This book should be called Tim Page’s Pretty Great Life.
There’s an assumption with memoirs or biographies, especially ones that refer to a difficult condition in the subtitle, that there will be a significant dosage of mess-ups, misery and misfortune. It was therefore in an odd way depressing to finish reading this autobiography and realize that the author has been quite fortunate, and carved out a decent life for himself.
Page grew up in a family which was supportive financially, emotionally, and socially. He was immersed in excellent music, literature, and other rich cultural products at an early age, and was already successful enough as a child to be covered by Time magazine (though he ended up being edited out of the published feature). As a young man he encountered mentors that aided in his development, and he quickly found a niche in which he could make a living (and eventually earn a Pulitzer prize for his writing on classical music). Not only has not everyone been so fortunate, but I think it can be easily said that Page’s life has been made much easier by privileges not extended to the majority of humanity.
Of course there are some darker moments here too. Use and abuse of drugs in his teen years. Appearing to be a genius to most people, yet being so disinterested in High School that he flunked many courses and eventually dropped out. A passenger in the crash of an overloaded pickup truck of teenagers on a weekend binge that resulted in several deaths. And the endless social awkwardness and difficulty in connecting with other people that comes as a part of Asperger’s syndrome, which he was diagnosed with in his forties.
If the above sounds like a slam, this is actually one of the best books that I’ve read in quite a while, and I have a hard time imagining that there will be many other books published that can compete with this one in evoking the essential spirit of growing up in the second half of the twentieth century. Though I’m much younger than the author, I think he captured something essential about trying to survive and find yourself in a world both so permissive and so difficult and hostile. I like how he appreciated both classical and rock music in a similar way, on its own merits.
Some people might protest that there’s not enough personal material here, such as information on interactions with his siblings, or the women in his life, or his children, but somehow I don’t think that being exhaustive is a necessary element for an autobiography. Bob Dylan’s autobiography similarly left unmentioned much of his personal life, but sometimes those things just aren’t what the author wants to talk about. This book doesn’t scale incredible artistic highs, or take a steely look at things from every angle, but if you take it for what it is–in the same way it’s best to take people–it’s a great and inspiring read.