Monday, September 28, 2009

My Judy Garland Life by Susie Boyt

My Judy Garland Life
A Memoir
by Susie Boyt
ISBN: 978-1-59691-666-1
May 2009

A memoir that takes readers through the mind of the ultimate Judy Garland fan. In it's chaotic and sometimes unapproachable form it gives us an honest look at a true fan.

What does it mean to be obsessed about a classic film star? You may have your top, all-time favorite actor or actress whose films you devour as though they were the most delicious desserts on the planet. But are you really obsessed with them? Has that person become an intricate part of your life? Do you worry about that person even though they are no longer around? Does every artifact of their legacy become interwoven with memorable moments of your life?

Author Susie Boyt is obsessed with Judy Garland. There is no doubt about that. Her memoir My Judy Garland Life is just that, a memoir about her Judy Garland life. Reading this book is like taking a look into the chaotic thoughts of an obsessed fan. Not to say that Boyt is a lunatic fan, sacrificing her well-being and the well-being of others for her obsession. Rather Judy Garland has such a profound influnce on Boyt and Boyt feels such a strong connection that their lives sort of intertwine. And what's interesting is that Boyt never met Garland, nor even lived during Garland's lifetime. Yet Garland becomes an important figure in Boyt's life. What I think is admirable about Boyt, is that she unabashedly delves right into her obsession with Judy Garland. Reading it, I didn't feel that anything was missing; as though she was being brutally honest and revealing everything she could about how she worshipped Garland. I thought that kind of honesty and frankness was very admirable.

While the topic was interesting, I didn't much care for the book. It was very disorganized and difficult to read. However, that same disorganization that I criticize I also think lends to the element of the book of exploring the author's brain. Whoever said thoughts had to be organized? My biggest problem is that I'm not all that interested in Judy Garland. This lack of interest may have been my downfall. I had hoped to enjoy the memoir given my interest in the personal experience as it relates to classic fim. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Even though I didn't enjoy the book, doesn't mean I don't think others won't. In fact, I would recommend this book to many folks. First are the Judy Garland fans; I think they would appreciate reading about another Garland fan's experiences and how they were affected by the star. If you are intrigued by fandom and obsession, I would also recommend this seeing as it's a peak into the brain of a fan. If you are a fan of Dirk Bogarde, you might enjoy the plethora of instances in which he is mentioned. If you generally gravitate towards memoirs and want something unique and different to try out, this books really stands out amongst the other memoirs out there.

Out of the entire book, there was one section that really quite struck me. It was when the author discusses the differences between good and bad Judy Garland fans. Boyt says:

Good fans consider that bad fans seek to denigrate Judy Garland's achievements by dwelling first and foresmost on her personal suffering... Bad fans prize embarassment and feelings of excruciation above all other sensations because these are the kinds of strong feelings they prefer.

Just some food for thought...

Special thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book for review!


  1. I'm not very interested in Judy Garland either, but I'm really intrigued by the way this book was approached- It would be interesting to read how someone else felt about their favorite star, especially since I'm so prone to being obsessed with movie stars myself.

    Speaking of which, the fact that Dirk Bogarde plays a big part in the book makes me a bit more likely to read it too!

    Great review, Raquelle :)

  2. I agree with Kate Gabrielle. I only recently began liking Judy, and I still only like her pre-addiction stuff. Still I can totally relate. I am definitely living a Ginger Rogers life. If I had written a book about this I may have been committed.

  3. Great review--so thought-provoking. Despite the shortcomings you describe, you've convinced me ot check this one out. I especially like the quote you pulled; it speaks loads about the way we treat our supposed idols today.

  4. Haha, was that Dirk Bogarde reference meant for Kate G? ;)

    Seems like an interesting book, and you did a great review of it. The psychological leaning of the book seems the most interesting part for me, since I'm no huge Judy Garland fan neither. She was talented though, and I don't mind watching her movies.

    I see in the right column that you have the Criterion edition of Brief Encounter - I'm so jealous! I haven't any Criterion Collection DVD, but I drool a lot over them and think about buying them almost all the time! Is it a good DVD edition?

  5. Kate & Lolita - Yes the Dirk Bogarde mention was for Kate. I thought of you Kate when I read this. He seems to be in it more than Mickey Rooney who was a very close friend of Garland. It's rumored that Bogarde and Garland were interested in each other romantically but Garland was too much to deal with at that point.

    Kate - You could never be as obsessed as this woman!

    Maggie - Well you should write that book! That would be more interesting to me seeing as I love Ginger Rogers.

    KC - Yes that got me think a lot today about how we idolize stars!

    Lolita - Oh no, I don't own A Brief Encounter. That widget is just showing people what movies I'm watching. I rented A Brief Encounter.

  6. personally i DO think one's brain should be organized, or at least reasonably so, so i'm thinking her style of writing would not be enjoyable to me at all. i am not a Judes fan per se' but i do respect her and there is NO doubt she was a unique talent of the likes that we wont ever see again. When i was growing up (for lack of a better term) the Wizard of Oz was an event for us when it played on TV and so for me she will always be "Dorothy". her exploitation by MGM brass is one of the sadder tales of old Hollywood for sure.

  7. I occasionally like to read memoirs about famous people. However, recently I have been reading memoir's about everyday people, struggling with very difficult situations- for example just finished reading "Replacement Child: A Memoir" by Judy L. Mandel. Was a wonderful book about a terrible family tragedy. I do have to say thought that I would love to learn more about Judy Garland. She was a fascinating actress.

  8. i forgot to say, i noticed you're watching the Charlie Chan flms, arent they awesome! The Warner Oland ones are by far the best so you got a nice selection there. Chan in Egypt would be my fave of that bunch because how often will you see Warner Oland, Steppinfetchit AND Rita Hayworth (billed as Rita Cansino) in the same film?? Sterotypes aside they are a lot of fun and certainly move right along. love to know what you think of them!

  9. I'll definitely have to check out this book. I have to admit I am a bit of a Judy Garland fan. She was the first classic film star I can remember seeing--in the Wizard of Oz, of course. And she is the first celebrity whose death I can remember (although I thought she was still 16 at the time--I was only 6 years old). It sounds like it could be interesting! The one thing that worries me is the disorganisation. I tend to like my writing organised!

    And, Artman, I do have to agree with you on the Charlie Chan films. I've always enjoyed them myself. And to be honest, I have never seen how Charlie Chan is a stereotype beyond his broken English (I never could figure that out--as long as he'd lived in the States you think he'd speak English better than most people).

  10. mercurie - even the broken English is certainly something that still occurs plenty to this day in America. i wasnt really saying that i personally thought of him (or the other Asian characters) as stereotypes but more along the lines that those films in general get criticized from time to time for supposedly containing stereotypes. like you i never thought of him or those films that way at all. i mean he's the one that solves the crime when all the white people havent a clue what's going on right? i will say the Steppenfetchit character in Chan in Egypt is rather unflattering but that was his "schtick" back then so i just take it with the times it was made. besides, he's hilarious in it!

  11. Artman - Well then definitely don't read this, because it's all sorts of disorganized and incoherent. It's a challenge to read but some people welcome that sort of challenge. I just think for this medium, it wasn't really for me.

    I like Charlie Chan! I don't find him as offensive a stereotype as I thought he would be. He has smarts, is well-respected and is also very kind and thoughtful. I admire him and I don't feel like anyone is mocking him in the movie. Then again, I've only seen 1 of the Charlie Chan movies.

    Becky - This memoir is sort of a fusion of the author's life and Judy Garland's life. So you'll get a mix. Let me know if you get a chance to read it what your thoughts are.

    Mercurie - I didn't know you were a Judy Garland fan! Then this book is definitely for you. It begs to be read by a Garland fan. I think the first classic film celebrity death I remember was Cary Grant's back in the late 80s. And I agree with you RE: Charlie Chan.


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