There’s this taboo about writing about people in their 20s, that it’s the most boring period of a person’s life to read about. I guess the rationale is that people in their 20s are too old to fall into a good coming of age trope (despite still feeling pretty wide eyed and naive about life), but they’re also too young for any of their actions to have any real weight or meaning attached to them. I kind of hate this rationale, enjoy reading about people in their 20s, and just read 2 memoirs about people in that age period, and they were both fascinating.
I finished Patti Smith’s memoir of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, and their early days living in New York and wanting to become artists. They were young and ambitious and focused, and had no idea what their lives would eventually evolve to. What I liked most about the book was how reverent she was about things she liked, how everything meant something. A gold wire ring, a certain white shirt, books, prints. The memoir is more hagiography than anything, a little overblown, I’m sure, but it did make me realize that I appreciate those kinds of collections as a way to represent a time in your life, a moment. She and Robert turned their objects into collages or poems (which then evolved into photographs and songs).
Sometimes I get preoccupied with wanting to write about Important Things (like, politics, the economy, religion, death), but then I have to remind myself that there are ways to write about this stuff without stating upfront: Guys, this is about politics. I was thinking about this when I read Emily Gould’s And the Heart Says Whatever, another memoir about a woman in her twenties, also in New York, but unlike Patti Smith writing at the Chelsea Hotel, most of Emily’s writing is done in college writing workshops and a stint at gawker.com. Emily Gould has gotten so much flack for her book, and there’s a certain brand of vitriol that seems to be reserved especially for female bloggers who eventually get book deals (like Heather Armstrong of dooce.com or Julie Powell of Julie & Julia). The biggest criticism of Emily’s book is that it’s pointless: she doesn’t experience any trauma or live anything more extraordinary than dating a dude for a long time and then cheating on him while also trying to carve out a life for herself in New York City. It is, according to the reviews, definitely not a book about “Important Things”. But… I thought it was. I thought the book did say something about New York in the early 2000s and the effect of the Internet on women growing up today – maybe not obviously, but it was there.