All the Lives I Want

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

Refreshing and hilariously honest collection of essays.  Alana Massey is being added to my authors to follow!
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Our society loves to devour. We are gluttonous and our drink of choice is celebrity news and gossip. We binge on our hatred for their perfect bodies and on our judgments of flaws paparazzi find in rare, un-photoshopped moments on beaches or city streets. What we’re actually doing, though, is devouring the lives, and the bodies, of young women who are often forced into the spotlight too soon. At least that’s what Alana Massey argues in her essay collection, All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers. 
Approaching everyone from Sylvia Plath, to Britney Spears, and even Princess Diana with brutal honesty is what sets Massey’s collection apart. Not only does she see pieces of herself filtered through the images of how society treats famous women, but she sees how society treats women as a whole. In her essay “Public Figures: Britney’s Body is Everybody’s,” Massey opens with: “When people ask me how much I weigh, they are often looking for a measure of distance more than a measure of weight…[there] is a desire to know the difference between their bodies and mine.” 

She uses examples of articles like “The Best and Worst Bikini Bodies of the Summer!” to demonstrate not only how society’s views of women have impacted her own mental health, but speaks to a larger issue at hand. It’s not that we’re obsessed with these women because they’re people, but because we see them as objects that must be perfect and exist for our consumption. 

Beyond consumption, Massey argues that these women exist as standard-setters, especially to the men in her life. In “Being Winona: Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Our Celebrity ‘Type’,” Massey discusses a conversation she has with her friend and (at the time) boyfriend. In it, he admits to having a soft spot for Gywneth Paltrow. This begins an essay comparing Winona Rider and Gywneth Paltrow, on how the image of perfection is encompassed by the blonde, thin Academy Award winning actress. Meanwhile, Winona is the epitome of the Manic Pixie Dream girl who was Goth-chic, had a troubled past, and a long slew of public lovers. 

Outside this vacuum was the fact that Winona’s career never recovered after her shoplifting. No one wants to see the darker side of mental illness — especially at the hands of a woman. 

It’s these truths, and more, that Massey brings to light in this collection. These truths that not only speak loudly about who Massey is, and what our consumption-driven culture has become, but also forces the reader to sit up and take notice of their own thoughts and actions, and whether they’re making this world better or worse.
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I enjoyed the premise of this book.  Seeing yourself through the celebrities that inhabit your mind is interesting and completely modern for this millenial generation.  Cutting and quick, the prose is an intellectual roller coaster.  A valid voice that I enjoyed immensely.
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Blog:
FTC Disclosure: I received an e-ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I requested this book based on its subtitle - "Essays about My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers." Essay collections are great to begin with -- add some pop culture commentary about people that are in my fairly limited scope of reference, and I am in!

Massey unpacks the way society views female celebrities like Britney Spears, Amber Rose, and Anjelica Huston. Writing about Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj, she looks at the feud between the two and explores how the two were pushed into a beef they may not have necessarily wanted, forced to confront an artificial notion that there could only be one widely-recognizable female rapper. She looks at the ways Sylvia Plath has been idolized by young women and the precedent set for today's social media, explaining "Sylvia was an early literary manifestation of a young woman who takes endless selfies and posts them with vicious captions calling herself fat and ugly...The ongoing act of self-documentation in a world that punishes female experience (that doesn't aspire to maleness) is a radical declaration that women are within our rights to contribute to the story of what it means to be human."

Massey's book stands out most because she pairs these views with insights and experiences from her own life. She explores what Amber Rose means to her as a former stripper, and how she relates to Britney Spears' having to deal with incessant media coverage owing to her own struggle with an eating disorder. In each essay, Massey looks at how society is reacting to and consuming female celebrities and characters, how culture re-writes their stories and proscribes new personalities and meaning to them. She ultimately begins to look at how women can re-claim their icons and recognize these women for their varied strengths and dignities. She starts with what they mean to her.

Verdict: Affirmed. Whether you're a fan of pop culture looking for a deep but fresh take, or looking for new, honest writing about one woman's experiences, this essay collection is a great read.

"All the Lives I Want" by Alana Massey, published February 7, 2017 by Grand Central Publishing.

Goodreads:
Very enjoyable, intriguing essays on female celebrities and society's projections onto them. Strong writing & storytelling. FTC disclosure: I received an e-ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my forthcoming honest review on my blog.
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A wonderfully honest account of being yourself while you really want to be someone else.  A heartfelt account of what it's like to want to be someone else.  And when you throw in all of these things that happen, you, as the reader, don't know if our protagonist will sink or swim.
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I had to put this book down I just didn't like it. The author seemed to be all over the place with her criticism. This just wasn't for me
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I thought I'd love this book as it contained lots of aspects that I generally adore in books - but somehow we just weren't a good fit. I didn't find Alana Massey irritating exactly; it's just that we didn't gel as reader and writer. I loved the concept of the book itself and I'm sure lots of people will be captivated as it is very diverse and imaginatively conceived. Ultimately though, it just wasn't for me.
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Whip-smart, brutally honest + thoroughly entertaining essays, mostly focused around feminism of celebrities. Almost too smart for me.
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3.5 I had a decidedly mixed reaction to these essays. I am and am not the ideal target reader, as a woman I four d them interesting, but I have never been the type, not even in teen years, to idealize nor base my perception of life on the famous, or infamous. Still I did like some of these much more than others. Some I understood the message was not familiar enough with the subjects, such as Fiona Apple or Little Kim. The essay on Sylvia Plath was very interesting. The cult of followers that she unwittingly unleashed, and somewhat sad that she is more known for her suicide than any of her literary accomplishment. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and their lives, or rather how their lives were shaped by their early stardom, I found also unfortunate. How do you develop a separate identity after that?

The author intersperses her experiences, how she felt about these stars and many other of the well known. How their lives were. shaped by the media, the men they were with and how others felt about them. The Joan Didion essay for me didn't work well, and it was the one I had been looking forward to the most. Surprisingly the essay that stuck most in my mind is on Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain, and I was never a fan of either. But it is well written and it seems Love is another that has been misjudges and her talent unacknowledged. Have a new respect and liking for Angelica Huston. Interesting to see how these women are perceived, some essays were written better than others, some worked for me, some didn't. Worth reading though especially if one considers themselves a feminist.

ARC from Grand Central publisher.
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This rating is rounded up from 2.5, if only gr allowed half stars...I was expecting more personal essays; these seemed mostly just observational. The essay "Long Game Bitches" seems to have the most personal anecdotes sprinkled in all the commentary and they totaled maybe 5% of the word count.  Also, many of the details about the celebs felt like they were just expanded headlines from celeb news sites.
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a lively and original collection of essays discussing a plethora of topics.
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Massey has produced an incisive and insightful collection of essays on some of the best known figures of the last two decades that is both entertaining and educational.
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Intellectually stimulating and timely cultural references make Massey's book of essays stand out, stand proud and stand loud. Feminist sensibilities, mixed with wry humor, deadpan wit, and cringe-worthy, yet compassionate confessionals make this a truly remarkable read. Her take on being a Gwyneth or a Winona urges readers to reevaluate their preconcieved notions and judgements regarding celebrity desireability, and does so in a frank, honest and accessible manner.
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All the Lives I Want by Alana Massey is the book I’ve wanted to write, and wish I did write. Ms. Massey dwells on pop-culture with the eye of a lit critic and the heart of a sad girl. From her essays on Lana del Rey and Fiona Apple to her explorations on Amber Rose, stripping, and Winona Ryder, I was glued to my kindle. Almost every essay in this book was a more serious and thought provoking adventure into my mind than I had ever taken myself, and I recommend this to all who have ever embarked on the sad girl journey and those who are intrigued.
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Massey is an incredible writer in that she composes pieces that are both erudite and accessible. She has a poetic way of wording her arguments that renders them beautiful and highly readable. This book will appeal even to those readers who might be against typical collections of essays because none of them fit the dry, boring stereotype. While she raises culturally relevant, important topics, she does so in a way that is also vibrant and compelling, and filled with tales of your favorite female stars. My only qualm with this book is that the author, not surprisingly, veers into excessive blame of the patriarchy. While I do think that the problems described within these pages are endemic, I do not believe men are wholly to blame, nor that society became shaped without the influence of women. By this I mean that women have contributed, though perhaps less so than men, to the formation of certain ideals and the mistreatment of the famous women whose suffering is described. Women, too, are guilty of claiming Britney's body as their own, just as women have been hyper-critical of Anna Nicole Smith and Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson. We must, if we want to be taken seriously and make real change, take responsibility. Laying blame solely on men or on society will only create a defensiveness not conducive to honest analysis and willingness to change. This book is a great place to start the discussion, though, and I highly recommend it.
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Alana Massey's memoir/essay collection is phenomenal.
I was truly blown away by this book. I was excited to read it, but - I'll be honest - I let internalised misogyny into my preconceptions. Gold glitter on the cover? About 'famous strangers'? I expected this to be 'girly' - as if that's inherently bad. I expected it to be silly, frivolous, not very interesting or important. 
I must eye-roll at my own judgements. I of all people know that something 'girly', excitable and fun can be interesting and important - I write about boybands and fandom for donkey's sake!
ANYWAY. Alana Massey writes exquisitely. So exquisitely. Not a single word of this book feels superfluous. And every essay is astonishing. Some of what she says seems so simple, because I'm nodding my head furiously and going THIS GIRL GETS IT the whole way through. And yet, it is so beautifully crafted and worded just right, in a way that many never could. She writes about what Sylvia Plath gets right, and I would argue that she gets 'it' right in just the same way.
Reading this book will likely make many people look at certain issues and certain public figures in different ways - it's certainly affected me in such a way, and I consider myself pretty 'woke'!
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