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Pump Six and Other Stories
Paolo Bacigalupi

My Misspent Youth: Essays

My Misspent Youth: Essays - Meghan Daum These essays' strengths are the author's skill in the writing craft - structure both in the macro (narrative) and micro (sentence) level. Damn can she pull an essay together. It's always nice to read someone who knows how to handle an ending.

These essays' weaknesses are in the author's seeming inability to acknowledge her own failings without trying to justify those failings, in a backhanded, narrative-structure kind of way. I mean, good on her for actively acknowledging when she expresses ideas, often about class but occasionally ethnicity, that are rooted in prejudice and stereotype and do not reflect well on her. That are unflattering. I am all for that kind of honesty, exposing one's ugly, raw bits on the page and thinking about them out loud. What I'm not so much for is then wrapping around to wink and nudge at, "well, when you really look at it, wasn't I kind of right? wasn't I kind of justified in sneering at [the poor/the helplessly bourgeoise/people who choose to live their lives differently from me]?" And to do that again and again, in essay after essay.

The worst offender in this category for me was the essay on the polyamorous family who were also science fiction/fantasy fans of the tie-dyed wolf t-shirt/I am channeling the Norse pantheon/I have figurines of my gaming character variety. The author graciously finds it in herself not to dislike/pity them because they have unconventional sexual relationships; no, she pities them because she loathes their taste in books and they will (and I loosely quote) never know the joy of loving someone who has unfamiliar books on their bookshelves (which is a lesser sort of relationship, clearly). Now, she's not wrong about the joy that can be found in being introduced to new books/art/culture/whatever by someone you love, but it all just comes off as judging people who even she portrays as essentially pretty happy with their lifestyle and hobbies for not liking books that she likes. Oh gosh, these poor people who will never know the joys of literary fictions!

Yes, as a science fiction and fantasy fan, as a geek, I'm a little sensitive on this. Even if the people described are probably not anyone I'd be clamoring to be BFF with, I cannot despise them because of their desire to seek people out who love the same things they love, no matter how much the narrative structure of the essay encourages me to.

To be slightly more generous, I do wonder if some of these essays rub me quite as poorly as they do because of how dated they are. It is very, very clear these essays are well more than a decade old, and it's kind of fascinating by how many things that might have been outre or challenging initially are now kind of banal and HuffPo-y. Oooooh, online romance. How daring. How shocking to find out the person you created in your head based on correspondence can never be equaled by the actual human being. Oooooh, you've got massive student loans and consumer debt from a series of choices that made a sort of sense at the time but are crushing and crushingly illogical in retrospect. I get that with more honesty and more sympathy and more, I don't know, humanity from The Billfold on a daily basis. Basically, I think this book has been entirely trumped by the internet, even if the author is a damn sight more skilled than large swathes of the internet.