Critical Overview

By the time The Basketball Diaries was published in a limited-edition book in 1978, and again in wider distribution in 1980, it was already a hit with underground readers. Literary critics soon followed suit. Many of them, such as Jamie James in his 1980 review of the book for American Book Review, discuss the gritty nature of the book. As James notes, it is ‘‘a blow-by-blow account of a season in Hell.’’ James, like many other critics, was impressed by the literary skill of the young Carroll. Says James of the book, it ‘‘is a literary miracle; a description of the formation of an artistic sensibility written by the artist, not in retrospect, but in the process.’’ Several other critics also note Carroll’s talent. Says Barbara Graustark of Carroll in her 1980 review of the book for Newsweek: ‘‘His terse wit, with its archly contrived naïveté, transformed a tale of teen-age rebellion into a contemporary classic.’’

The Basketball Diaries received additional notice when the Jim Carroll Band released its first album, Catholic Boy, in 1980. The album’s lyrics were rough and dark, like his diaries, and several music critics commented on the book in the course of reviewing the album. In his 1981 review of the album for Stereo Review Magazine, Steven Simels calls the book ‘‘a scary, mordantly funny odyssey along the dark underbelly of the Sixties, a virtuoso performance that ought to be must...

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