Thank You to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of Alana Massey’s, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- In her essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey explores female icons, and their role in popular culture. She looks at how these celebrities influence us, and how society molds them, making the idea of celebrity a process of compartmentalizing and dehumanizing. She also explores how celebrities have impacted her own life.
LIKE– I like Massey’s concept for All The Lives I Want, how she doesn’t simply explore the idea of celebrity, but chooses celebrities that have made a direct impact on her. It’s often seen as bad taste to admit that you’ve been influenced, or even take an interest in celebrities, but whether people admit it or not, I find it to be a rare thing that a person is not at least a little affected or interested in celebrity culture. I find Massey’s willingness to admit this about herself and explore it, to be refreshing.
The last essay in the book, On Joan Didion and Personal Mythology as Survival, had my full attention. This essay is by far Massey’s most personal, as she recalls her love of Didion ( who doesn’t love Didion?), to a time in her life where she was in a toxic relationship with a drug addict. Massey also eloquently writes about Los Angeles and New York. Sure, some of the things she says about my beloved Los Angeles are not the most flattering, and I don’t agree with her assessment of it being a fake city. When I hear someone refer to Los Angeles as a false place, I know in my heart that they don’t understand my hometown. This aside, Massey writes poetically about the desert landscape of Southern California and juxtaposes it with the pulsing city of Manhattan. It’s beautifully written and made me slow down to fully absorb the impact of her rich descriptions.
When writing about female celebrity bodies, Massey does not hold back from sharing her own anorexia. Her descriptions of her obsession with thinness are grotesque, yet she does not make apologies for feeling this way. She owns her obsession. I was repulsed and saddened by her confession, yet at the same time, I admire the brazen quality of her writing. For better or worse, this is how pop culture has made an impact on her, and there is no need to apologize or feel shame.
DISLIKE– When I requested All The Lives I Want, on Netgalley, I requested it for the premise alone. I was completely unfamiliar with Massey and to be honest, even after reading her book and doing a Google search, I’m not sure that I know a lot about her. To this end, her collection read as if I should have prior knowledge of her, as if she is a well-know celebrity. She drops bits of information about herself, such as being a former stripper, her battle with anorexia, or that she went to seminary school; but none of this adds up for me to really understand who she is or why I should care about her essays. Either this collection needs context or perhaps I’m just out of the loop. The essays are uneven in regard to those that have a personal vibe, and those that are more academic in tone. All The Lives I Want would have been much stronger, if the essays had all been more personal.
All of the celebrities that Massey profiles are ones that will be well known to most readers, which works as it makes All The Lives I Want, accessible, however, it’s also material that has been done to death. Do we need another essay about Scarlett Johansson’s sex-symbol status, or another one explaining the mistake in vilifying Courtney Love? Massey adds little to the conversation. Again, if she had gone a more personal route, I think I would have found relevance, but her often academic approach was dull and off-putting.
RECOMMEND– No. I loved the concept of, All The Lives I Want, but I found it to be a tedious read. Massey didn’t leave me with a different perspective, and there isn’t enough personal content to make me interested in her as a narrator. All The Lives I Want, could have been a much more engaging read, if she had placed herself at the center of exploring her interest in celebrities.