll hangs with Earl Manigault (The famous "Goat" from Harlem) and other "Spades who can leap so high they can take a quarter off the top of the backboard and leave change." But as his drug use grows, his basketball skills diminish to the point where it's hardly mentioned by the end of the book.
If there is any criticism, I'd say that the aura that this book has exuded over time as being great literature is definitely a farce...this isn't great writing at all (although Carroll does go on to publish books of poetry and novels which I haven't read), it's draw is the stark reality of its subject and background. The total irreverency and sensibility of being lost and downcast are so prevalent here and so pronounced that they literally turn the pages for you. Be aware though of the explicit manner in which Carroll describes his desperate longings for "the nod," especially toward the end of the work...it is absolutely true that the strung out addict will do anything to get that fix. Carroll pulls no punches in performing these acts nor telling about them.
Taken in the correct context, this is an amazing work full of meaning and emotion while fully symbolizing a time and place that's become culturally historic. Whether hippie, sociologist, historian or someone looking for an off-beat but still mesmerizing read, "The Basketball Diaries" is the for you.
Carroll’s prose style is relentlessly frank and fast, spilling every detail of his hustles, highs and bangs in delicious detail. However, his rapid fire, Kerouac-esque method of writing in huge multi-page paragraphs got on my nerves after a while. Like Kerouac’s On the Road, The Basketball Diaries is intended to be read while you’re still young and searching for a philosophical pier to anchor your boat to. Additionally, the book doesn’t really end, but trails off into nothingness as Carroll spirals into robbing people at knifepoint to pay for his heroin addiction.
Even with these flaws, though, The Basketball Diaries is a classic of American literature for a reason. If you’re looking for an honest and gritty memoir of teenage alienation and struggle, check this one out.