Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints by Simon Doonan, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints

Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints

2.8 5
by Simon Doonan

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When Simon Doonan sat down to write a memoir, he discovered he had no memories of cuddly family times or romantic Hallmark moments -- turns out most of his memories are notably nasty. Birthday parties? No recollection. But his mother's dentures flying out of her mouth when she sneezed and skittering across the kitchen floor? A vivid mental image that still brings a


When Simon Doonan sat down to write a memoir, he discovered he had no memories of cuddly family times or romantic Hallmark moments -- turns out most of his memories are notably nasty. Birthday parties? No recollection. But his mother's dentures flying out of her mouth when she sneezed and skittering across the kitchen floor? A vivid mental image that still brings a smile. In his subversively funny memoir, Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints, Simon revisits his formative years and the defiantly eccentric, lovably odd family he calls his own, showing us how nasty memories can be very, very good.

Long before he became a celebrity in his own right -- as a bestselling author, as a style arbiter on national television, and as the window display genius of Barneys New York -- Simon Doonan was a "scabby knee'd troll" in Reading, England. In Nasty, he returns to the working-class neighborhood of his youth and chronicles the misadventures of the Doonan clan in all their wacky glory. Readers meet his mum, Betty, whose gravity-defying, peroxided hairdo loudly proclaimed her innate glamour; his father, Terry, an amateur vintner who turned parsnips into the legendary Château Doonan; and his grandfather D.C., a hard-drinking betting man who plotted to win his fortune by turning "wee" Simon into a jockey.

Fearing he would fall victim to the insanity that runs in his family or, worse, the banality of suburban life, Doonan decamps with his flamboyant best friend Biddie to London. There they hope to find the Beautiful People -- those glamorous creatures who luxuriate on floor pillows and amuse each other with bon mots -- and join their ranks. Instead, he encounters various ladies of the night, kidney stones, punks, law enforcement officers, phantom venereal diseases, public humiliations, and camps, vamps, and scamps of all shapes and sizes. Doonan continues his bumbling pursuit of the fabulous life only to learn, in the end, that perhaps the Beautiful People were the ones he left behind.

Infused throughout with good humor and informed by Doonan's keen eye for the ridiculous, Nasty reminds us never to take life too seriously. This is a wickedly good memoir from one of today's most dazzling literary humorists.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"That Simon Doonan is a writer with a flair for the clever aphorism and a trenchant wit is no surprise. But that he is also capable of telling a tremendously moving tale is something of a revelation. It's all here: the inexorable bonds of family; Swinging London in all its Rita Tushingham glory; the calamities of AIDS...Nasty is a book for anyone who has ever yearned to transcend their own beginnings. In other words, if you were ever younger than you are now, you must read this book."

— David Rakoff, author of Fraud

"Beneath the hilarious camp writing in Simon Doonan's memoir, Nasty, I was touched by his wistful yearning for the life of glamour, glitz, and Beautiful People, which he ultimately achieved."

— Dominick Dunne

"At last: a childhood memoir that's about coming to terms with fabulousness rather than incest or binge drinking. Who knew that Simon — or anyone — could write about growing up in a gray corner of England with as much wit, charm, and dead-on smarts as he brings to his chronicles of the luxe life in Manhattan?"

— Graydon Carter

"Nasty is wickedly funny. Simon Doonan has an ear and an eye for sublimely bizarre details that will make readers laugh out loud."

— Candace Bushnell

"Fabulously entertaining ....Visionary fashion director of Barney's department store, Doonan (Wacky Chicks, 2003, etc.) is known for taking the ordinary and spinning it into the fantastic ... Doonan recalls the challenges of his childhood with love and respect and, where that isn't possible, bemusement ... A kick, a hoot, a truly wonderful read, with loads of down-and-dirty details about characters who are way more interesting that those dull Beautiful People Doonan was so all afire to find."

—Kirkus Reviews

Style-setting columnist Liz Smith called Wacky Chicks author Simon Doonan "the brashest and most brilliant thing in type." Doonan makes a strong case for those accolades with this sharply drawn "biography and autobiography," but Nasty also reveals an unsuspected humanity. The future author of Confessions of a Window Dresser began his march to fashion fame on the battered streets of Reading, England, surrounded by endearingly dysfunctional relatives. To escape this cultural backwater, Doonan hightails it to London to establish himself among the Beautiful People and achieve a Fabulous Life. Years later, he realizes that he left the real beautiful people back in Reading.
Carolyn See
Simon Doonan, who has achieved his fame as a window dresser for Barneys New York and a columnist for the New York Observer, obviously set out to write a cheerful, amusing memoir, but his childhood was so relentlessly Dickensian that it's hard for the reader to shake off a feeling of melancholy and futility after finishing it. This tale contains worthy, even historically interesting information, but it's much more sad than the lollygagging public image the author usually projects.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
"Nastiness is rich. Nastiness is fun." And in this colorful memoir, nasty is also quite enjoyable. Doonan (Wacky Chicks), creative director of Barney's New York, was raised in the industrial wasteland of 1950s and '60s Reading, England. He craved glamour and excitement; what he had instead were two cheeky working-class parents: the fabulous Betty, who sported peroxide-yellow hair and spike heels; and Terry, who embraced amateur wine-making with near-religious fervor. After all, in an "extended family of assorted lodgers and mentally ill relatives," alcohol helped. "It was all quite nasty," Doonan explains, so he and his drag performer friend Biddie headed to London in search of the Beautiful People. Instead, they found crazy characters and lowly prostitutes, people Doonan recalls with unabashed glee. Armed with a relentless joie de vivre, Doonan takes readers on a breezy joyride through his life, focusing less on his career trajectory than on his kooky formative years. Humor is his ultimate weapon, and whether Doonan's in Los Angeles getting arrested in Vivienne Westwood plaid bondage trousers or coping with a gay-bashing policeman in Blackpool, he keeps his comic cool. This endearing book pays tribute to a madcap childhood and the power of familial love. Photos. Agent, Tanya McKinnon. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Doonan (Wacky Chicks), a creative director of Barneys New York and a columnist for the New York Observer, sets the stage for his memoir with a childhood vision of his mother sneezing and sending her dentures flying across the room, hitting the kitchen door and chattering across the linoleum floor. He continues with one zany scene after another as he describes his family: gin-swigging mother Betty with her blonde-dyed, lacquered, upswept hairstyle; his father, who brews wine from parsnips and other available vegetables, calling it Chateau Doonan; and his schizophrenic grandparents. While he frets about the possibility of this craziness being hereditary, Doonan exhibits some pretty wacky behavior himself, as when he forms pieces of Christmas pudding to look like dog droppings, places them on the floor for his roommate to discover, and then eats a piece, much to the disgust of the roommate. While somewhat reminiscent of Augusten Burroughs's Running with Scissors (both by gay men and about dysfunctional families), this book takes a more lighthearted approach to family problems and growing up homosexual. Here the family's behavior is bizarre but not exactly dangerous. Doonan is at his funniest when describing some of his home-decorating touches, such as using hot glue to hang draperies in a hurry. While this book is not for the squeamish, its Anglo-Irish humor will delight readers seeking the unusual. Recommended for large public libraries.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fabulously entertaining account of the prole beginnings of fashion-world fixture Doonan. Visionary fashion director of Barney's department story, Doonan (Wacky Chicks, 2003, etc.) is known for taking the ordinary and spinning it into the fantastic-a skill, we find, that he learned at his mother's knee. In the early 1950s, the doggedly glamorous Betty Doonan rose to the challenge of making life a lark in the midst of the terrible and dreary gloom of postwar England. Taking care of the kids and not one but two schizophrenic relatives, plus the occasional boarder, Betty lined shoes with cardboard, scraped together makeshift childcare (the children were sent to a local orphanage during the day), and when all else failed, made an event out of the smallest and most mundane thing ("Who wants to watch me put on my bracelet!!!???"). Doonan recalls the challenges of childhood with love and respect and, where that isn't possible, bemusement. Key characters include his anarchic gran (called "Narg"), his blind aunt Phyllis, and Biddie, a game partner in Doonan's quest to find and join the elusive circle of the Beautiful People. Doonan also marks the significant style events of his youth: the Christmas gift that signaled his early love of decor, the moment when he and Biddie discovered "camp" (appropriately enough at a camp for vacationing families), the central role of the floor pillow to his fab aspirations. Most of the text focuses on his early years-the challenging times in Reading and his early days in London, trying to find the elusive tribe of beautiful people-with brief side trips to his years in Hollywood and a present-day meeting with his boyfriend's parents. A kick, a hoot, a truly wonderfulread, with loads of down-and-dirty details about characters who are way more interesting than those dull Beautiful People Doonan was so all afire to find.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
0.68(w) x 5.50(h) x 8.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


When I was six years old, my mother sneezed and her dentures flew out. They hit the kitchen door with a sharp clack! and then rattled sideways across the linoleum floor like a fleeing crustacean. I have absolutely no recollection of graduation day, or my twenty-first birthday, or what I did last Christmas, but as long as I live, I will never forget those fugitive dentures.

Am I strange? Quite possibly.

I was born in 1952, the same year that Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne. In 2002, fifty years later, Queen Elizabeth and I both celebrated our golden jubilees. Naturally, we both took strolls down our respective memory lanes. While hers was doubtless strewn with ermine capes, bejeweled accessories, sparkling crystal toasting goblets, and well-fed corgis, mine was not.

As I wandered through the windmills and filing cabinets of my mind, I was taken aback by what I found, and did not find.

Where were the Hawaiian sunsets, the Easter bunnies, and the fluffy kittens? Where were those dreamy summer afternoons spent chasing butterflies through fields of daisies? Had they slipped my memory? Or did they ever exist?

What about all those romantic candlelit dinners sipping Rémy Martin with that special someone? Maybe I was too sloshed to remember.

Though devoid of Hallmark moments, my memory banks were, I hasten to add, by no means empty. Au contraire! They were teeming with vivid recollections. It's just that none of them were particularly pleasant.

Instead of heartwarming memories, what I found were fifty years of jarring occurrences, freakish individuals, deranged obsessions, public embarrassments, kamikazeoutfits, unsavory types, varmints, vermin, and a ridiculous, lifelong quest to locate that mystical and elusive tribe, the Beautiful People. There were also hernias and food poisonings, cringe-making encounters with law enforcement, and stomach-churning regrets.

It was all quite nasty.

Woven throughout this tapestry, like a gaudy strand of hot pink silk, was my family, immediate and extended, in all its raw majesty. My mother, the feisty glamour-puss, my troubled and anarchic grandmother Narg, my blind aunt Phyllis, and Biddie, my showbiz-crazed childhood best friend.

Donning mental rubber gloves, I cautiously began to inspect this material and reacquaint myself with the events and the dramatis personae of my past. Here, preserved in aspic, were all the tarts, the trolls, the twinkies, and the trouts who had ever crisscrossed my path and left their nasty tire tracks on my psyche.

"Turn us into a confessional memoir!" they screeched like a goading Greek chorus.

My psychotherapist gave the thumbs-up. "Examining one's nasty memories is a complex and challenging psychological process," opined my shrink of eighteen years encouragingly. "Avoidance is a primary mechanism. Examining one's nasty memories and facing them head-on presents many opportunities for growth!"

Enthusiastically, I began to type. (At five feet four and a half inches, I am in no position to ignore any opportunities for growth.)

Revisiting my temps perdu proved both cathartic and entertaining. Sometimes I wept, but more often I chuckled. Before I was halfway through I had completely changed my attitude toward my nasty memories and nastiness in general. I now saw it for what it is: a vastly underrated commodity.

Nastiness is rich. Nastiness is fun. Who needs all that boring, cliché Hallmark stuff when you've got flying dentures? Nastiness has texture. Nastiness has the power to transform. Describing and embracing my nasty memories, as opposed to camouflaging them with baby's breath and doilies, has helped me integrate my past with my present and made me a more jolly and contented individual. I thoroughly recommend it.

By the time I handed in my manuscript I felt as if I had been the fortunate recipient of a massively purging psychological enema.

Hopefully my recollections will have the same effect on you!

Here, therefore, I proudly offer up, for your delectation, my nasty memoir.

Copyright © 2005 by Simon Doonan

Meet the Author

Simon Doonan is the bestselling author of Wacky Chicks and Confessions of a Window Dresser. In addition to his role as creative director of Barneys New York, Simon writes the "Simon Says" column for The New York Observer. He frequently contributes observations and opinions to myriad other publications and television shows. He is a regular commentator on VH1, the Trio network, and Full Frontal Fashion. He lives in New York City with his partner, Jonathan Adler, and his Norwich terrier, Liberace.

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Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hbrush More than 1 year ago
I didn't read the whole thing. I couldn't. I am so sick of reading how one-sided narrators/authors think they are. OK, you're gay, great, move on. I'm sure everything past chapter 3 is fierce and fabulous, but I was promised a book of terrible memories and horrible people and I found neither. The first five pages sets the tone of any book, and I did not feel drawn in whatsoever. It all felt self-involved and braggy/whiney. I didn't care about anyone in the piece, and I kept wanting something terrible to happen to someone, just for a moment of dramatic tension. Gah! one star feels generous.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I laughed! I cried! I ran out and bought a large, brightly colored floor pillow!! Nasty is a fascinating and incredibly sensitive look into the humble upbringing and ravaged psyche of style maven Simon Doonan. Ever wonder where the fabulous and frightening windows at Barneys came from? This will give you some idea. It also includes many insightful observations of the world around us. I highly recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. How could you not laugh out loud when he describes breaking the skull of his blind aunt (sounds sick, I know, but taken in context...). I recommend this book to anyone who needs a light read. Sorry the first reviewer had such a disappointing experience. I think this book is quite good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excited for yet another, real life, David Sedaris-isk read, I was totally and completely disappointed in this book! The text contains nothing of the boastingly funny family belly-laughing content that the jacket promises. Instead, the author portrays a boring bio of homosexual life, where seriousness comes to the forefront and humor is just an afterthought. I was disappointed by page 50, yet kept reading waiting for the big brew-ha. I horribly regret reading this book in its entirety!