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A Common Pornography: A Memoir

A Common Pornography: A Memoir

3.4 7
by Kevin Sampsell

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Kevin Sampsell always thought he was part of a normal family growing up in the Pacific Northwest. He never wondered why his older siblings had different last names or why one of them was black. But when his estranged father passed away in 2008, his mother revealed to him some of the family's mysterious and unsettling history. A history of betrayal, madness, and


Kevin Sampsell always thought he was part of a normal family growing up in the Pacific Northwest. He never wondered why his older siblings had different last names or why one of them was black. But when his estranged father passed away in 2008, his mother revealed to him some of the family's mysterious and unsettling history. A history of betrayal, madness, and incest.

A Common Pornography is a uniquely crafted, two-pronged "memory experiment": a collection of sweet and funny snapshots from his childhood, and an unsensational portrait of a family in crisis. Sampsell blends the catastrophic with the mundane and the humorous with the horrific. From his mother's first tumultuous marriages and his father's shocking abuse of his half sister to Kevin's own memories of first jobs, first bands, and first loves, here is a searing, intensely honest memoir that exposes the many haunting shades of a family—both its tragedy and its resiliency.

Editorial Reviews

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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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Kevin Sampsell lives in Portland, Oregon, and works at the legendary Powell's City of Books. He started his small press, Future Tense Books, in 1990 and has published small books by many of America's most exciting new writers. His own writing has appeared widely in publications such as Nerve, McSweeney's, Pindeldyboz, 3 AM, Hobart, Night Train, Elimae, Smith, Opium, and Failbetter. His essays and reviews of books and music have also appeared in various publications.

His previous books include Beautiful Blemish (Word Riot Press) and Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus). He also edited the anthologies The Insomniac Reader (Manic D Press) and Portland Noir (Akashic).

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Common Pornography: A Memoir (P.S. Series) 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
wightknyte More than 1 year ago
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.
dvsrobbie More than 1 year ago
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.
FloridaGirlJB More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Despite the bad publicity of a few memoirs by people who were later determined to be less than truthful, the genre is still flourishing. I recently reviewed The Kids Are All Right, the story of the four Welch siblings, who were left orphaned after their father's death in a car accident and their mother's death by cancer a short time later. The four siblings took turns writing about their memories in short, one and two page sections. It has been said that each child in a family grows up with different parents, and their story illustrates that point. Kevin Sampsell's memoir "A Common Pornography" is written in a similar style. His one-and-two page mini-essays read like diary entries. Reading them is like sitting with Sampsell while he is looking at a family photo album, each page a picture triggering a memory. The pictures add up to a life lived in a family that is deeply troubled. Sampsell has two older half-brothers who were pretty much out of the house by the time he could remember. His half-sister spent ten years in a psychiatric hospital, and while there gave birth to a child who was taken from her. She later married an abusive man who pimped her out for sex to other men. She again got pregnant and again gave up her baby. She was impregnated once more, this time by her stepfather, Kevin's father. Two other brothers lived with Kevin, one of whom was black. Matt was the product of an affair that Kevin's mother had with an African man when she and Kevin's father had been estranged. Kevin describes a beautiful story Matt told him about going to Africa and meeting his father's relatives. He had several mannerisms of his father, and they were mesmerized by this young man who looked and acted so much like their deceased relative. Out of this sad, violent, strange family, Kevin managed to grow up. His stories of loneliness, isolation and attempts to connect with girls are heartbreaking, and yet familiar to many. His description of working at a donut shop and the friends he made there had me flashing back to my first job working at a movie theater. His stories about his his father's funeral and the feelings it triggers in him and his siblings almost hurt to read. His brother Mark, the one who stayed behind to care for his ill father, seems almost totally unable to function as an adult. Following the funeral, Kevin's mother attempts to share all of the secrets that she had been keeping, answers to questions the children were never allowed to ask. A Common Pornography is heartbreakingly sad, speared with humor, yet above all it is honest. Sampsell speaks truth to the difficulty of finding oneself in this lonely world, made all the more frightening by the horrible dysfunction he grew up in. It is not for everyone, there is rough language and tough situations, and it is not written like a conventional memoir, but many will find it comforting to know that there are people out there who share their struggles.