I Remember by Joe Brainard – review

No wonder Joe Brainard's simple reminiscences about growing up in 1950s Oklahoma are a cult classic

In the early 1970s, New York poet and artist Joe Brainard wrote a letter to a friend. "I am way, way up these days over a piece I am still writing called I Remember. I feel very much like God writing the Bible. I mean, I feel I am not really writing it but that it is because of me that it is being written. I also feel that it is about everybody else as much as it is about me. And that pleases me." At once intensely personal and strikingly universal, Brainard's I Remember has remained a cult classic ever since (though this magnificent yolk-yellow edition is the first UK publication). It's an assemblage of memories, a collage pieced together from snippets and stray thoughts, each of which begins with the incantation "I remember". "I remember butter and sugar sandwiches," he writes. "I remember tight white T-shirts and the gather of wrinkles from under the arms… I remember regretting things I didn't do… I remember when 'beehives' really got out of hand."

Over time, a whole world emerges: a world of growing up queer in Tulsa in the 1950s, when girls wore cardigan sweaters backwards and Sunday afternoon dinner was fried chicken or pot roast. His memories are deeply sensual, and it's impossible to get far without being struck by a corresponding flood of one's own. Buy it, for everyone you know. The Bible aside, I can't think of a more original or lovely book.


Olivia Laing

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – review
The first volume of Maya Angelou's autobiography is proof of her inner strength and a testament to the power of words, writes Anita Sethi

Anita Sethi

17, Aug, 2013 @11:03 PM

Article image
The Cruise of the Rolling Junk by F Scott Fitzgerald – review
F Scott Fitzgerald's picaresque memoir reflects the American obsession with the automobile, writes Lettie Ransley

Lettie Ransley

29, Jan, 2012 @12:05 AM

Article image
The Suitcase by Sergei Dovlatov – review

The contents of an old suitcase provide the inspiration for Sergei Dovlatov's witty tales of life in 1960s Soviet Russia, writes Hannah Olivennes

Hannah Olivennes

09, Jul, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Berlin Stories by Robert Walser – review

These beautifully written vignettes of a youth spent in the Berlin of the early 1900s are a must for the would-be flâneur, writes JS Tennant

JS Tennant

12, Feb, 2012 @12:05 AM

Article image
Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan – review
John Jeremiah Sullivan's 2004 memoir about his sportswriter father and the track is proof that last year's acclaimed Pulphead was no fluke, says Tim Lewis

Tim Lewis

31, Mar, 2013 @1:30 PM

Article image
Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roché – review
Eclipsed by Truffaut’s film rendering, Jules et Jim is a perceptive exploration of desire, writes Lettie Ransley

Lettie Ransley

30, Jul, 2011 @11:05 PM

Article image
Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – review
Emma Donoghue's coming-of-age story of a teenage girl fending for herself in the 1760s exerts a considerable grip, writes Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney

17, Feb, 2013 @12:01 AM

Article image
Stoner by John Williams – review
John Williams's Stoner might have unremarkable subject matter, but it is so beautifully rendered that it's no surprise to see it getting a second chance almost half a century after publication, writes Simon Hammond

Simon Hammond

22, Jun, 2013 @4:00 PM

Article image
Dracula by Bram Stoker – review
Colm Tóibín's introduction to Bram Stoker's Dracula puts the work precisely into biographical and historical context, writes Anita Sethi

Anita Sethi

23, Jun, 2012 @11:03 PM

Article image
G by John Berger – review

John Berger's 1972 Booker prize-winning novel rewards serious reading, says Anthony Cummins

Anthony Cummins

18, May, 2013 @11:05 PM