Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Photo of Kim Gordon in a subway, with duotone wash in red.

By Ben H.

“it’s hard to write about a love story with a broken heart” – Kim Gordon 

Girl in a Band is a breakup memoir and it’s a good one.  

It is also much more than a breakup memoir. It is a pretty killer Künstlerroman* (Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter is a good comparison); a brilliant memoir of place(s) (like Joan Didion’s “White Album” essay), and a behind the music for music nerds (I don’t have a good comp, but I need to keep the parallelism going). Kim Gordon was the eponymous “girl in a band” with Sonic Youth, a band that made loud noisy rock records. She was married to her bandmate, Thurston Moore, for 29 years until she learned of him having an affair. Neither the couple nor the band survived the affair. My review isn’t necessarily for the Sonic Youth fans out there, because they’ve probably already read this and devoured the middle section where Gordon highlights her favorite tracks and gives them biographical context; my review is for the people who need another reason to read a memoir about a girl in a band. 

Gordon writes beautifully about the places she’s lived. From her childhood in L.A. to her adulthood in New York to her motherhood in Massachusetts, Gordon excels at remembering tiny details and writing gorgeous descriptions of the distinct phases of her life. L.A. is a maze to be escaped and returned to; New York is chaotic and fertile like an overgrown garden; and Massachusetts is suffocating, domestic, and tense.

Gordon’s L.A. is a Janus-faced landscape of “rustic hillsides filled with twisted oak trees, scruffy and steep, with lighter-than-light California sunshine filtering through the tangles,” and flat neighborhoods of “freshly mowed green lawns camouflaging dry desert-scape…everything orderly but with its own kind of unease.” The places Gordon writes about become characters through her tapestry of vivid vignettes. For me, she does her best writing about places. If you still aren’t convinced, the vintage photographs Gordon uses for each chapter, like the one of her standing with her arms around Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, are reason enough to read this book. 

When I think of Sonic Youth, I don’t necessarily think of the awesome sheets of sound they made as a band. I think of the husky and wild vocals of Gordon. Her delivery is one of a kind. She drones. She growls. She talks. She screams. She sings. As an author, she might not possess the same kind of singular voice, but she knows how to tell a story and set a scene. At the risk of sounding adolescent, she is also very cool. Speaking of cool, Gordon references William Gibson’s thriller Pattern Recognition – she named a song after it. His cool-hunting protagonist Cayce Pollard is totally cut from the same cloth as Kim Gordon. Listen to any of the tracks off Gordon’s solo album, No Home Record, and tell me she isn’t very cool.

I won’t review the details of her relationship with Thurston Moore, but I think she does a marvelous job writing about the arc of their relationship. The passages describing them falling in love are lovely. The passages describing Thurston’s increasingly erratic behavior in Massachusetts are heartbreaking.

Kim Gordon, band aside, has led a fascinating life. My wife recommended this book to me and now I’m recommending it to you. Take a trip back in time to when CDs were the only way to listen to music and request Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation while you’re at it! 

*artist’s book about growing into maturity

Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

The picture shows author Mira Jacob wearing a denim shirt against a purple background, next to a copy of the book, which shows the title and author in block letters of turquoise and orange with graphics of people contained in each letter.

Review by Claudia J.

I glanced over at my pile of “to be read” books and picked up Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob. I checked the book out long before the coronavirus pandemic kept us in and images of systemic racism made their way out. In a time when I was feeling particularly hopeless, with all of the events toppling onto each other, Good Talk provided a much needed respite from the day-to-day.

Told from the perspective of Jacob herself in discussion with her young son, she answers the many questions he has about race, his culture, and his family. In doing so, she bares the nation’s truth: that we as Americans are imperfect and have a lot of work to do. 

Thank you, Mira. Thank you for your beautiful, vulnerable, and at times uncomfortable account of your life as an imperfect American, as an Indian woman, but also as a human existing in our incredibly fallible nation. How were you able to make me feel so many emotions at simultaneous levels? How did you speak so honestly about colorism and pages later talk about the complicated relationship between Black and Brown people? How did you encompass the pain of watching a sibling, whom of course you’re happy for, find true love, but also just a short section away, haunt me with your memories of a paper city?

The illustrative design, the words, the soft voice I heard as I read, said, “It’s okay, I know this struggle too.” Reading this felt like the meditation we all need right now. Good Talk is not only one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, but it is one of the books that should be required reading. Mira, thank you again.

Available in print at HCLS as well as in ebook and eaudio through OverDrive/Libby.

Claudia J. has worked for Howard County Library System for a little over four years. She enjoys writing on rainy days and drinking iced coffee on sunny days.