How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young
Overall, I loved this one. It’s like a more intelligent Devil Wear Prada because a lot of the action takes place at Vanity Fair instead of Vogue. Some thoughts:
- Initially, I found myself getting a bit pissed with Toby. His thought process seemed quite frat boy/lad-like, and while he might be trying to come across as him taking the piss at the establishment and political correctness and/or exaggerating his gaffes, I suspect that at some level his persona in the book is authentic, which in this case is not a good thing. For example, he characterizes the women in Vanity Fair are feminazis, and please note, he was unable to ever get a date with them, probably because he came off saying things that sounded offensive. The problem is that the world has moved on from considering certain things political correctness to just considering them normally abnormal (eg – bringing a stripper to the office) but he still thinks it’s up for debate. Anyway.
- He also goes on off these philosophical spiel using the idea of Alexis de Tocqueville to justify how democratic America is the tyranny of the majorty (which I don’t disagree with) and to champion aristocracy, whereby the aristocracy is not an inherited concept but really truly the great and the good, completely ignoring that this kind of meritocracy is not quite as simple as the best rising to the top. He may have a point that the aristocracy being somewhat guilty about their wealth means they’re more benign and paternalistic and less flaunty, but he stretches it too far.
- He is generally immature. I was amazed at the questions he asked in interviews and the stories he pitched to his boss. How come he got a personal invite and a free reign at Vanity Fair? Clearly, meritocracy isn’t everything, because I suspect his Oxford credentials and his network helped put him where he could catch the Editor of Vanity Fair’s eye. Okay, maybe based on his earlier rebellious work, but still. Or maybe he played up his ineptitude. But anyway, he lasted about a year. His biggest complaint about Vanity Fair was that no one wanted to get drunk with him and everyone seemed to behave like a regular office workers instead of bright young things. Well, welcome to your mid-thirties and real life. Why is behaving like a gadfly necessary to being a bright spark?
- Now its sounds like I didn’t like the book, but I did. The inside peak at the workings of Vanity Fair was genuinely interesting. I didn’t realise how celebrity obsessed it is. I also didn’t realise how the PR industry controls everything and what a monopoly it is. Journalists have power only as much as the PRs let them. This was one complaint of Toby’s I agreed with.
- By the end of the book, I agreed with Toby’s major conclusion. From someone decidedly celebrity-obsessed, he had come away with a hankering for more down-to-earthness, for a society in which people are not reduced to what they do. Part of his failure due to a character trait I think I share with him, which is to not take what we do too seriously, to see how it’s just one big circus and to always be slightly ironic about it. Toby pushed this to the extreme and thereby his failure to take New York. Though he turned out all right in the end.
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
The premise of this book is simple – it’s is woven around the experience of working in a homeless shelter and your dad walking in there one day because he’s homeless. This is not a sad book. It’s a matter of fact book and a beautifully written tribute and a depiction of the child becoming the father of the man. It’s non-fiction but there were parts that were surreal and absurd (and which I must admit I skipped. Clearly surrealism in literature is not my thing). My biggest takeaway from this book though was the reality of the life of a homeless person, the nitty gritty of how a shelter works, the character of those who chose to work with homeless people, the stories of the homeless, including Nick’s dad.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Joan Didion is a celebrated writer and I had not read anything by her so I was keen on this one. It will probably really please those who are into short stories and essays. I am into neither and I expected this to be more memoirish, so I must admit I struggled to get through it. But there definitely were pieces that resonated with me. I thought Didion’s strength was her ability to convey a sense of place, such as in the article on the insularity of Sacramento, and of course, the titular essay on the hippies of San Fransisco.