I first became aware of Amanda Palmer as the lead singer/songwriter of The Dresden Dolls, a duo most often called punk cabaret, but really just unclassifiable. Labels and categories drive me crazy, but whatever you called them I recognized that Ms. Palmer was an excellent songwriter with a distinct and unique voice. Writing a song and writing a book are two very different things, and not a whole lot of people have been good at both, but after reading The Art of Asking I can definitely say that Ms. Palmer has got the act down cold.
Like most of her songs, this book doesn’t fall easily into a category, but instead moves effortlessly through a several different genres; autobiography, self-help, and a treatise/meditation on art, artists, and not surprisingly, the Art of Asking, which in the author’s eyes lies at the heart of the most important human endeavors, particularly matters of art, and of the heart. What makes this book so successful is Ms. Palmer’s skill at moving between the different styles of the book, while always writing with talent and deep emotion. As the story unwinds from her early days as a street performer to the creation of the Dresden Dolls, to her current life, it skips back in forth in time and place, a technique that could be confusing in lesser hands, but one that Ms. Palmer pulls off effortlessly. Ms. Palmer does an exceptional job at mixing the particulars of her private life with her musings on the nature of art, and using examples of one to highlight the other. It certainly helps that she has led such an interesting and varied life, and is so able to write about it with such open-ness and sincerity. I could probably hook you in even more by telling you the details, but I really dislike being a spoiler, so I‘ll just let you find out for yourself what an interesting book this really is.
One thing I haven’t done yet, but am going to as soon as I am able, is check out the soundtrack that is available on- line to augment this book. Ms. Palmer is, after all, a musician first and foremost, and I expect that the music she has picked will be a wonderful compliment to this work. Either way it stands just fine as it is, alone. If Ms. Palmer has any doubts left about her ability to write a book, she should jettison them. I was both surprised and moved by The Art of Asking, and I look forward eagerly to see what she will do next.
I see you, Amanda.