Musician, street performer, TED speaker, blogger, Twitterer, couchsurfer, crowdfunder – Amanda Palmer is all these and more, and in her book The Art of Asking she offers up a brutally honest insight into her life and career as she gives her thoughts on what it means to ask for, and accept, other people’s help. She has made a career out of doing things her own way, from choosing to work full time as a living statue to fighting her way out of a major label record contract, and she is now rightfully recognised as a leading creative thinker in the modern, digital, social climate.
Beginning with the 2012 TED talk that was, essentially, the genesis of the book, she takes the reader on a warts and all trip through her personal life (including some startlingly honest stories about her relationship with her husband, Neil Gaiman) and her musical journey, drawing upon all sorts of experiences with endless strange and colourful characters. She talks us through the early days of the Dresden Dolls and the model she stumbled upon for building and maintaining such a close network of fans, then on to her solo career and record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, and the various internet controversies that she has been involved in, all interspersed with stories of friends and relationships from across the globe. Far from being highbrow and condescending, she comes across as heartfelt and deeply honest, and shows that for all her fearlessness she’s just like everyone else, and still finds it hard to ask for and accept help for some things.
Fans of Palmer will not be surprised to hear that this is a personal, subjective book that draws heavily from her own experiences to espouse a positive, inclusive mindset, but crucially it isn’t a vanity project, or just for fans. This is the writing of someone who is fully committed to her way of living and working, talking openly about the highs and lows of her life in an attempt to explain and illustrate her approach. It’s a book about asking – the emotional and psychological consequences, both positive and negative, of allowing other people to help you – but it’s also a raw, honest memoir of someone who continues to be incredibly brave despite everything she comes up against, and an illuminating insight into what surely must be the future for artists and their relationships with their audiences in the digital age.
Much like Amanda Palmer herself, this is a book that’s hard to pigeonhole and, much like Amanda Palmer, it’s all the better for that fact. It’s variously uplifting, emotionally draining, inspiring, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down; the perfect reminder that life is there to be shared with other people. If you’re already a fan, you will love every page and every word, and come away more certain than ever of how important Amanda Palmer is. If you’re not (yet) a fan, then go into this with an open mind and you will come away moved and with plenty to think about.