Review: Coal to Diamonds: A Memoir

Coal to Diamonds: A MemoirCoal to Diamonds: A Memoir by Beth Ditto, Michelle Tea

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews

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