A Common Pornography: A Memoir by Kevin Sampsell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For those who like full disclosure, Kevin Sampsell published a comic book story I wrote in Portland Noir, and he also set me up with my readings at Powell's Books over the years. That said, those are favors that are behind me, I totally took and I ran and I could easily get away with trashing the guy's book if I wanted. Which is my was of saying you can trust me, I have nothing to gain here. A Common Pornography is some good reading.
This memoir has been described by the author as a memory experiment. It's put together as a bunch of vignettes, short pieces of specific remembrances of the author's life, tracking him growing up in the late '70s and through the 1980s.. Some chapters are a page long, a couple are five, some are just a paragraph. The anecdotes are told without embellishment, with only bare reflection, these are the moments as either he remembers it or someone in his family remembers it. As you first start reading, the bits and bobs seem disjointed, but the further in you go, the more a whole begins to form. A life comes into focus, almost like staring at those 3-D art things that used to be so popular. It's a matter of not looking, of just letting it come clear.
A Common Pornography is the sort of book you can read a few pages at a time, and you may start out that way, but pretty soon, you'll discover you can't sit down with it and not read 20 pages, then 50, and then you're done. Kevin's prose is clear and direct, there isn't a word out of place. The senses are vivid, tactile. With just a few spare syllables, he roots you firmly in a place and a time. Sadness lurks between the lines, the despair of nostalgia, but there is never a sense that the author is feeling sorry for himself. I'd say he's at peace with what has gone on, actually. And not that it's all a downer. A lot of it is really funny, too.
It's also hopeful. Though Kevin doesn't outline the lessons learned, he does find ways to show them through action. The last events he chooses to relate reveal how far he's come from the anxious little boy we met at the start of the book, and the final lines bring it all to a perfect, effective close. Like the title suggests, we are voyeurs peeking in at something that is maybe risque, the truest emotions lain bare, but the truer thing is, there is nothing common about it. Rather, this book is something very special.
Kevin is on a book tour and currently on his way to the East Coast. Check out the dates here.
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