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A Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series)

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Overview

In 2003 Kevin Sampsell authored a chapbook memoir of the same title. It was written as a kind of "memory experiment," in which he recollected luminous details from his childhood in independently amusing chapters. It functioned as an experiential catalogue of American youth in the 70s and 80s.

In 2008 Kevin's estranged father died of an aneurysm. When he returned home to Kennewick, Washington for the funeral, Kevin's mother revealed to him disturbing threads in their family ...

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A Common Pornography: A Memoir

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Overview

In 2003 Kevin Sampsell authored a chapbook memoir of the same title. It was written as a kind of "memory experiment," in which he recollected luminous details from his childhood in independently amusing chapters. It functioned as an experiential catalogue of American youth in the 70s and 80s.

In 2008 Kevin's estranged father died of an aneurysm. When he returned home to Kennewick, Washington for the funeral, Kevin's mother revealed to him disturbing threads in their family history -- stories of incest, madness, betrayal, and death -- which retroactively colored Kevin's memories of his upbringing and youth. He learned of his mother's first two husbands, the fathers of his three older, mythologized half-siblings, and the havoc they wreaked on his mother. He learned of his own father's seething resentment of his step-children, which was expressed in physical, pyschological, and sexual abuse. And he learned more about his oldest step-sister, Elinda, who, as a young girl, was labeled "feebleminded" by a teacher. When she became a teenager, she was sent to a psychiatric hospital. She entered the clinic at 98 pounds. She left two years later 200 pounds, diabetic, having endured numerous shock treatments. Then, after finally returning home, she was made pregnant by Kevin's father. Only at the end of the book do we learn what chance in life a person like this has.

While his family's story provides the framework of the book, what's left in between is Kevin's story of growing up in the Pacific Northwest. He tells of his first jobs, first bands, first loves, and one worn, teal blue suitcase filled with the choicest porn in all of Kennewick, Washington.

Employing the same form of memoir as he did in his previous book, Kevin intertwines the tragic with the everyday, the dysfunctional with the fun, lending A COMMON PORNOGRAPHY its undeniable, unsensationalized reality. The elastic conceit of his "memory experiment" captures the many shades and the whole of the Sampsell family -- both its tragedy and its resiliency. Kevin relates this history in a charming, honest, insightful, and funny voice.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Ames
“This is a heartbreaking and magnificent book....I am reminded of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son. This is the kind of book where you want to thank the author for helping you feel less alone with being alive.”
Sean Wilsey
“For beauty, honesty, sheer weirdness, and a haunting evocation of place, Kevin Sampsell is my favorite Oregon writer. Ken Kesey, Chuck Palahniuk—make some room on the shelf.”
Willy Vlautin
“Embarrassing and honest, heartbreaking and hilarious. A Common Pornography is a great memoir from one of the Northwest’s best writers.”
Steve Almond
“Kevin Sampsell’s stories are brief incantations, uppercuts to the gut, prose poems given over to the bloodiest realms of the self. It’s all here: the emotional squalor, the sweet bite of loneliness. Make no mistake: Sampsell can write like hell.”
BookForum
“[A] rather miraculous act of artistic self-creation...his story alone is an adequate metaphor for itself, the life it describes, and its hard-won pleasures.”
Time Out New York
“Sampsell shares loneliness with such intensity that his book almost defeats it—both his and yours. Five stars.”
Time Out Chicago
“Sampsell has written a memoir almost unlike any other...a fascinating read.”
Harper's Magazine
“Its droll style and its archaeological attentiveness to the debris of American life - the remote controls, video recorders, tight ends, and one-hit wonders of yesteryear - combined with Sampsell’s talent for observing the ordinary, infuse the most ‘common’ incidents of growing up with wit and meaning.”
Booklist
“The material perfectly fits the form, shards of memory fused into a compelling concretion of moments. A worthy addition to the work of such contemporary memoirists as Nick Flynn, Augusten Burroughs, Dave Eggers, and Stephen Elliott”
Booklist
“The material perfectly fits the form, shards of memory fused into a compelling concretion of moments. A worthy addition to the work of such contemporary memoirists as Nick Flynn, Augusten Burroughs, Dave Eggers, and Stephen Elliott”
Time Out New York
“Sampsell shares loneliness with such intensity that his book almost defeats it—both his and yours. Five stars.”
Harper's Magazine
“Its droll style and its archaeological attentiveness to the debris of American life - the remote controls, video recorders, tight ends, and one-hit wonders of yesteryear - combined with Sampsell’s talent for observing the ordinary, infuse the most ‘common’ incidents of growing up with wit and meaning.”
BookForum
“[A] rather miraculous act of artistic self-creation...his story alone is an adequate metaphor for itself, the life it describes, and its hard-won pleasures.”
Time Out Chicago
“Sampsell has written a memoir almost unlike any other...a fascinating read.”
Publishers Weekly
A memoir in collage form, this frank but fragmented narrative chronicles the author's early life in the Pacific Northwest. Told in a series of small pieces, some less than a quarter of a page long, Sampsell follows a stream-of-consciousness series of memories centering loosely around a collection of family secrets unearthed after his father's funeral. Replicating the effects of memory, Sampsell's chronicle begins piecemeal and becomes more detailed as it goes, emphasizing the unfiltered honesty of the story and his efforts to tell it. Though it can be frustrating waiting for the pieces to add up, there's enough bathos, dysfunctional family antics and coming-of-age adventures-naked photoshoots, psychiatric hospitalizations, late-night donut shops and the tri-city New Wave scene-to keep readers turning pages. Sampsell's eye for detail and deadpan delivery envliven a dark personal history with bathos and a powerful desire for understanding.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A pop-culture-infused, sexually charged memoir of growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. Sampsell (Creamy Bullets, 2008, etc.) structures the narrative as a series of brief vignettes, retroactively assembling the jagged pieces of a family history splintered by abuse, abortion, incest, addiction and institutionalization. The author effectively combines swift, lyrical prose and provocative subject matter, including childhood and adolescent exploits in suburban environs, fluctuating interpersonal relationships, sexual experimentation, popular music, pornography addiction, Catholicism and racial tension. The author presents his work as a "memory experiment" spurred by the death of his father and the resulting revisitation of old places; the fragmentation of the narrative reflects the piecemeal nature of memory. In the introduction, Sampsell focuses tightly on his father, presenting him as a wrathful phantasm. The author then moves on to his adolescence, during which he remained ignorant of his complex and troubled father's greatest transgressions. He chronicles his growing interest in radio broadcasting, relationships and sex. Eventually he had a son of his own, prompting an oath to be a better father than his had been, but we see little of that father/son relationship, other than an occasional mention. It's an odd reticence, considering the candor with which Sampsell describes the loss of his virginity to an impassive prostitute, or his participation in mutual masturbation in a sex-shop video booth. Crisp, punchy reminiscences that mostly resonate but occasionally ring hollow. Author events in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Seattle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061766107
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/19/2010
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 218
  • Sales rank: 1,432,247
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Sampsell has been the publisher of Future Tense Books since 1990. His own books include the short story collections Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets. In 2009, he edited the anthology Portland Noir. He works for Powell's Books and lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(3)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

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1 Star

(2)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 17, 2012

    one of the oddest (and most interesting) memoirs I've ever read

    This has to be one of the oddest (and most interesting) memoirs I've ever read. Most memoirs I've seen seem to take some organizing viewpoint and filter everything through that, some pose that the author wants you to view their life through. Sampsell frames his work well through his experience of his father's death, but he is much more subtle about the connections between the vignettes. He seems to let the experiences speak for themselves, not acting like he's necessarily figured it all out and summarized it easily, though he stays well enough in control. He definitely has some off-beat choices about where things flow too, turns in concept and thought leaps, that can be hysterically funny at some points and starkly touching at others. It definitely isn't just another memoir.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    just barely ok

    characters never really develop except for the author and his life isnt entertaining in any way. i read a review that said this book was all about sex and drugs and his family life. it is more like his family life which is boring except when he talks about his dad and he only does a few times. he smokes pot a few times ( how exciting) and jerked off a couple dudes and had sex with a few women. im not impressed with his life. im not sure why he felt the need to write about it but i dont see why anyone would care.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Odd Yet Intriguing Little Book

    It was the title that caught my attention and I couldn't reconcile it with the image on the cover. However, it was a great day for me to find this interesting little book that captures memories so concisely. I let other books wait while I read this one. The author gives these neat snippets of memory and family lore that pull you in and let you know your own family is not so strange and that we all have that in common. I hope the author writes more about his brother Matt in the future.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    Rocket

    Here.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    Sasha fierce

    This isnt our base anymore i move it to pro.of.hun

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 7 Customer Reviews

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