MY BRAIN ON FIRE by Leonard Pitt


Paris and Other Obsessions
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A theater actor’s memoir of a life and way of thinking permanently altered by the seven years he spent as a young man living in 1960s Paris.

Pitt (Paris: A Journey Through Time, 2010, etc.) grew up in Detroit always “feeling…out of place.” A poor student, he did not begin to find himself until high school, when it became clear that his strengths lay in art and design. It was then that Pitt began “dreaming of Paris” and of the grand bohemian life he could live there. After dropping out of art school and working briefly for an ad agency, the author took the advice of a former teacher and followed his ambition to go to Paris and study mime with Etienne Decroux. His intention was to spend six months “figur[ing] out what I wanted to do with my life.” Instead, Pitt stayed for seven years. During that time, he lived in a garret, sold newspapers, and fell in and out of love, all while learning to see bodily movement in intriguing new ways. Decroux’s method stressed connectedness to the ground, yet other forms of movement, such as ballet, emphasized a separation from the Earth. Pitt’s training allowed him to understand people in terms of their physical presence and, in particular, the light he saw “emanating from their bod[ies].” At the same time, his insatiable curiosity to make sense of the world led him to explore everything from the history of the French cafes to the reign of Napoleon III. What makes reading Pitt’s book so enjoyable is not only following the intellectual leaps he makes between his many and varied topics of interest. It is also seeing the creative connections among apparently unrelated subjects such as Louis XIV, Elvis Presley, and the Hula Hoop.

From start to finish, Pitt’s memoir is a lively autodidactic romp through a life well-lived in both mind and body.

Pub Date: March 8th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-59376-634-4
Page count: 356pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2015


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