At the Comedy Central Roast this past weekend, Seth Rogen said to subject James Franco, “James, you look tired. Did you just read a James Franco Book?” It seemed like the perfect time to see if his books really are as boring as people say they are. Keep in mind, this isn’t a long-form sonnet about his feelings. This is a book billed as being all about his childhood: girlfriends, first times, sex and all. Will it live up to the hype? BuzzFeed Celeb editors Lauren Yapalater and Whitney Jefferson read it and then sat down to discuss. This is their discussion.
Lauren Yapalater: OK, so my first thoughts on the book are… I don’t love the way he writes. It’s too chunky? Or broken up? Or something… Do you understand what I’m saying?
Whitney Jefferson: I think the word you’re looking for is “cerebral”? He writes just a chain of his thoughts. It doesn’t really make sense, and it’s not pretty.
LY: Yeah. It’s not a full story. It’s all over the place.
WJ: I’m with you. I think before I opened this book I was expecting a mix of photos from his childhood and maybe pages from his diary — definite memories from his own childhood — whereas all of this seems to be about his teenage years.
LY: There was the introduction where he’s going on about a million things. He writes, “Here are some things that most people can understand and relate to” and then says a thousand things. It’s like, OK, you just named everything in the world, so someone’s bound to relate to at least one of those things. Anyway, the whole book was just kind of strange.
WJ: I agree. Definitely. The number one thing I took away from this book is that James Franco is weird.
LY: Yeah, but I guess we already knew that.
WJ: We did.
Two summers ago on a trip to Japan I was introduced to a man who influenced me to take art seriously. Up until then I had no resolve to do so. … I take it for serious for I know in the future it may be the mode by which I express myself.
LY: I didn’t realize how artistic he was. I never knew he was an actual painter. I’ve seen Instagrams of his stuff and I know that he’s done work, but I didn’t realize how much he actually did. There was this really good self-portrait that he did and used as the author photo. He is talented!
WJ: I feel like we learned a little bit about James Franco’s soul there. He expresses his true self through art.
LY: He seems to like art more than acting, which is also interesting. Did you see This Is the End? I think that was his real art used in the movie.
WJ: That’s the thing, though! His art is both serious in the book and also jokey and weird.
LY: I’d buy a James Franco. They’re weird enough where people would be like, “Oh, I want one of those James Francos.” Like a collector’s piece.
WJ: OK, so: Would you rather own one of his paintings and never see one of his movies again or just continue to see his movies without ever owning a Franco for your art collection?
LY: I’d rather see his movies. What can I say, I love him on screen.
WJ: Can we talk about how his actual college essay was included in this book?
My father has been a practicing Hindu for ten years. But my own interest in Easter religions was sparked by Herman Hesse’s Siddartha which portrays Siddartha’s oath to enlightenment.
WJ: Whoa, right? He talked about Herman Hesse’s Siddartha — which is, at the very least, some college-level deep shit — and it kind of made me respect him a little more.
LY: Oh yeah, when I saw this essay I thought that he was really intellectual for a high schooler. My college essay was about something stupid, I’m sure. How did he even get a hold of this? Doesn’t the essay get turned in with the rest of the test and then locked up somewhere?
WJ: I’m sure that he probably kept a copy. He seems like a bit of a hoarder.
WJ: In a good way.
LY: I also thought it was cool that he was so into Hinduism like his dad. He just sounded so smart. It was actually a really great essay.
WJ: So here’s a time when he didn’t sound so, um, smart:
We never had any black friends. Not before high school and not in high school. But we liked black rappers. Dr. Dre, 2Pac, DJ Quik, Too $hort, and the Geto Boys.
WJ: This is just cringey. I mean, really? You had zero black friends? It seems pretty uncool to say that you had no black friends growing up. Who willingly admits such a thing?
LY: I guess he’s just really honest in this book. That’s one thing I give him credit for. You know, because he also admitted that he had sex last. And there was probably very little diversity in his town.
WJ: At least he got some culture from rap music? Can you even imagine him listening to rap music? I feel like he’d be more into, say, Dave Matthews band.
LY: Yeah, or Phish. I could see him being a Phish head. Don’t all teenage boys like rap music, though?
I had my first girlfriend in fourth grade, in Mr. DeFelice’s class. Her name was Simone. She was pretty and blond like Madonna. After she broke up with me I would watch Who’s That Girl to remind myself of her.
WJ: Fourth grade? Whoaa, moving fast. I like the thought of fourth-grade James Franco being brokenhearted and watching this movie to ease his pain.
LY: I know, I wonder how long they dated for.
WJ: He’s been a tortured soul since such a young age.
LY: I also wonder what happened to Simone.
WJ: And he still likes blondes!
I had sex last. I was drunk at a party at my friend Barry’s house. We did it in a bedroom, Susan and me, and then stayed the night. In the morning, I waited till she left, and then I walked home alone. After I had sex once I had sex a lot. The second time was in Susan’s bed. I was about to come and I pressed my foot against the foot-board. My long toenails scraped against the board like cockroaches. After, when we pulled away, it was sticky and frothy. Buttery, like pulling apart a Baby Ruth. She rolled over and cried.
LY: This is what I don’t understand.
WJ: The toenails?
LY: Yeah, the toenails. Also, “sticky and frothy. Buttery, like pulling apart a Baby Ruth.” I don’t know, that analogy just doesn’t work for me.
WJ: What’s he been eating? That seems like a physical impossibility. Maybe not!
LY: Frothy, I always think of bubbles at the top of a bathtub —
WJ: — or a milkshake.
LY: Yes, exactly. Like the top of a milkshake. But buttery? Pulling apart a Baby Ruth? What does that even mean?
WJ: Also, why did his long toenails sound like cockroaches?
LY: If I was gonna write this, I’d write, “My long toenails scraped against the board like… nails on a chalkboard?” Maybe that’s too mainstream?
WJ: Like nails on a chalkboard! Perfect. Also it ends with, “she rolled over and cried.” That’s…sad! Why did she cry? Because his toenails sounded like cockroaches?
LY: I don’t know. Maybe she was disappointed and hungry and thought she was getting a Baby Ruth.
LY: So the book goes back and forth between camp and school a lot, which is kind of confusing.
WJ: It’s very confusing! That’s the first time we’ve mentioned this, but the book is REALLY confusing to read. It’s often unclear whether he’s talking as himself or him talking as someone else?
LY: Yeah, and half of the book is poems… And one paragraph he’s in fourth grade, then he’s having sex in high school, and then he’s 8 years old again.
WJ: What if he was, like, on acid while he wrote this? Maybe he took a big hit and holed himself up in his parents house for a weekend, went into their closet, got all of his old photos and pictures, and said, “I’m doing it!” To that point, it also doesn’t seem like he spent all that much time on this book. Sorry to say.
LY: Yeah, and I don’t even understand how he remembers all of the details. But good for him!
In fourth grade Sasha Alexander was the biggest dork I could ever think of. … I told her she was a dork and a poor loser, and she stabbed me in the arm with a pencil. The hole was gray from the graphite. Mr. DeFelice didn’t do anything about it.”
WJ: So this is one of the first times James has been burned by a lady. Also, he’s in the fourth grade and calling a girl a “poor loser”?
LY: I know, I feel bad for her.
WJ: Do you think kids still use those pencils?
LY: They must? I feel like he liked her.
WJ: Well then there was this other schooltime quote:
I drew a picture of me sticking me dick into Rex’s blond dream girl. Rex was on the other side of the room. I folded the paper and wrote Rex on the top, and told this ugly girl, Andrea Blatt, to pass it along. He couldn’t tell it was supposed to be his dream girl. He laughed out loud. Mr. Kim looked at him, and then looked at me. People tell me I look like Warren Beatty; maybe that’s why he was staring.
WJ: This is another bizarre thing of his childhood. Glad to know he was drawing cartoons of putting his dick into a blonde girl at such a young age. Again, he says, “I told this ugly girl, Andrea” — why is he so mean to girls at such a young age?
LY: Yeah, and he has this thing of making fun of people. He’s just super blunt, I guess? Also the Warren Beatty thing: Even if he does look like him now, I doubt he was looking like him in fourth grade.
WJ: He kind of sounds like he was a jackass in elementary school.
LY: Like a class clown…but in a more dick-ish way.
On the way back to the campsite he kissed her, but it was messy, like two lizards, We … saw him feel her small breasts, and under the towel he felt her vagina. … He was the first of us to do all that but it was with the black alien girl.
WJ: So that quote is bizarre, slightly racist, and weird. Full circle: He played a rapper named Alien in Spring Breakers.
LY: That’s actually crazy.
WJ: Maybe this book is just a promotion for Spring Breakers.
LY: Or maybe he had this character in mind for the movie.
WJ: I feel bad for Angela, because this was her first time.
…this work was inspired by my own childhood. The text and images all come from all periods of my artistic life, but the subject matter all derives from my younger years. I’d make the claim that this is fiction, but what isn’t nowadays?
WJ: What a joker. So is he trying to say that none of this book was real?
LY: He says that it’s all inspired by his life? So he could take semi-true events and make them completely different. These stories could be loosely based off of real life. There are so many details, though. Maybe he remembered parts and made up the rest?
WJ: I think it’s confusing because it’s called James Franco: A California Childhood, and the book is filled with pictures of him and his art.
LY: Right. That’s what makes it confusing, because the pictures are things that actually happened, but we don’t know if the stories are real.
WJ: And then there was that story about being on acid that was written in the first person but wasn’t actually him? Without any clarification.
LY: It’s a lot of random stories. I didn’t hate it, but I guess I wanted to know more about how he got to where he is now?
WJ: There’s no mention of his acting career in the book at all!
LY: Right, there’s not even one mention of it. There are the random stories, which I guess give some insight into his life. But I’d like to know how he got into acting and when.
WJ: I guess you’ll have to wait for his next autobiography.
LY: It felt like, “Here are some stories that have absolutely no relation to anything that’s happening in my life now.”
WJ: Right, it was completely unsatisfying in that sense.
LY: But I like the pictures!
WJ: Good pictures.
LY: I liked how he called his little brother [Dave Franco] “Davy,” and the family pictures are cute. Also, I didn’t realize there was a third brother. The forgotten Franco.
WJ: Me either. Poor guy.
LY: He also says things like, “I got Rollerblades for Christmas and only used them for one day” in the captions, and I’m like, Oh my god, that’s like every kid ever. Made me feel less bad about using my Rollerblades only once.
WJ: And the picture of him playing Nintendo! So cute. Dave’s bowl cut. Adorable.
LY: Yes! And apparently he did not like sports at all. He said, “I never liked sports, just the idea of them.”
WJ: I get that. So all in all, would you recommend this book to others?
LY: Probably not.
WJ: Me either. Unless you’re a James Franco superfan. And then by all means, please read the book, dissect it, and report back to us.
James Franco: A California Childhood by Insight Editions is out now.
We’ll be back next month with a new celebrity book to read! Do you have a suggestion for what to read next? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.