- Paperback: 180 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press, Open City Books; First Edition edition (March 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1890447269
- ISBN-13: 978-1890447267
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 43 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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My Misspent Youth: Essays Paperback – March 15, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Essay lovers can take heart. There's a new voice in the fray, and it belongs to a talented young writer. In this collection of (largely previously published) on-target analyses of American culture, Daum offers the disapproval of youth, leavened with pithy humor and harsh self-appraisal . In each essay, she sustains interest with a good story and pricks the reader's conscience with observations that reverberate personally, whether about the secret desires of Christian women or the stunning ease of accumulating debt while existing unluxuriously in New York City. Publishing veterans will be amused and chagrined to see their profession skewered in "Publishing and Other Near-Death Experiences"; and for a hard take on one's responsibility for mourning, there is the book's best work, "Variation on Grief." Daum's decidedly agnostic outlook sometimes makes for easy moral outs, and time may render her phrasings cute. While her main premise that many Americans live "not actual lives but simulations of lives... via the trinkets on our shelves" leaves room for disagreement, on the whole, readers will enjoy an edgy read. (Mar. 15) Forecast: Daum's pieces have appeared in traditional magazines like the New Yorker, as well as in cutting-edge venues like Nerve, and have earned her a considerable reputation as a sharp Gen-X voice. Review attention and good word-of-mouth should earn this book brisk sales.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
This eclectic collection of essays delves into the corners of contemporary life, ferreting out the eccentric as well as the ordinary. Readers can identify with Daum's disdain for carpeting or her difficulty living within her means on New York's Upper West Side while working at a low-paying publishing job. On a less familiar note is an essay exploring the lifestyle of a group in California who call their communal way of life "polyamory," a brand of free love reminiscent of the 1960s. Not shy about implicating herself, Daum plunges into such thorny issues as an Internet romance and her inability to mourn a friend's death, along with her irritation at his superficial, enabling parents. A regular contributor to National Public Radio, Daum writes essays and articles appearing in major publications including The New Yorker, Harper's, New York Times, GQ, Self, and Vogue. Her work demonstrates honesty and an ability to look perceptively at herself and contemporary life. Daum's is a provocative and refreshing new voice. Recommended for larger public libraries. Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
While it may be off-putting to some readers, it quickly becomes evident that the author approaches her subjects from a cultural elitist standpoint. She readily admits that she sought admission to Vassar to rub elbows with NYC elites to gain their cultural sophistication, as well as a sense of self-entitlement. In "Toy Children" she found the insistence that she play with dolls to be no more than an attempt to keep her in perpetual childhood. Forced by her musician parents to play the oboe, in "Music is My Bag" she grew to immensely dislike the nerdiness of the music culture. In an essay that overreaches, "Carpet is Mungers," wall-to-wall carpet, for the author, symbolizes everything ordinary - hence to be rejected. For her it is oak floors and Oriental rugs - or nothing.
In a more practical offering, "My Misspent Youth," the author decries the fact that NYC has become virtually unaffordable for an aspiring cultural worker - editorial assistant, writer, etc. Yet, she admits that her feelings of entitlement led to her assuming a sixty-thousand dollar debt for a three year MFA program at Columbia. "Inside the Tube" captures the diminished status of airline attendants, yet, they are "in a sense, quintessential Americans. They are at once rootless souls and permanent fixtures, vagabonds who can't stay anywhere too long."
Love and relationships are represented. She finds the members of the California-based Ravenheart polyamorous commune to be self-deluding to think that their multi-partner lifestyle verifies their self-proclaimed outsider status, being hardly different than common activities under other names. The author profiles the needy quest of the bland American blonde for Jewish men in "American Shiksa."
In the most interesting essay of the collection, "On the Fringes of the Physical World," the author details her intense multi-month email romance that transcended any real-world relationships, only to have it all suddenly collapse after meeting. She sees that "our need to worship fuses with our need to be worhsipped."
As the author claims, these essays are commentary on the authenticity of American life, on the degree to which we live fictional narratives. The essays strike an idealistic tone, perhaps are a bit arrogant, but they are perceptive, entertaining, and even unsettling. They are easy to read.
I've been enjoying her essays in various magazines for some time now, and I was interested to learn that there is a collection of her writing, so I bought the book. As I started to read, I discovered that the essays started to run together in my mind. I was occasinally stopped short by her arrogance. When I read one essay at a time, these things did not happen, and I could go back to enjoying the fluently written, nicely observed essays about not much of anything. On the other hand, when I read them in a group, the weaknesses were more evident and the effect more of a whine.
So, my advice is that if you like this kind of thing (smooth writing, essays making much of very little), you may well enjoy this book. I just urge you not to take the edge off by reading it all at once.