All The Lives I Want
All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey
I was first drawn to Alana Massey on Twitter, where she offers biting social critiques and Harry Styles announcements alongside cat photos and a healthy dose of sequined halter-top selfies. Alana contains multitudes. So obviously when I found out she was publishing a collection of essays, I stuck it square on my must-read list.
The "famous strangers" referenced in this collection's subtitle are less Harry Styles and more Winona Ryder, Lil' Kim, Sylvia Plath, and Anna Nicole Smith—women you might know a little or a lot about, depending on your taste for pop culture and adolescent proximity to the early aughts. Alana examines the expectations placed on famous women to look, dress, write, behave, succeed, and fail in the right way and the repercussions they face when they deviate.
I appreciate the humanity with which Alana handles her subjects. A number of these women have not been treated kindly by the media or the public—we do not afford them the same privacy, benefit of the doubt, or margin for error that we do everyone else. This is partly what makes Alana's writing so refreshing.
I can also relate to the imagined intimacy that comes from fixating on a beloved writer or musician, possibly to the point that you feel like she is your best friend. While Alana is candid about her reverence for some of these figures, her writing is elevated and nearly academic in tone. She's not merely fangirling; she has done her research. And by weaving through her essays a personal narrative about her own struggles with societal norms and pressures, we gain a richer context for her commentary.
One of the most important things Alana's writing does is remind readers that pop culture deserves critical attention. I'm already excited to see what she publishes next. In the meantime, I guess I have Twitter.
Images via michiganquarterlyreview.com and alanakm.com