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The Importance of Music to Girls Paperback – April 29, 2008

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her first memoir, British novelist and poet Greenlaw (Mary George of Allnorthover) tells of coming to know the world and her place in it through her love of music. The story begins as she first awakens to her inchoate senses, a tiny child waltzing with her father, lulled by her mother's singing and clamoring amid the boisterous play of her three siblings and the entire family's constant chatter. She discovers that outside her home, the world is a series of social rings she must struggle to break into, from joining Ring-a-ring o' Roses games to finding a sense of belonging as a plainly English girl in a culturally diverse school. Growing up in the late 1960s and '70s, she's captivated by her transistor radio and the shifts in pop culture that it heralds, from hippie music to glam rock to disco. As she matures, she swears her allegiance to the latter, moving en masse with primping and dancing girlfriends. She then turns to punk, which neutralized and released her from the weight of femininity, and then to new wave, which suited her seriousness and pretensions. Her punk sensibilities confuse her sense of how to love and be loved, how to have feelings without ironizing them too. Greenlaw's coming-of-age story is smartly and tenderly told, likely to snag readers like an infectiously catchy tune. (May)
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Review

"Lavinia Greenlaw's memoir is like none I've ever read—it unravels identity like a novel. It is as spritely and as curious as an essay. Like music, it honors silence as much as it does sound. Greenlaw, a gifted mix-master of forms, has composed a coming-of-age experience that rings magically true for all of us."  —Heidi Julavits, author of The Uses of Enchantment

“Highly original . . . Beautiful . . . Will resonate with everyone who has ever danced around a handbag or played air guitar.”  —Daily Mail
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374174547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374174545
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,773,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By T. A. Glickman on June 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Importance of Music to Girls, by Lavinia Greenlaw is a memoir not so much of childhood and adolescence, but of her developing relationship with music in 1970s Britain.

There are plenty of reviews out there, and they're generally mixed. The Importance of Music to Girls made Salon.com's Summer Reads; but was skewered in London's The Independent. My reflections do not diverge much from this farraginous example. I had a dickens of a time maintaining my interest at the outset of the memoir. I'm not sure if that's entirely Greenlaw's fault or my own. Her storytelling certainly became more clear, coherent and less ethereal as her remembered-self ages. The book is divided into more than fifty chapters; constituent essays on a theme. Each essay is prefaced by a quote, some more esoteric ("very good") than others. Part of me wonders whether she meant them ironically (Roland Barthes? Bullfinch's Mythology?), or if that was the effect of having read her teenage-punk self's preoccupation with irony in the latter portion of the book.

A creative writing professor and poet, Greenlaw is very much a writer I would like to know more about. So, I read her slender memoir with a critical eye towards form and function. Effect was lovely if not muted, which surprised me. For one having written a memoir about her journey through the landscape of dance hall discos and London punk, Greenlaw's tone is surprisingly subdued. I understand, from a writer's perspective, the urge to not draw the world too deeply into the wounds, scars, and dissymmetries of one's experience. Alternately, perhaps she wished to exude the post-modern detachment she experienced as a confused adolescent who depended so heavily on album cover art to interpret which mode of femininity was acceptable.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with Reviewer Glickman. The poet in Lavinia Greenlaw comes through loud and clear in passages that aren't quite fleshed out. I came in expecting total metamorphosis, but Greenlaw seems to stay 15 for the majority of the novel and then, the clincher, the light at the end of the tunnel - Greenlaw's eventual happiness, her "forming of the self" is skipped as the novel jumps ahead to seven years later when the authoress has just had her first child. At this I was sorely disappointed. Further, we never get a sense of the author's anguish, more of her detachment, the best example being in the recountment of going to a Vibrators gig, where she focuses not one lick on the band onstage but on the trashbag-wearing audience members. So, she wanders around for a bit absentmindedly. She tells us that she "falls in love", but that seemingly momentous event is painted in similarly blurry brushstrokes, never quite touching on the electrifying emotional core that the reader craves.

The highlights of the book are in Greenlaw's mini tone-poem-istic passages (waltzing on the feet of her father, driving fast in cars with boys through the Essex countryside to the sounds of Led Zeppelin, smoking pot and listening to Earth, Wind and Fire) - I always look for authors who can create new and unique images in my mind, and Lavinia Greenlaw is most definitely able. Her images, though, are too smart, hip, detached for their own good. Avoiding hyperbole and instead opting for haiku-like details and a university professor's critical eye, her prose tends to fall short of anything resembling catharsis. To use a drug analogy, the reader feels like he or she swallowed a couple ambiens and is observing all events transpire through the ponderous, detached, dry-mouthed and slightly disorienting lens of a dreamworld.
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Format: Paperback
When I looked at the inner-flap of this book, I was immediately intruigued and picked this up, I mean what is (potentially) not to like about a memoir on growing up with music.

In "The Importance of Music to Girls" (208 pages), author Lavinia Greenlaw brings her recollections of what it was like growing up with music, and how it shaped and influenced her, in the 1960-1970s of her native England. The book takes a while to find its groove, but when it does so, about one-third into it, it all really clicks, and from there on it became an engrossing read, and treat, for me, particulary since it appears the author differs only 2 years or so from me (I grew up in Belgium). So many of the music names and memories that she retells in turn brought back memories for me I hadn't thought of in a LONG time. Along the way there are the usual boy/girl and school adventures and problems, but it is a sidebar for me as I was reading the book.

Here just a couple of snippets that made me chuckle: about listening to the radio as a teenager: "From Radio Luxembourg, I moved on to pirate station Radio Caroline. It was illegal, and broadcast from a boat just out there off the Essex coast. Its DJs never sounded silly or romantic, and rarely cheerful. They were improvisatory, and they never played the usual chart hits." About appreciating music: "Until now I hadn't given much thought to producers. I'd heard of Phil Spector and his "Wall of Sound" and admired Quincy Jones, but didn't understand what they did. Then I read about Martin Hennet and saw his names on records by Joy Division, the Buzzcocks and Magazine. I began to listen differently, like someone who has grasped prosody reads a poem differently".

In all, I really connected with this book, and would recommend it to anyone who grew up with music being an important aspect of their life. In that sense, the title of the book is really deficient, in that this is not just "for girls".
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