Notes to Self
Emilie Pine has captured hearts internationally with this award-winning essay collection. In unflinching prose, she describes the events of her life that are the most difficult to discuss: the emotional pain of infertility, the reality of an alcoholic father, sexual violence and self-inflicted violence, and living life in a female body. In writing about society’s taboos, she finds words where there are none. She refuses to hide the stories women aren’t supposed to tell. In doing so, she imparts strength and wisdom.
Can You Tolerate This?
Poet Ashleigh Young debuts a poignant collection of essays on the absurdities and complications of life. The strange nature of the human body is a frequent theme in this collection as she writes about the body through fragments of history—the story of a boy who grew a second skeleton—and tells her own story of a yoga obsession that enables an eating disorder. The title of the book comes from the question that a chiropractor will ask a patient to test their pain threshold, and the author tests the reader’s threshold, and her own, with sharp honesty.
The Source of Self-Regard
All miillennials should read something by the late, great master of prose Toni Morrison, and The Source of Self-Regard is an excellent place to start. This is a book about our culture, about the role of the artist and black writers’ contributions to the American literary canon, and about language and the imagination. Morrison divides the book into three parts: a prayer for those who died on 9/11, a section devoted to Martin Luther King Jr., and a eulogy for James Baldwin. She has so much wisdom to share in these pages.
Zadie Smith’s latest collection of essays tackles some of the most important questions of our time. What is the value of a social network like Facebook? Why do we need the public space of a library? And why are we failing to address climate change? With her signature brilliance and sense of humor, Smith addresses the absurdity and severity of the issues facing us now. Her book is arranged into five sections: In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf, and Feel Free, and contains some favorites published in The New York Review of Books as well as previously unpublished works.
What If This Were Enough?
Many millennials are familiar with the advice columnist behind the popular “Ask Polly” column in The Cut. Now Polly, whose real name is Heather Havrilesky, offers us an original book about our culture’s self-improvement obsession. In chapters that display her wisdom and wit, she deconstructs the misleading messages so many of us have followed, hoping for salvation through romance or career success. Other chapters have been expanded from their initial publication as letters of advice, illustrating the ways in which we get lost along the way and urging us to make peace with imperfection.
Jia Tolentino has already demonstrated her fearless intelligence and deep empathy as a cultural critic for The New Yorker. Now, in this collection of original essays, she invites us to pause in the midst of a constantly accelerating, bewildering world and examine the culture we’ve created. Tolentino writes with sharp observation and deft skill about the terrors of the social internet, millennial scammer culture, and the dangerous dream of blankly beautiful, efficient optimization. Look into the mirror that Tolentino holds up for us, and you’ll be shocked awake by the truth you see.
The Art of Leaving
In this intimate memoir written as a series of essays, Ayelet Tsabari explores her past, her grief, her ancestry, and her travels on the way to finding a sense of belonging. She begins by writing about the death of her father, who died when she was 9. His death left her devastated, and for years afterwards as a young adult she refuses to settle in one place, choosing instead to travel from Israel to New York, Canada, Thailand, and India. Tsabari wrestles with questions of identity as an Israeli woman of Yemeni descent, rebels during her mandatory service in the Israeli army, begins and ends a marriage, and decides to become a mother, all before she reconnects with an ancestral line of headstrong women who, like her, had to choose between heart and home.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
Samantha Irby, popular blogger known for “bitches gotta eat” and writer on the TV show Shrill, captures the weirdness of the third decade of life in this collection of funny essays. The 30s are a time when dating includes serious conversations about property ownership and former drinking buddies transform into suburban moms, while others, like Irby, are watching The Bachelorette and figuring out how to make a budget. Adulting isn’t optional, but for many millennials, it’s a self-taught skill. Irby has three rules to begin with:
1. WEAR CLOTHING THAT ACTUALLY FUCKING FITS.
2. BUY DRUGS FROM REPUTABLE DEALERS ONLY.
3. DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM AN OVERDRAWN CHECKING ACCOUNT.
To essay means to try, and millennials are trying. Hard. We’re trying to survive the late-stage capitalism gig economy in a post-recession world that saddled us with student loans and then expected us to buy houses, trying to present an image of beauty and success on social media, trying to find love or casual sex through the apps on our phones, trying for social justice, and trying to solve the climate-change crisis. Some are trying to adult in a marriage or raise children for the first time.
Sorting out priorities in an apocalyptic era is a bewildering task, which is why we need writers to observe and make sense of our culture. These collections of honest, intelligent, emotional, and sometimes witty essays are perfect for millennials who wish to engage deeply with the world we live in.
Featured Image: @Juletta.s/Twenty20