Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

For the cynics, the saviors and the self-absorbed

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The experience of reading these new volumes is akin to being taken into confidence by two writers who aren’t quite sure whether they like themselves very much, but are charmed and amused by the ways in which they don’t.

Interesting review of two new essay collections, Emily Gould’s And the Heart Says Whatever and Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, from Boston Phoenix writer Sharon Steel. She suggests:

There’s only one thing more dangerous than being an ambitious, attractive twentysomething female stumbling through the publishing industry, attempting to secure quantifiable career success and, also, a fantastic boyfriend: the impulse to write about it. It’s understood yet unspoken that the publication of a memoir that generates some attention is likely to make a writer’s life, in a certain sense, unbearable; ultimately, though, her life will probably become worse in ways that are more interesting than it was before. Which is excellent fodder for a second book.

Um, writers … do you ever think maybe … and, shh!, look away if you’re not a writer, please, but … just occasionally, when you’re not busy being charmed by yourself or your friends or your political party or an exotic East Asian fishing village or something related to Marx, still— do you ever get the slightest suspicion that perhaps we, as a group, really are terrible people?

And yet!—… and yet, I suppose we have some qualities that redeem us. This, from Crawley, sounds commendable, and also (for creators of all kinds) like very sound advice:

I think of all the serious nonfiction about natural disasters or biographies of unsung artists being published. There’s a lot of 4 am why am I doing this again? That’s healthy in small doses. . . . Trust that you are not an asshole and you care about the big issues of the world. . . . and that if you’re lucky, you’ll actually get to them through the smaller ones.

“At this point in time, people’s real lives aren’t often trusted to be fascinating to others,” Steel editorializes. I think that is sometimes true & sometimes not. Regardless, I like Steels defense of the likes of Crosley and Gould, two current exemplars of this type who—no matter how you regard their literary merits or personal morals, individually—get a lot of projection heaped on them for representing this type so commendably. She concludes:

[…] if these two writers agree on anything, it’s this: it’s okay to be a woman who believes that she is the best subject matter for her work, and that her unreserved thoughts are interesting, valuable, strange, comical, and worth space on a shelf. It’s okay to be young and write as if you understand love and sadness, and to look back on stuff that just happened, instead of on properly faded memories. Because it leaves a reader free to try and see themselves, somewhere, in all that mess.

She has to go and end it on a rather corny note—”There’s something beautiful in being strong enough to say exactly what you wanted at the time, even if you’re led to believe no one is listening“—but I dig the drift.


Steel offers just about as good as any definition I’ve yet heard for Generation Y: … the one that hasn’t grown up cataloguing the glorious and terrible minutiae of their lives on the Internet, but has come into adulthood doing so.


Written by Elizabeth

June 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Asides, The Best Things

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