Finally back (once again) to the world of blogging, I thought long and hard what I wanted my first post since my almost six-month hiatus to be like. Definitely not one declaring that I have crawled out from under my rock another time (been there, done that). Instead, I decided to write about something that recently impressed, inspired, and awed me which is why I will talk about Marina Keegan’s book The Opposite of Loneliness.
Published in 2014, the book came out two years after Marina’s tragic death only days after her graduation from Yale. As sad that it is and as shocked I was when I learned of the circumstances, that is not what I want to focus on in this post but rather cherish the amazing work she has left behind.
I’ve got to be honest, reading this collection of both fictional & non-fictional essays written by someone who, unfortunately, did not even turn 23 (!!!), I couldn’t help but be a bit envious. I’ve already mentioned on this little blog that it is one of my biggest dreams to be able to work in writing – in whichever shape or form. Whether for a newspaper or magazine, books, or for TV/film. The only problem: I’m not really convinced that I’ve got what it takes. Or can actually write (well) for that matter. That’s the reason why I picked up The Opposite of Loneliness in the first place; I wanted to see (and compare) what someone my age was capable of producing. Needless to say, I was impressed. Not only is her style fresh, witty, and just simply really good but Keegan also had an incredible knack for assessing what’s going on around her. As a student about to graduate from university this summer I could relate to the stories, plots, and characters she so vividly created. At times, when I marvelled at her ease and confidence, I thought to myself: You’re definitely not as good. Far from it. Though I am not giving up on my dream as of yet I know I’ve got a loooong way to go.
What probably stood out the most for me is Marina’s optimism. Especially the essay which gave the collection its title and was in fact her graduation essay urges to keep a postive outlook on life. Me being the total opposite, a person who tends to concentrate on the negative a little too much, I felt encouraged to read a person my age’s thoughts on exactly the things that worry me. While I’ve come to realise already that I’m definitely not too old for pretty much anthing (in terms of what I can achieve in life), Marina’s heartfelt address to her fellow students was exactly what I needed to give me that last assurance(see quote below).
My advice to all budding writers, students, and lovers of books and literature: go out and get that book. Maybe you won’t connect with it as much as I did but I believe there is something to draw from it for everyone.
A while ago I decided to reread some of the books I’d already read, in particular those very popular ones everyone loves but that didn’t work their charm on me.
The first time I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower was exactly this time two years ago. Just graduated from high school and on summer break, I wasn’t too sure what to do with myself and where I was heading. The slow realisation that the things I wished to do would have to be put on hold definitely dampened my spirits, and that’s also the state I read the book in.
Back then, I did not particularly like the book: it’s not that I hated it, I simply didn’t understand the hype surrounding it, which happens to me a lot with YA literature (The Fault in our Stars, everyone). Despite the fact that I could even relate to Charlie in some regards, I failed to see what others felt when reading this book. This time round, though, I loved it and can’t find nor remember what bothered me in the first place.
Reading the book now that I’m out of high school felt almost nostalgic; of course, it features many serious and difficult subjects/issues which not every teenager necessarily experiences, but it still captures the essence of growing up enough for anyone to relate to it. Especially the parts in which characters are getting excited about going away to college where everything will be great was sort of “bitter-sweet” for me as I can well recall the times I’ve said that back when I was still in school (surprise: it didn’t really turn out that way…but that’s okay).
One really important lesson one can take away from the book to me is that one’s own pain is always “valid” regardless of whether other people have it worse than oneself. I think sometimes we can forget that no matter how petty our insecurities or silly our worries, they are still the exact same things that keep us up at night or make us feel bad about ourselves.
What also resonated with me a lot was the focus put on “participating in life” as it’s called in the book. Charlie, the title wallflower and outsider, is struggling to connect and interact with others and is continuously told by others to take part in life. As I’ve written here several times, this is something I tend to have difficulties with, as well, and while there are many books that adress this Perks might be the most on point.
So, to wrap up, I absolutely benefitted from giving a book I’d already written off another chance and so might you!
I stumbled upon Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X – Tales for an Accelerated Culture by accident while on my weekend getaway to London. Simply wanting to roam a bookstore, I wasn’t really looking for anything in particular but I decided then and there that I would get a book I’ve never heard of nor was already dead sure I would like. There it was, sat on a table with other books collectively labelled “Cult Classics”. It sparked my interest, especially, because I love reading about society and culture and although some writings on certain generations can be quite frustrating (Millennials, everyone!!), I still find them fascinating.
Generation X is an interesting book for several reasons. The thing that first catches your eye? The images and terms often included at the bottom of the page. The mostly sarcastic or witty “comics” and the explanations of his word-inventions, which are affectionately referred to as ‘Couplandisms’ by fans, are usually related in some form to either a character or storyline in the respective chapter. Some of these word-creations found their way into the vernacular; in fact, Coupland is credited for popularizing (not coining, as some sources falsely state) the term ‘Generation X’.
Some of my favourite terms include:
McJob: a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one.
Virgin Runway: A travel destination chosen in the hopes that no one else has chosen it.
Terminal Wanderlust: A condition common to people of transient middle-class upbringings. Unable to feel rooted in any one environment, they move continually in the hopes of finding an idealized sense of community in the next location.
Native Aping: Pretending to be a native when visiting a foreign destination.
About the novel itself: Generation X is a framed narrative consisting of short stories that are centred around a general idea or principle. Among the titles are: “Our Parents Had More”, “Dead at 30 Buried at 70”, and “Purchased Experiences Don’t Count”. The book follows a group of friends, Andy, Dag & Claire who have all escaped their old hum-drum lives to live close to the Californian desert. They are all 20 something, educated, somewhat unhappy with their current life, disillusioned with society and capitalism, and in search of a more fulfilling way of living. Part of their coping mechanism in this mean, dreadful world is to tell each other stories; some of them true, others made up in order to bring a message across. I personally enjoyed the “true” stories most as they gave one a better idea of who those characters indeed are, what they’ve been through, what they are wishing for.
After finishing the book, I decided to check goodreads and see what others thought of the book. What I found was what I would call mixed reviews: some people seemed to love it, the rest truly hated it. The biggest issue for most was that the book is pretentious and the main protagonists are, to put it bluntly, a bunch of whiny, white, privileged people in their mid-twenties who are dissatisfied with the way things are. As one reviewer said: “Coupland is genuinely brilliant and there’s no doubt that he’s a fantastic writer. However, you wish that he would take his head out of his arse”. Another was even more drastic when calling Coupland one of the “most overrated one-trick-pony writers of all time. Pretty much all of his novels are pretentious, pseudo-intellectual crap masquerading as high-brow literature”. I do think these commenters have a point…the second example I’ve given here does go a bit far and as I haven’t read anything else from Coupland I cannot judge his other work (I put that comment in merely because I found it amusing) but overall, I feel that some of the issues of Generation X that are addressed fall a bit flat or are presented simplistically. This, however, does not mean I did not enjoy reading Generation X. It definitely outlines the struggles young people in the 90s faced and how the generational divide caused lots of misunderstanding and as a young person, I could understand (and have felt) their frustrations. All in all, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X is worth a read, whether or not one considers the characters obnoxious, simply for its portrayal of a youth culture that did very much exist and its insight into that generation’s aggravations and dreams. To end with a more positive feedback from yet another goodreads commenter: “This was the first novel that I read that questioned the American Dream or traditional values”.