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Memoirs of a Dilettante - Volume One
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About the Author
Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has. She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming. She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn't think that the general populous, or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them. Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat
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Top Customer Reviews
I chose to read it as fiction, but “Memoirs of a Dilettante - Volume One” is neither a memoir nor a novel, nor a collection of short stories. Maybe it’s a bag of bagatelles, I don’t know. But in a strange way it does seem to recount things that might have really happened to a young woman around the time Helena describes them. Real people and things are mentioned, such as Morrissey -- and I know he’s real because I have several of his records. Helena is enamored of him. Oh, and Amoeba Records in San Francisco, which I also know to be real because I’ve bought Morrissey records there.
What this book really is, I think, is a chance for a superb wordsmith to show off a little bit, to craft really enjoyable sentences that are a pleasure to read, to create personas and voices that almost want to rise from the page like a pop-up book for kids, and to entertain readers with a “narrative” that goes anywhere and everywhere in a way that is more like “Tristram Shandy” than anything else I can think of. All the while it is leading to a surprisingly poignant and moving conclusion.*
In other words, this is a unique book by a unique writer, and though someone seeking literally a memoir or a novel might be surprised by what he finds here, he definitely will not be disappointed.
*Plus, the nearly 400 footnotes are a lot of fun, and easy to toggle to in the ebook.
But I loved the quirkiness of it anyway, so I'm willing to look past a few things and still give it 5 stars. I say that because 3 days after finishing it, I'm still thinking about it.
FIRST THING YOU SHOULD KNOW: This is not a memoir that has a true story arc to it. It's more like a collection of memories. (Duh. Memoir. But NOT memoir.) At first, I was skeptical. Within the first 5% I kept thinking . . . where is this going? But then I just settled in for the ride, and ended up kind of falling into a girl crush.
SECOND: it's faster (via ebook) than it looks. There are so many notes added in (which are great: you should read them) that it really ends at like 68%. The chapters are pretty short too, which makes for easy reading, so you never get bored in one of the little recollections.
THIRD: While the disorganization of it was, at first, not working in it's favor, I ended up looking forward to it. Because what I actually found through the stories was that a couple of really deep characters emerged, amongst a lot of alcohol and not a few music references.
^ This is where the strength of the story lies. The characters. Though scattered and eccentric and sometimes a mere channel for a musical opinion spree, it's kind of the beauty of it. There are hints of life that sneak in, and I ended up highlighting so many sentences that my kindle looked like a zebra.
That's why I gave it five stars. I couldn't stop highlighting (which means I want to remember all those lines) and I'm still thinking about the characters after several days.
The reminiscing seems random with no clear direction at first, but it does make sense in the end, and Helena's smart-mouth reference notes to her readers are funny. The common thread throughout Helena's story is the bond between Helena and her niece, Penelope, AKA Penelope, Countess of Arcadia or Penny. Helena and Penny have both lived through pain and loss, and their relationship is touching.
Memoirs of a Dilettante is worth reading, darlings, especially for the interaction between Helena and Penny.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to smile when they read. To anyone who loves Star Wars and John Hughes. Especially to anyone who wants to hum along while they read. (Morrissey, Jeff Buckley, the list is endless. This book should have a soundtrack.)