Book Review: The Art of Asking


Let’s start with the personal stuff.

When someone asks me, Elise, for help, when they point to something I’m good at and ask if I’d be willing to donate my expertise toward launching their dreams, my answer is almost always YES.


I’m not talking here about strangers offering to rip off my services in exchange for “experience.” On the other hand, I honestly think it’s dangerously arrogant to put a price tag on every ounce of effort that I’m willing to give. Yes, I should value my time and effort, but I should also value and love and celebrate my friends who are wrestling to bring their art and work into the open.

It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to birth a novel, a gallery exhibition, a dissertation, a music album, and a theatrical production. And I never forget the people who help me. I want to help them in return.

Now to the book at hand.

Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking is more than a how-to-ask-friends-for-help guide. It’s a personal journey of the wonderful payoffs and embarrassing mishaps of a process she’s perfected through trial and error and piles of harrowing vulnerability.

She has learned that trusting her friends and fans implicitly–with her safety, her belongings, her food, and even her places to sleep—comes always with a risk, but even more, comes with an overwhelming outrush of love as her community rises to the occasion.

There will always be someone ready to hurt, steal, or cheat us. But Amanda uses overwhelming evidence that the majority of people genuinely want to help out, honor, and protect her/us/artists.

It’s not an unbreakable rule, and it’s not a method for the faint of heart. Trusting others and letting them catch you (like literal crowd-surfing. But the rewards, I dare say, are deep and wide.

This book is a collection of anecdotes, beginning with Amanda’s first “gig” as a living statue in Boston. She posed as an eight-foot tall bride statue and gave away flowers to the audience. She connected, made eye contact, and silently loved the people who ventured forward to give her a dollar, a note, a token. She learned to view this as an exchange, not as a street artist busking/begging for money.

This has made all the difference in her art and its future.

Later, as Amanda formed her punk cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls, this same willingness to ask and give and receive between herself and her fans carried her far into the hearts of those who loved her and loved her music.

It wasn’t just a cold exchange of ticket sales and a performer who stood far off on a stage, out of reach in every way. When signing after a show, she often stood up and hugged her fans, comforting, celebrating, and joining them in wherever they were in their life.

Amanda details her journey of falling in love with writer Neil Gaiman, their dating, their marriage, and along with this the fights and dynamics and struggles of learning how to drop her pride and ask even her husband for help when she needs funds to cover a tight spot.

On a personal aside—this relationship was a delightful process to witness, since I’ve been an avid admirer of Neil Gaiman and his work since I first discovered Anansi Boys in college.

Palmer also portrays her close friendship with her mentor, Anthony, and how his love and wisdom guided and grounded her all the way up to this man’s own encounter with a debilitating illness that finally rendered it Amanda’s turn to be the strong one to lean on.

We get to see it all in this book: The world tours, the shows, the ninja-gigs that Amanda creates, plans and enacts overnight, using her Twitter fan-base. It’s a breathtaking wonder to behold.

And yet, there’s nothing braggy or “I’ve-figured-it-all-out” in this book. Amanda has set world records with her success in crowd-funding (via Kickstarter) her own music album at a never-before-seen level and she’s done it through making connections with her fans and loving them in a courageous, brazen way.

I love her vulnerability.

I love her willingness to trust people over and over again. I love her willingness to use herself as a conduit to build a wide-spanning net that unites humanity together in compassion, understanding, and a willingness to pitch in however they can to make something bigger than themselves.

Question: Who should read this book? Answer: Anyone who has trouble asking for help. Anyone who loves to read a victorious, honest, and sometimes hilariously rendered account of an artist’s journey (I laughed out loud and wept during my reading). Anyone aching to be inspired. Anyone who would like a jolt of hope injected into their faith in humanity. Anyone who is a fan of Amanda Palmer’s music. Anyone who feels frightened of reaching out of his/her comfort zone and would enjoy a gentle push.

Hopefully that covers most of you. This is a fantastic book. I recommend it highly.

P.S. For those of you who regularly visit my blog, the quote from the Velveteen Rabbit that I used on my previous Becoming Real post was also used in this book. It’s child-like view of pain was salve to my grieving heart and I owe Amanda my thanks for it.


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