My Own Devices

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

Dessa is absolutely brilliant. She is a fabulous writer and performer and this memoir only underscores that.
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Dessa's voice is so distinctive. I could hear her cadence in my head the entire time I was reading this book. I could relate to every word. I have read it twice and bought a hard copy.
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A great presentation of Dessa's path. The essays are open and gritty, vulnerable and bold. Dessa weaves together stories of music, family, science, and personal growth.
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A great collection of essays from an amazing artist. Dessa is candid, vulnerable and honest in these essays and I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.
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There's never been a music memoir quite like Dessa's. "My Own Devices" is at once a behind-the-scenes look at a professional musician's life, a meditation on the tumultuous love affair that has inspired much of her music, an affectionate account of her family life, and a scientifically-oriented consideration of What It All Means. In short, it's pretty much everything any fan has ever hoped for from a music memoir.

For Doomtree fans, the book is a poignantly candid look inside the dynamics of a famously collegial group that, we learn here, has also been the site of a decade-plus, hot-and-cold, always affectionate and sometimes erotic but often platonic relationship between Dessa and one of her bandmates.

Between the musical and romantic interludes, Dessa lovingly describes her family members. There's her father, who built his own glider and became an expert at it, to the point where she considers framing a set of plans for the vehicle: "That set of blueprints would better represent my father than a framed portrait anyway." There's her mother, a pithy character who decides to start growing her own grass-fed beef and recruits her daughter to capture her first slaughter on video. There's her brother, who works "in the edibles sector of the legal weed market," giving another meaning to "grass-fed."

Beyond Dessa's talent for balancing the lyrical and the informative, "My Own Devices" stands out as a book about a work-in-progress. Dessa's a nationally successful musician, but she's not a universal household name like many of the artists you read books about: Joni Mitchell, Beyoncé, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan. Although she writes about life as a musician, she doesn't actually write much about her music as such. That's one reason the book remains accessible to people who didn't come to Dessa through her music, while of course being fascinating for those who did. It's the story of a journey, one that's continuing.
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Dessa is a hip-hop singer/songwriter with solo performances as well as through the group Doomtree. I had first heard of her through the song "Call Off Your Ghost" that was featured on the podcast Welcome To Night Vale. It's a song that grabbed me immediately with its emotion and her singing. I looked up the rest of her discography at the time, which I enjoyed just as much. It's an eclectic mix of rap and hip-hop rhythms with some classical allusions along with the everyday elements of heartbreak, sadness and trying to relate to others.

This memoir is a collection of essays as eclectic as her music and just as poignant. The essays chronicle her life on the road, and it's an interesting look at how the club circuit actually works, as well as an introduction to the lingo used. Her life has played out in a zigzag of ways: valedictorian of an IB program in Minneapolis, a Bachelor's in philosophy, and getting consumed by her artistry and the relationships around her. We see glimpses of her parents, step-parents and her younger brother, as well as famous names that she interacted with. Her relationship with her ex, in particular, is one that consumed her, the two orbiting each other for years out of love but difficulty maintaining a long-term and mutually healthy relationship. It's a relationship that readers may be able to identify with, and one that she tries to excise with neurofeedback in the final essay of the memoir. She worried that it would lessen the impact of her music or her ability to create her art. There's a new album out, and it hits me emotionally just as much as her earlier work. Dessa really didn't have to worry on that front!

I don't usually look into the private lives of celebrities or artists, feeling like it should be exactly that: private. What we see on stage isn't necessarily what goes on behind the scenes, after all, but for Dessa, it's one and the same. She exposes a lot of her life through poetry, spoken word, and her music. Reading this memoir actually gives me more context to her music; I wound up going back to watch the videos and listen to the lyrics again, and I have more of an appreciation for the process and the emotion that fuels them.

It's an open secret who her ex is, though I didn't try to go back to figure out who it is. That wasn't important for the context of these essays. I was more impressed by the fact that she creates math problems when bored or stuck on the road, that she can equate the beauty of the integral sign with the f-hole of a violin, and that she would make the comparison in the first place. She and her family are all creative individuals in their own ways, and I can see how it all culminated in her own eclectic interests. This was a fascinating look into her life and music, and I enjoyed every page of it.
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Thanks for the opportunity to review “My Own Devices.” I really enjoyed the book! See below for my review.


In “My Own Devices”, Dessa (rapper/singer/writer/philosopher - a true multi-hyphenate) explores issues of love, family, ambition, and (naturally) music. 

This essay collection beautifully weaves together stories on music, finding one’s purpose, science, and what makes us human. I think with any other author, an exploration of these topics could be super heavy, but Dessa does it in a way that’s masterfully both insightful, entertaining, and (really, really) funny - it’s not an exaggeration at all to call this book laugh-out-loud-funny.

Dessa has an intellectual curiosity about the world that’s super compelling, and the enthusiasm she has for exploring new topics is so charming. Is there anything better than someone excitedly sharing something they’re super enthusiastic about? I also so relate to her need to do a deep dive when learning about a new topic - I can similarly get sucked into learning about something new. The eagerness with which she enjoys learning is so compelling. 

I had never heard of Dessa before reading this book, and admittedly I was a bit wary about of reading a book written by a rapper who appears white (Dessa is half Puerto Rican), but thankfully she doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her privilege - “Theres a long history of white performers earning money while black innovators go uncompensated. I look white and benefit from it.” While it’s by no means a focus of the book, it’s refreshing to hear someone acknowledge their privilege so frankly.

“My Own Devices” is a true merging of head and heart in the most beautiful way. Dessa’s insights will stick with you for a long time.
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As Dessa so aptly sings, "I know that jealousy’s a perfect waste of time, but left to my devices, I’ve spent far too long wasting mine" ("Call off Your Ghost"). And Dessa's new book, aptly called My Own Devices, perfectly shows that Dessa, for all of her philosophizing and her celebrity, is just a fragile human being, like the rest of us. Anyone who has followed her music career will recognize many of the common themes, several prominent images, and (of course) specific lyrics from her songs: water, flying, kites, and the ache of a love that seems like it should complete you even when it tears at your heart and soul.

Dessa's own voice comes through as clear as the bells that she often mentions in her songs. Yes, that's a cliché, but it's appropriate as I discuss a book that is, at its core, a story of longing to break free from being a lovelorn cliché while attempting to remain true to self when the desired love isn't fully compatible with one's self. Am I willing to compromise who I am to have this love that I do not want to let go?

Dessa attempts to answer this question by tracing through her life and the many people who helped shape who she is through various types of love. We catch glimpses of her best friend and bandmates along with fully fleshed shots of her mom, her dad, and her brother. We see her as that "flat-chested, gap-toothed girl" (from her song "Mineshaft 2," but also mentioned in the book) she used to be to, but we also get to know her as she is today, a grown woman who is so certain of so many things, yet so torn about matters of the heart.

I often make the mistake of attributing a singer's real-life world for a song's story. Dessa actually is a complex autobiographical lyricist for whom the sung story is real. Long-time fans will enjoy filling in the blanks of song-stories and themes, but newcomers need not fear disappointment. The author's candor and openness in dealing with a host of collectively human emotions and experiences holds something for everyone. Her ability to run through the entire range of human feeling and desire in one album (or sometimes even one song) is not lost in long form. No, in fact, her ability is more poignant and hard-hitting than ever in this book.

All opinions in this review are my own. Book reviewed via an ARC from NetGalley.com, but (of course) I'd already put in my pre-order long before requesting the ARC copy. And I'll definitely be re-reading as soon as my physical copy arrives!
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If you've listened to Dessa's music, you know the power her words have to pull you into her shoes. I haven't been reading many memoirs lately, mostly because I just haven't felt the appeal. I'm so glad I requested this ARC, because as soon as I read the first page I was entranced. Her voice, so confident and brash in her rapping and songwriting, is even moreso in her writing, her storytelling as intimate and recursive as her verse. It felt less like being in her shoes and more as if she'd loaned me her metaphorical glasses. Minneapolis is a central figure in the book, but her writing hinges on relationships and family, viewing them through lenses of smaller moments and footnotes that wind through her career as a rapper-artist-writer-musician. No matter where you are in the book, you share space with someone she loves and concepts she tumbles through to focus on the world.

If you haven't listened to Dessa's music yet, you'll want to after reading this. Thank you for the ARC, NetGalley. I can't wait to get it in print.
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Seven years ago, my boyfriend gave me a CD for Christmas filled with Dessa with some Dessa-heavy Doomtree songs to boot. "I really think you'll like her," he said as he handed me the CD. Well, here we are.

My Own Devices is just like reading one of Dessa Darling's songs but in long form. It means so much to me that she was willing to write this book - I love knowing the driving force behind something that I care about so deeply. I've always talked to her after shows (and trust me, I have been to *A LOT* of Dessa/DTR shows) and reading this book felt like reading a piece of her heart (and brain).

Non-fiction is not normally my jam, but Dessa is. If you want a well-written book that delves deep in what it means to love someone for a long time and the struggle living with that, a book about just life, then I highly recommend you pick up this book.
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"My Own Devices" is a must-read for any Dessa, Doomtree, music, or psychology fan. One of those things might not seem like the others, but after a decades-long on-and-off love with someone very close to her, she creates a hypothesis: if she could isolate the brain region responsible for love, could she force herself out?

Told through a series of essays, she weaves together a narrative - through each section might seem unrelated, each one includes an important lesson or revelation about that relationship. There aren't any loose ends - she wraps up each section nicely, resolving stories about her mom, dad, brother, and move to New York, furthering the love (or anti-love) story throughout. Her writing style is really lovely - one of the best things about her rapping is how she can turn a phrase, and her writing is no different. 

This is absolutely the best book I'll read this year.
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