Journalist and academic Katie Roiphe seems to polarise people – you either like her writing and opinions or you don’t, sometimes all in the same essay.
Roiphe examines American literature and its Big Game, coolly assesses how US society regards and treats single mothers (Roiphe believes with quiet malice) and unpacks the ideas of morality bound up in various pursuits of health, happiness and perfect lives, while making a strong case for allowing oneself to live, if not actively striving for, a ‘messy’ life.
In Praise of Messy Lives is a tasty, challenging and very thought-provoking collection of essays. One of my favourites, being a bookseller, is The Bratty Bystander about the rash of biographies that have come out about the (usually female!) bystanders “who happened to be standing there as [great books] were being written.” I don’t agree with everything she says on the subject but, well, she certainly makes some good points…
Other essays address Facebook (“the novel we are all writing“), Hillary Clinton, Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, the somewhat mad-seeming scramble for places at the right New York schools, the quest for perfection as a parent and Roiphe’s own imperfections as a friend, and the life of a fetish-fim making dominatrix.