I read A California Childhood by James Franco in a single sitting. Not that it’s all reading – there are pictures too. I expected a traditional style autobiography, but it isn’t. It’s something much more; a personal collection of childhood photographs and drawings, memories, Franco’s abstract paintings, a report card, poems and short stories. I loved his short stories most, but I’ll get to that.
You’ve probably heard of James Franco as an actor. What you might not know is that he’s a writer, artist, producer, and teacher too. Though I’ve seen his movies and read his novels Palo Alto and Actors Anonymous, in A California Childhood, Franco reveals a different side. His handwriting is boyish, messy, and at times hard to read. Franco becomes James, on a first name basis. He is flawed, like the rest of us, but wonderfully so. I want to be friends with him, and you will too.
In his Introduction James writes “I’d make the claim that this is fiction, but what isn’t nowadays?” I’ve got a feeling that there’s more truth to his book than he lets on. Part I includes family photographs and innocent drawings by himself and his brothers as children. There are excerpts from his mother’s diary and reproductions of his paintings; his thick, textured paint strokes appear three-dimensional on the book’s glossy pages. I am especially taken by a portrait titled ‘Jamal, Star Athlete’. James’ poems are memories from school. They make sense and are as real as the memories of my own childhood; “I wanted to write a poem about soccer. I fucking hated it, | But it was something I did | Because my father liked it”. His parents call him Ted and I feel inclined to do the same.
Part II is a precious collection of six short stories. I think I enjoy ‘Memoria’ most, though I’m undecided. Some of the stories make me sad, and there are disturbing parts too. James’ characters and narrators remain anonymous, but I’m skeptical; his writing is too realistic, too personal, for the characters to be completely fictional. I think a little bit of James might exist in all of them. There seems to be a motif of the father figure, but perhaps I’m reading into it too much.
Whether you’ve heard of James Franco or not, you will enjoy this book. Honestly, I enjoyed it so much I questioned sharing it with you. Though it’s easy to read, there is a certain depth that will push at your brain. James proves that we have all the time in the world to pursue our childhood dreams and passions. I have been inspired. A California Childhood gets an easy five stars from me.
*If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy Recent Reads: ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ by Nora Ephron.