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

4.7 out of 5 stars 146 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

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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: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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 Verified Purchase
Jim Brown is one of the great but under-known writers of our time. The idea that novels like Fifty Shades of Grey and similar works garner so much attention while stuff like The Los Angeles Diaries and Brown's fiction goes largely unnoticed by larger says something bad about our society.

This work is incredibly well written, touching, funny, tragic, and stays with you for a long time after you read it. It's also utterly lacking in pretension.

If you want a good reading experience that's entertaining and human, then buy this book. You'll be glad you did.
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Some read The Los Angeles Diaries for its child’s eye POV of life with a crazy, murderous mother and a neglectful, cheating dad. Others find solace in the small victories author James Brown accrues of surviving from day to day in present-day LA trying to sell a screenplay to one of the big studios while battling a lifelong drinking and drug habit. I like these aspects of the story but best of all to me are the glimpses we get of Barry Brown, James’ older brother, a promising actor in the so-called “New American Cinema” of the 1970s, one who died too young, shooting himself in the head in a dump in Echo Park—one of the early members of the “27 Club” of stars maudit.

The mother was a real piece of work and, because she was so distant from her sons, we never understand her motivations thoroughly, but she was perhaps good at distancing herself from reality.,,, she managed to fool her husband, while selling off all of their rental properties secretly in order to pay off some bad loans she had taken out for no real reason. Then the roof fell in and, perhaps as a distraction, she sneaked off to San Francisco, bringing 5 year old James with her, and set fire to an apartment building. When two elderly ladies died in the conflagration, the mother was imprisoned, and the father began an affair with the beautiful Latina babysitter she had once hired to look after her kids.

The book goes back in forth in time between the little boy, James, and the adult screenwriter trying to battle multiple addictions and make peace with the past.
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