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A raw and surprisingly beautiful coming-of-age memoir, Coal to Diamonds tells the story of Mary Beth Ditto, a girl from rural Arkansas who found her voice.   Born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas—a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school (long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out) A raw and surprisingly beautiful coming-of-age memoir, Coal to Diamonds tells the story of Mary Beth Ditto, a girl from rural Arkansas who found her voice.   Born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas—a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school (long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out) Beth Ditto stood out. Beth was a fat, pro-choice, sexually confused choir nerd with a great voice, an eighties perm, and a Kool Aid dye job. Her single mother worked overtime, which meant Beth and her five siblings were often left to fend for themselves. Beth spent much of her childhood as a transient, shuttling between relatives, caring for a sickly, volatile aunt she nonetheless loved, looking after sisters, brothers, and cousins, and trying to steer clear of her mother’s bad boyfriends.   Her punk education began in high school under the tutelage of a group of teens—her second family—who embraced their outsider status and introduced her to safety-pinned clothing, mail-order tapes, queer and fat-positive zines, and any shred of counterculture they could smuggle into Arkansas. With their help, Beth survived high school, a tragic family scandal, and a mental breakdown, and then she got the hell out of Judsonia. She decamped to Olympia, Washington, a late-1990s paradise for Riot Grrrls and punks, and began to cultivate her glamorous, queer, fat, femme image. On a whim—with longtime friends Nathan, a guitarist and musical savant in a polyester suit, and Kathy, a quiet intellectual turned drummer—she formed the band Gossip. She gave up trying to remake her singing voice into the ethereal wisp she thought it should be and instead embraced its full, soulful potential. Gossip gave her that chance, and the raw power of her voice won her and Gossip the attention they deserved.   Marked with the frankness, humor, and defiance that have made her an international icon, Beth Ditto’s unapologetic, startlingly direct, and poetic memoir is a hypnotic and inspiring account of a woman coming into her own.


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A raw and surprisingly beautiful coming-of-age memoir, Coal to Diamonds tells the story of Mary Beth Ditto, a girl from rural Arkansas who found her voice.   Born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas—a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school (long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out) A raw and surprisingly beautiful coming-of-age memoir, Coal to Diamonds tells the story of Mary Beth Ditto, a girl from rural Arkansas who found her voice.   Born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas—a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school (long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out) Beth Ditto stood out. Beth was a fat, pro-choice, sexually confused choir nerd with a great voice, an eighties perm, and a Kool Aid dye job. Her single mother worked overtime, which meant Beth and her five siblings were often left to fend for themselves. Beth spent much of her childhood as a transient, shuttling between relatives, caring for a sickly, volatile aunt she nonetheless loved, looking after sisters, brothers, and cousins, and trying to steer clear of her mother’s bad boyfriends.   Her punk education began in high school under the tutelage of a group of teens—her second family—who embraced their outsider status and introduced her to safety-pinned clothing, mail-order tapes, queer and fat-positive zines, and any shred of counterculture they could smuggle into Arkansas. With their help, Beth survived high school, a tragic family scandal, and a mental breakdown, and then she got the hell out of Judsonia. She decamped to Olympia, Washington, a late-1990s paradise for Riot Grrrls and punks, and began to cultivate her glamorous, queer, fat, femme image. On a whim—with longtime friends Nathan, a guitarist and musical savant in a polyester suit, and Kathy, a quiet intellectual turned drummer—she formed the band Gossip. She gave up trying to remake her singing voice into the ethereal wisp she thought it should be and instead embraced its full, soulful potential. Gossip gave her that chance, and the raw power of her voice won her and Gossip the attention they deserved.   Marked with the frankness, humor, and defiance that have made her an international icon, Beth Ditto’s unapologetic, startlingly direct, and poetic memoir is a hypnotic and inspiring account of a woman coming into her own.

30 review for Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I never really imagined that I would have much in common with Beth Ditto, who is a queer femme superstar, while I'm a tomboy who is still working through a lot of the crap that society tells me about how I fail at being a girl. But I found SO MUCH I could relate to in Beth's version of feminism and punk, that this book went beyond enjoyable, to inspiring. I wish there was more of it, that the book was longer, but as a memoirist, I'm starting to learn not to dock points for someone's personal sto I never really imagined that I would have much in common with Beth Ditto, who is a queer femme superstar, while I'm a tomboy who is still working through a lot of the crap that society tells me about how I fail at being a girl. But I found SO MUCH I could relate to in Beth's version of feminism and punk, that this book went beyond enjoyable, to inspiring. I wish there was more of it, that the book was longer, but as a memoirist, I'm starting to learn not to dock points for someone's personal story not hitting my ideal marks; to me, wishing it was longer just means that I want to hear more of Beth's stories, so kudos to her for keeping me hanging on.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    ***Please note: I received this book through Goodreads' First Reads program. As a casual fan of Beth Ditto's band, Gossip, I thought that I would enter the giveaway for this book because I had heard that she is LQBTQ-positive and body image-positive and was curious to hear her own opinions on these matters. The book also provides her anecdotes about growing up in poor, rural Arkansas. The book itself is about 150 pages and a very easy read. It's written in a casual, conversational style, which I f ***Please note: I received this book through Goodreads' First Reads program. As a casual fan of Beth Ditto's band, Gossip, I thought that I would enter the giveaway for this book because I had heard that she is LQBTQ-positive and body image-positive and was curious to hear her own opinions on these matters. The book also provides her anecdotes about growing up in poor, rural Arkansas. The book itself is about 150 pages and a very easy read. It's written in a casual, conversational style, which I found easy to relate to. The timeline of her childhood isn't linear and is peppered with her thoughts on growing up gay in a small town and being judged based on her weight. Because of these two things, I had to re-read a few passages to remember where we were in her life. Overall, I did find her writing to be eye-opening and oftentimes refreshing. Please be aware that she speaks openly and frankly about her own rape and molestation so if these are triggers for you, I would strongly recommend avoiding this book. If you are looking for a story about someone going literally from rags to riches and her journey along the way, then I would recommend 'Coal to Diamonds:A Memoir'.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    great read cover to cover. I only wish there was 18 more books. What's not to love about a queer fat Femme feminist person writing about poor / working class life? It's amazing great read cover to cover. I only wish there was 18 more books. What's not to love about a queer fat Femme feminist person writing about poor / working class life? It's amazing

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This book was okay, I think it could've been a lot better. It felt like a lot of things were just an overview, and she could've given more details. Like at one point she says she's very excited to go on tour with Le Tigre, and then says nothing about the tour. She mentions a bunch of interesting things, and doesn't really elaborate on them. Like she had some weird eye disease, and the doctor said it was one of the most interesting cases he'd ever seen, and she probably could've written a memoir This book was okay, I think it could've been a lot better. It felt like a lot of things were just an overview, and she could've given more details. Like at one point she says she's very excited to go on tour with Le Tigre, and then says nothing about the tour. She mentions a bunch of interesting things, and doesn't really elaborate on them. Like she had some weird eye disease, and the doctor said it was one of the most interesting cases he'd ever seen, and she probably could've written a memoir just about that, but it just takes up a couple paragraphs here. I think the strongest parts are the beginning of the book where she talks about growing up in Arkansas and abuse that goes on in her family. She'll talk about recording albums, but not what year it is or what album is being recorded, so I don't know how well this will hold up in a couple years. I imagine it will just be confusing. I liked reading it, I just thought it could've been much better. Also there were no pictures in the book Disappointing!

  5. 4 out of 5

    jess

    I wish I could have read this book when I was 14 or 15. I would have gotten a lot out of it. The story of Mary Beth Ditto coming from a small town in Arkansas and ending up as an international queer, feminist celebrity is pretty cool. I grew up in a tiny town in Oklahoma and I feel so awed by Beth's success. It was cool to read about Gossip shows I attended, like the NYC show when they were touring with sleater-kinney in 2000? I remember I took a bus overnight from Pittsburgh to go to that show I wish I could have read this book when I was 14 or 15. I would have gotten a lot out of it. The story of Mary Beth Ditto coming from a small town in Arkansas and ending up as an international queer, feminist celebrity is pretty cool. I grew up in a tiny town in Oklahoma and I feel so awed by Beth's success. It was cool to read about Gossip shows I attended, like the NYC show when they were touring with sleater-kinney in 2000? I remember I took a bus overnight from Pittsburgh to go to that show and I asked one of my friends "Who is this opening band, Gossip?" and she was like, "Don't worry, you'll love them." My thirty year old self felt like the story was too rushed. It could have been at least another 50 pages to not glossed over so many pivotal moments. I love Beth Ditto and I tolerate Michelle Tea, but the collaborative writing diluted Beth's voice. I was a little embarrassed to read about people I know in this book. Like, embarrassed enough that I wish I didn't read it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    Got an advance copy. Amazing life story. Explains so much and I related (coming from trailer trash myself).

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brittany

    Before Coal to Diamonds, I had not read another queer memoir that made me as emotional as reading Kate Bornstein's A Queer & Pleasant Danger. Maybe it's because I'm more emotional lately. Maybe it's the damn moon cycle. Regardless, Beth knows my rioted soul inside & out and it was so refreshing to be able to read a memoir and relate so perfectly as I did with hers. I, like others, wish I could have read this when I was fifteen and figuring out whether or not I was a giant queer living in the sou Before Coal to Diamonds, I had not read another queer memoir that made me as emotional as reading Kate Bornstein's A Queer & Pleasant Danger. Maybe it's because I'm more emotional lately. Maybe it's the damn moon cycle. Regardless, Beth knows my rioted soul inside & out and it was so refreshing to be able to read a memoir and relate so perfectly as I did with hers. I, like others, wish I could have read this when I was fifteen and figuring out whether or not I was a giant queer living in the south (spoiler alert: I am) and I would have loved to have had Beth as my BFF. Maybe we would have made out. Maybe she could have been my buddy at all the local punk shows that I had no one to go with, and could have been like, "listen. cis males aren't the answer. they're gross. yuck. penises? the hell are those. queer feminist punk solidarity is all we need, besos~" And then maybe my high school and college years could have been a bit easier. If you read nothing else of her memoir (and you shouldn't do that, that would be wrong and I would hate you) read the last three pages, copy and paste the last paragraph and remind yourself of her advice every day if you have to. We all come from the same place, and those of us in the queer community all have to help each other to keep breathing. This b has it all figured out. Praise be, Beth Ditto. Praise be you goddamned beautiful angel.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jess

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Very simply written, and for me like reading about my own life (minus the fame, obvs) - lots of intergenerational trauma, working poor families, finding subculture/your own queerness and leveraging it to escape from racist and cyclically abusive small town, figuring out and valuing femme gender and fat positivity, and the immense crushing hangover after you escape and rejoice at your new life and then realize you have to begin the trauma processing that will last the rest of your life. I wanted Very simply written, and for me like reading about my own life (minus the fame, obvs) - lots of intergenerational trauma, working poor families, finding subculture/your own queerness and leveraging it to escape from racist and cyclically abusive small town, figuring out and valuing femme gender and fat positivity, and the immense crushing hangover after you escape and rejoice at your new life and then realize you have to begin the trauma processing that will last the rest of your life. I wanted to read so much more about finding queer community, finding femme community, creating her fashion life, basically everything about everything, but still a great read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    Initial reaction: If there's something I already knew about Beth Ditto that was confirmed in this book, she's made of awesome. I appreciated reading and learning more about her. I have listened to Ditto's work (both with Gossip as well as her solo EP), but I'll admit I didn't know much about her person until after I read this. I think this memoir of her life - reflecting upon her rough childhood and tracing her route with Gossip, are worth the read. It's a rather short book, and easily perused, Initial reaction: If there's something I already knew about Beth Ditto that was confirmed in this book, she's made of awesome. I appreciated reading and learning more about her. I have listened to Ditto's work (both with Gossip as well as her solo EP), but I'll admit I didn't know much about her person until after I read this. I think this memoir of her life - reflecting upon her rough childhood and tracing her route with Gossip, are worth the read. It's a rather short book, and easily perused, but while I liked the conversational/reflective tone it takes in her voice, I'm not sure how I felt about the presentation of this since it took me a few times to get myself back to sorts where the timeline of her life was concerned. That's not a fault of Ditto's, I just think the transitions could've been smoother than what they were. Full review: Beth Ditto has my respect as a musician I've been listening to for quite some time, if not in a high frequency, then certainly in a long spectrum. I've always liked the tone, edge, and power in her voice, and the fact that she has quite a few musical influences that I like makes me grin from ear to ear. But despite being familiar with her music as a vocalist from Gossip and her solo work, I'll admit I didn't know much about her person. So I was surprised when I saw that she had a memoir up as an e-galley to peruse and eagerly took the opportunity to read it. Beth has a strong, conversational, no-bars held tone throughout this book. Her story is a rough one in places. Albeit a brief read, Ditto expounds with honesty her navigation through a rough childhood, her family bonds built and broken, her musical explorations, her rise with Gossip, and some expansions with respect to her sexuality and body image, as well as personal turmoils with respect to illness. It was an eye opening experience for me to learn this much about her. I appreciated her insights, felt for her in both the rougher moments as well as the good. A few qualms I had with respect to the book had to do more with the transitions between the chapters/sections than the length (though I certainly wouldn't have minded a longer memoir). I definitely liked the casual, candid voice Ditto employs through this, because it's like she's sitting down in front of me and telling me about her life in person, and that's important in any biography/autobiography - to have that connection to the reader. Yet I think the transitions between sections could've been a little smoother. In talking about the timeline of her life, I had to mentally adjust myself several times to make sure where I was in terms of at what point she'd reached and where the conversation lent next. I don't fault Ditto's account, but rather felt it was the written narrative that could've eased into different stopping points better. It made for a read that tended to throw me from the focus of events. I thought this was well worth the read though, not just to see Ditto's resilience and confidence - even in the face of adversity, but also just to learn more about her individually. I think one of the last lines she has in this stuck with me, and couldn't be more true: "Take your inspiration and let it lead you out into the world, into your big amazing genius life...You're perfect the way you are. You don't need to change anything but the world, so get to it." Overall: 3/5 Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Gott

    I'm ashamed it took me so long to read this, Beth Ditto being one of my absolute all-time heroes since the age of 16, but sadly it was a huge, crushing disappointment. As other reviews by big fans have said, the book feels extremely half-hearted, with erratic insertions of potentially really exciting/interesting anecdotes that always fail on their promises. A huge bulk of the book is devoted to very in-depth descriptions of Beth's early life, which is exactly what I wanted to know about, but fou I'm ashamed it took me so long to read this, Beth Ditto being one of my absolute all-time heroes since the age of 16, but sadly it was a huge, crushing disappointment. As other reviews by big fans have said, the book feels extremely half-hearted, with erratic insertions of potentially really exciting/interesting anecdotes that always fail on their promises. A huge bulk of the book is devoted to very in-depth descriptions of Beth's early life, which is exactly what I wanted to know about, but four chapters on the same information of life at home with a great aunt compared to literally just a few sentences on the monumental explosion of fame Gossip and Beth underwent in 2006/7 with Standing in the Way of Control was appalling. I wanted to know everything, her early life right through to the development of the band and the music they made, which I love and cherish. You just can't help but feel a bit let down when we spend so long with Beth musing on wanting to escape Arkansas, and then suddenly her band is asked to support Sleater-Kinney on tour and she gets to see the entire United States, and tells us next to nothing about what it felt to visit New York or San Francisco for the first time. Her huge fame in the UK is given one paragraph - something like "and all of a sudden I was best friends with Kate Moss" - girl please, you were all over every magazine, in every paper, you were partying with the elite, you had an entire clothing range for Evans... In the bulk of my later teens, not so long ago, I was obsessed with Beth. I knew her every movement (creepy). I even had a substantially long conversation with her on MySpace (probably the peak of my teens) where she told me all about Paris is Burning (which lit the spark which lead to my current obsession with drag culture) and how it was the source material for Madonna's Vogue (I was also beginning my Madonna obsession at this time, and to hear one of my idols criticising another of my idols in MYSPACE PRIVATE MESSAGE was a hoot).... I dunno, I just feel like that enormous huge part of her life was totally ignored in place for endless, monotonous musings on country life. I've seen her perform live a million times, she once wore a t-shirt I made for her on stage, I've bloody motorboated the woman for god's sake! And also, really really upsetting, zero mention given to her artistically triumphant dance EP she made with Simian Mobile Disco which was a total change from anything she did with Gossip but just as good. And I have no problem with reading ghost written books, obviously you can't expect your heroes, who may be extraordinarily talented in some areas like singing or acting, to be top quality writers, but if it's gonna be ghost written, I do expect the quality to be a lot higher. This felt like it was written by Beth... and that's not such a good thing. Real shoddy writing, clumsy structure, erratically flitting from one subject to another - if there was an author guiding Beth they should have done a much better job. Did any of that make sense?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jade

    I don't know if my many positive reviews are because I tend to pick books that I am pretty damn sure I will like or if I am just humbled by people's ability to write an entertaining book so I don't judge--I suspect it may end up somewhere between the two. Anyway, I digress...I loved this book--not surprising, as I adore Beth Ditto and Gossip are one of the few bands that are of recent vintage that I enjoy. I have always loved her attitude, her voice is to die for and her politics are straight up I don't know if my many positive reviews are because I tend to pick books that I am pretty damn sure I will like or if I am just humbled by people's ability to write an entertaining book so I don't judge--I suspect it may end up somewhere between the two. Anyway, I digress...I loved this book--not surprising, as I adore Beth Ditto and Gossip are one of the few bands that are of recent vintage that I enjoy. I have always loved her attitude, her voice is to die for and her politics are straight up my alley. Reading her autobiography just cemented that for me--imagine being a fat, gay and intelligent child in the wilds of Arkansas--even then you can't imagine the life Beth Ditto has had. With the wit I have always seen in her interviews and performances she lays out quite a story. The funny parts I knew would be there--the touching parts were a big old bonus. She's the proverbial flower blooming in the desert--coming from poverty, sexual and physical abuse, and a town without pity, she overcame to become the supremely confident and amazing person she is. She embraces the words "fat" and "queer" as positives that prove her acceptance of herself and others--she's beautiful, brave, funny and crazy talented and I feel privileged to have learned even a part of her story.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Yekaterina

    A fast paced memoir of Beth Dittos rise to celebrity. It's an inspiring story of a young girl whose been used and abused rising above it all to prove that you have control over your destiny. I read this book rather quickly. It's not to lengthy, just long enough to cover what is essential. This book definitely has a target audience and I would say it's females ages 14-25. I would almost call it a guide- to growing up in a tough environment. I was a bit turned off by some of the typos, however it w A fast paced memoir of Beth Dittos rise to celebrity. It's an inspiring story of a young girl whose been used and abused rising above it all to prove that you have control over your destiny. I read this book rather quickly. It's not to lengthy, just long enough to cover what is essential. This book definitely has a target audience and I would say it's females ages 14-25. I would almost call it a guide- to growing up in a tough environment. I was a bit turned off by some of the typos, however it was an ARC so they don't count. I also felt that the author went on and on about 'rock camp,' and it started to lose my attention. It was well outlined but I feel like the last 3 chapters were the best. They were the heart of the book. I wish there was more emotion in the first couple chapters. All in all, it was a good feminist read, but I found it hard to relate to the author until the very end, and then it just ended. * Thank you Goodreads First Reads for the free ARC!*

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Welsh

    As a massive fan both of the music of Gossip and of Beth Ditto as a person, I was disappointed by this book. Beth is such a fun and vibrant person I was hoping this book would be a riot, but it really wasn't. The more exciting events were just described as a series of facts, which finished pretty much as soon as she got famous, and the rest was just massively depressing. Of course, it's not Beth's fault she's had such a surprising amount of trauma in her life, but still this was not at all what As a massive fan both of the music of Gossip and of Beth Ditto as a person, I was disappointed by this book. Beth is such a fun and vibrant person I was hoping this book would be a riot, but it really wasn't. The more exciting events were just described as a series of facts, which finished pretty much as soon as she got famous, and the rest was just massively depressing. Of course, it's not Beth's fault she's had such a surprising amount of trauma in her life, but still this was not at all what I was expecting, from someone who is one of my all time heroes. Also, it generally isn't very engaging, which does make me wonder quite how much of it was actually ghost-written. I'd definitely be in no rush to read this again. Sorry Beth!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Agathafrye

    I was hoping for a bit more discussion of Beth's time in Olympia and I agree with another reviewer who said that the last third of the book left the impression that the authors were tired of the story and just wanted to get it over with. None of this takes away from the fact that Beth Ditto is an inspirational badass and Michelle Tea, no stranger to badassery either, is the perfect co-writer for this memoir. Many quotable moments in this book (which has expired off of my eReader so I unfortunate I was hoping for a bit more discussion of Beth's time in Olympia and I agree with another reviewer who said that the last third of the book left the impression that the authors were tired of the story and just wanted to get it over with. None of this takes away from the fact that Beth Ditto is an inspirational badass and Michelle Tea, no stranger to badassery either, is the perfect co-writer for this memoir. Many quotable moments in this book (which has expired off of my eReader so I unfortunately can't share any of them with you). This is a great gift book for that teen girl in your life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Straw

    Look y'all I love me some Beth Ditto. I saw her grow up in Portland in the 1990's...playing tiny shows at the Medicine Hat etc. This book is awful. A series of poorly woven vignettes with the help of, how shall I say it, the hackish Michelle Tea. Can I just say stop the madness in regards to memoirs. Your 30-40 year old life might not be interesting enough to merit one, let alone three (looking at you Tea). Look y'all I love me some Beth Ditto. I saw her grow up in Portland in the 1990's...playing tiny shows at the Medicine Hat etc. This book is awful. A series of poorly woven vignettes with the help of, how shall I say it, the hackish Michelle Tea. Can I just say stop the madness in regards to memoirs. Your 30-40 year old life might not be interesting enough to merit one, let alone three (looking at you Tea).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    As someone who knew almost nothing about Beth Ditto or The Gossip--I picked up a galley without any expectations. I'm glad I did because I was pleasantly surprised and even finished it in one night! A quick, brutally honest and engaging read that I found to be very inspiring. I would definitely recommend. As someone who knew almost nothing about Beth Ditto or The Gossip--I picked up a galley without any expectations. I'm glad I did because I was pleasantly surprised and even finished it in one night! A quick, brutally honest and engaging read that I found to be very inspiring. I would definitely recommend.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ilona Mustafin

    I received this book through GoodReads giveaway. I really enjoyed reading and read this book fairly quick. I like the positive vibe throughout and a sprinkle of humor. I would definitely recommend this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jen Maria W.

    I am a little bias because I automatically rejoice in a book about a fat lead singer from Arkansas who grew up in compromised circumstances and then later spent time in Olympia roller skating down hills and finally got signed to Sony

  19. 5 out of 5

    Liza

    This book is EXCELLENT. It's super readable, and some of the passages are so beautiful it made me catch my breath. You really get a sense of who Beth Ditto is from this, and she's GREAT. Will definitely be reading this again. What a queen <3 (content notes for descriptions of domestic abuse, including child abuse and child rape and the legacy of abuse within families. There's also mental health stuff, including self-harm and suicide) This book is EXCELLENT. It's super readable, and some of the passages are so beautiful it made me catch my breath. You really get a sense of who Beth Ditto is from this, and she's GREAT. Will definitely be reading this again. What a queen <3 (content notes for descriptions of domestic abuse, including child abuse and child rape and the legacy of abuse within families. There's also mental health stuff, including self-harm and suicide)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jean Roberta

    Ghost-written autobiographies of current celebrities and tell-all biographies by “friends” have long been popular, even if the information in them is suspect. It’s not clear if this book belongs in either of those categories, because it’s not clear how much was written by Michelle Tea, an award-winning chronicler of working-class lesbian life, and how much really comes from the mouth of Beth Ditto, lead singer of the punk band Gossip. The book is a first-person narrative in the straightforward l Ghost-written autobiographies of current celebrities and tell-all biographies by “friends” have long been popular, even if the information in them is suspect. It’s not clear if this book belongs in either of those categories, because it’s not clear how much was written by Michelle Tea, an award-winning chronicler of working-class lesbian life, and how much really comes from the mouth of Beth Ditto, lead singer of the punk band Gossip. The book is a first-person narrative in the straightforward language of a girl from rural Arkansas who escaped a traditional fate of lifelong poverty and oppression by following her dream. Her story will seem familiar to anyone who has read about the rags-to-riches lives of popular music stars in the tradition of Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn. Even the title of this book seems to echo the title of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta Lynn’s 1980 biopic, filmed before Beth Ditto was born. Despite the clichés in the writing, this life story contains digressions from a well-worn path. Beth Ditto credits the Riot Grrl movement of the 1990’s, not Jesus or a loving family, with saving her life. She identifies herself as a fat-positive femme lesbian, and her discussion of her upbringing makes it clear that sexual abuse (especially of girls) is not an individual misfortune but a feature of grass-roots American culture. Beth describes her own mother Velmyra at age twelve, “sitting in a courtroom as a judge decided whether or not her father had raped her.” This information is not a revelation about an unusually dysfunctional family. As the author explains, “In a place where so many men were abusive, the whole system operated to deny the existence of abuse, to make it normal, unpunishable.” The judge decided that Velmyra was lying. Punk music from urban centers in the Northwest is described as a rebellious shout from the outside world that inspired young Beth to resist the social pressure to fall into a traditional feminine life of childbearing, shame, and silence. Punk became the soundtrack that she lived by in the 1990’s. In high school, she found a few like-minded friends, and singing became her way of asserting herself: “Jennifer and I would stay up late singing Counting Crows songs into a tape recorder and making up our own songs too. I loved to sing, I loved to take the thoughts in my mind and braid them into a melody.” Eventually, Beth and the other members of her fledgling band escaped from small-town Arkansas by moving to Washington state. They began acquiring a cult following in the local music scene, but performing remained largely a labor of love for them. As though the struggle for survival were not enough, Beth began experiencing strange medical symptoms: she became thinner than ever before while losing her sight. Then she had trouble swallowing and noticed that her voice was changing. Having no medical insurance, she delayed getting a diagnosis, and when she did, the news was worse than she suspected: she had a rare autoimmune disorder called sarcoidosis, in which the body attacks itself. Steroids enabled her to function more-or-less normally, but no one could promise her a cure. After being hospitalized for depression, Beth apparently made decisions which led to several much-needed breaks. She and the remaining members of her band moved to a larger city, Portland, Oregon, and went on tour with a better-known band, Le Tigre, which raised their visibility. At last they were able to live on the proceeds of their music instead of juggling gigs with low-paid service jobs. The message with which Beth Ditto (speaking with or through Michelle Tea) concludes her life-story is simple but profound: “Take your [own] inspiration and let it lead you out into the world, into your big amazing genius life. Voices in your head, echoes of people trying to hold you down—tell them to fuck off. You’re perfect the way you are. You don’t need to change anything but the world, so get to it.” This advice has been given by various iconoclasts in various eras, and it coincides with the words of earlier feminists. As discouraging as it is to learn that a woman artist born in 1981 faced essentially the same obstacles to self-determination that Virginia Woolf described in 1929 in A Room of One’s Own, it is always encouraging to read about individuals who learn to survive on their own terms and to tell the truth about their experience. Of course, much of the message of salvation through music is in the beat. Whether or not this book records Beth Ditto’s voice in an accurate way, her performances and recordings certainly do.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    I think we can all agree that Beth Ditto is amazing, fat-positive, queer to the core and smashing pop-culture stereotypes in her own awesome way. That being said: "Where was the dirt in this memoir?" Sure, her recollection of growing up in the south was miserably sufficient and at times tough to read. What a joy it would have been to learn more details about her rising star: touring stories, famous person encounters, running into a childhood enemy in a grocery store, ANYTHING but the sort of ras I think we can all agree that Beth Ditto is amazing, fat-positive, queer to the core and smashing pop-culture stereotypes in her own awesome way. That being said: "Where was the dirt in this memoir?" Sure, her recollection of growing up in the south was miserably sufficient and at times tough to read. What a joy it would have been to learn more details about her rising star: touring stories, famous person encounters, running into a childhood enemy in a grocery store, ANYTHING but the sort of rash overview this memoir preferred. (And I love Michelle Tea--whose voice rings loud and clear during the more memoir-y pieces but appears to be content as a barely mentioned ghost writer). For those of us who were right there in the northwest when Beth Ditto arrived in the late 90's, we demand the details of a time when bumping into the greatest and best of the grunge scene was as simple as going to the local PCC. It's too good of a time to gloss over! And what of her recovery from Depression? The demons? Barely touched upon except for the occasional, reads-like-a-high-school-essay-contest chapters that were far and few between. I agree with most of the other reviewers: This Could Have Been Better...way better. But Beth Ditto it unarguably awesome and that remains, (even though she now plays arena shows for $35 a pop and none of her original fans can see her perform anymore).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    I first met Beth Ditto in 2000 at Ladyfest Olympia. She had blue-black hair, an anchor tattoo, and a thick Southern accent, and described herself as a hairdresser. Of all the people I met during my drunk sojourn throughout the Seattle music scene in the 2000s, I had no idea she would end up being this gigantic pop star and fashion icon. Her memoir is ghost-written by Michele Tea, whose work I like a lot, so it seems like a great fit, right? Queer punk feminist love fest? While Ditto's had a fasci I first met Beth Ditto in 2000 at Ladyfest Olympia. She had blue-black hair, an anchor tattoo, and a thick Southern accent, and described herself as a hairdresser. Of all the people I met during my drunk sojourn throughout the Seattle music scene in the 2000s, I had no idea she would end up being this gigantic pop star and fashion icon. Her memoir is ghost-written by Michele Tea, whose work I like a lot, so it seems like a great fit, right? Queer punk feminist love fest? While Ditto's had a fascinating life, going from dirt-poor rural Arkansas to buddying around with Kate Moss in London, the book glosses over some of the most interesting years, and it's not really told chronologically, so things happen and go back and forth and it's hard to tell, exactly, what transpired. There's also a lot of radical feminism 101, which is great for those who've never experienced it, but for those of us who also came up in radical punk feminism it's a bit repetitive. On the whole, there's a joyousness and generosity to this book that I really liked, although I would have liked more precision and more of Ditto's own voice. It definitely reads as ghost-written.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Steve Indig

    I have been a casual fan of Gossip's music, and knew next to nothing about singer Beth Ditto, and was surprised she wrote a book, so was curious to find out more about her. She has had a difficult past, and the details on it in the earlier portion of the book totally transfixed me, creating a lot of empathy for her, or anyone else like her in those situations. What a crazy life! She apparently co-wrote with Michelle Tea and they have create a very engaging memoir, including the rise to success o I have been a casual fan of Gossip's music, and knew next to nothing about singer Beth Ditto, and was surprised she wrote a book, so was curious to find out more about her. She has had a difficult past, and the details on it in the earlier portion of the book totally transfixed me, creating a lot of empathy for her, or anyone else like her in those situations. What a crazy life! She apparently co-wrote with Michelle Tea and they have create a very engaging memoir, including the rise to success of the band Gossip. Assuming Beth is honest throughout, and I would tend to believe that she is - she certainly has not forgotten where she came from, including giving proper credit to family, friends and band members to contributing positively to her life. She deals her past and present with frankness and no shame. That she is proudly queer, fat, weird, punk, from very poor and sometimes abusive past, should no doubt provide inspiration to others that fit into any of those categories.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachele Maria

    In this memoir, Beth talks about growing up in the south, her abusive past and how she came to be in a band. She talks about being a fat teenager, gay and finding herself in the Pacific Northwest. She is candid and personal and ends the book on an empowering and inspiring note. Some of her stories made me feel like I was snooping on people I sort of know. Since my husband worked at one of the pizza places that she talks about the Gossip drummer, Kathy, working at. We have also went to the undera In this memoir, Beth talks about growing up in the south, her abusive past and how she came to be in a band. She talks about being a fat teenager, gay and finding herself in the Pacific Northwest. She is candid and personal and ends the book on an empowering and inspiring note. Some of her stories made me feel like I was snooping on people I sort of know. Since my husband worked at one of the pizza places that she talks about the Gossip drummer, Kathy, working at. We have also went to the underage clubs in Portland saw Gossip perform at the shows she talks about. I have met her a few times as well. She is one of my role models and I loved getting to know her more and where she came from. (read full review here)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Trott

    I have owned this for years, since I was 15 I think, and I'm about to turn 21, and never got around to reading it. So incredible. What a life, what a voice, what a fucking woman. This book validates so many of my own experiences and feelings as a queer person and as a feminist and as a victim of abuse. This got through to me like I never expected it to. And to think my DAD bought this for me not long after I came out to him and whilst I was in the midst of the roughest time of my life. Did he kn I have owned this for years, since I was 15 I think, and I'm about to turn 21, and never got around to reading it. So incredible. What a life, what a voice, what a fucking woman. This book validates so many of my own experiences and feelings as a queer person and as a feminist and as a victim of abuse. This got through to me like I never expected it to. And to think my DAD bought this for me not long after I came out to him and whilst I was in the midst of the roughest time of my life. Did he know what he was buying me? Either way I don't think I could've truly taken it all in back then like I did now. I think books like that come into your life when you're ready for them. Thanks dad x

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Short, sweet, and humble, this memoir was a joy to read. Although the writing is a bit choppy in places, Ditto is a magnetic character. Her humility belies incredible strength of character and she never ventures into victimhood, although she certainly could. There were some amazing quotes about being yourself and forcing the world to change, rather than trying to mold yourself to a seriously screwed up homophobic, misogynistic, and fat phobic culture. Enjoyable and inspiring.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nate Burger

    You may or may not be familiar with the name Beth Ditto. She is the queer frontwoman of the band Gossip. This is the story of how she started out basically poor, white trash in Arkansas, thinking that getting pregnant would help her not be a lesbian, to a world renowned singer and now model, having modeled clothes for Jean Paul Gautier. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story that is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Ditto's memoir is frank and funny, and feels exactly a conversation with dance-pop trio Gossip's fierce frontwoman. She's chatty, a little rambly, and out to "make the world bigger for everyone." Ditto has come through hell to achieve her success and, more precious, her strong sense of self, but she never sounds bitter. She sounds proud of herself and grateful to the community that has bolstered her. We should all be so gracious, and so fabulous. Ditto's memoir is frank and funny, and feels exactly a conversation with dance-pop trio Gossip's fierce frontwoman. She's chatty, a little rambly, and out to "make the world bigger for everyone." Ditto has come through hell to achieve her success and, more precious, her strong sense of self, but she never sounds bitter. She sounds proud of herself and grateful to the community that has bolstered her. We should all be so gracious, and so fabulous.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anina

    The first part of this book is about growing up in rural Arkansas in the 80's in a neglectful environment and it was more depressing than I expected. The second half is about her teenage years and coming into her own and was really touching. The first part of this book is about growing up in rural Arkansas in the 80's in a neglectful environment and it was more depressing than I expected. The second half is about her teenage years and coming into her own and was really touching.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nikki Morse

    Beth Ditto is a fat femme icon and role model, a punk queen, a survivor, a poor southern Phoenix, and a phenomenal artist. Sometimes this book sounded more like co-writer Michelle Tea, but the collaboration worked well to produce a remarkable memoir. I loved this book.

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