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How to murder your life : a memoir
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  New York Times Review

THERE WAS A MOMENT, sometime between 2008 and 2010, when a woman's insides - her exploits, her eating habits, her feelings, her sex life - became a lucrative internet product. Women, of course, have been writing about such things for years, including on the internet, but commodifying that writing had proven fraught. Marketing the entirety of the self through a personal blog - like Heather Armstrong's Dooce, or Emily Gould's iteration of Gawker - led to writer burnout and reader disillusionment. A better, more sustainable way to commodify the self was to do so piecemeal. For female authors, this meant writing personal essays on the most sensational slivers of their lives. For websites, this meant paying those authors - hundreds of them, the supply was nearly unlimited - somewhere between $0 and $100 for each sliver. I know about this economy because, for about four years, I was part of it. I was happy to participate: I had a day job, and I thrilled at the idea of my words in print. I never lied or did something ill-advised just for the story. I just mined my life for the weirdest, best and most tragic jewels until they were gone. For many, the personal essay industry reaped something darker. The web magazine xoJane, founded by Jane Pratt (formerly of Sassy and Jane), was one of the first to tap into this energy. Pratt, whose guiding ethos seemed to be "the more personal and vulnerable a writer is, the better," encouraged her staff and freelancers to write that way online. The result was a slew of essays, like those that make up the wildly successful "It Happened to Me" series, ranging from "I Became Celibate to Heal From Sexual Abuse" to "My Baby Daughter Died at Two Weeks Old." Cat Marnell was central to this trend. She was ostensibly xoJane's beauty editor, but her posts - usually written while high, in the early hours of the morning - gradually morphed into a diary of addiction. A meditation on Whitney Houston's overdose went viral; so did a video of Marnell snorting fancy bath salts. Marnell became a New York media celebrity, got fired/quit xoJane when her drug use - the very thing that made her such a lucrative writer - became worrisome to H.R. She started writing a drugs column for Vice, and became a late-night, strungout, makeup-smeared fixture of Alphabet City. She eventually disappeared into her own addiction - but not before selling her memoir. It took three years, the threat of a ghostwriter and several trips to rehab, but Marnell's final product, "How to Murder Your Life," is far more than the sum of her collected columns. She traces her life story in a manner that manages to be at once sensational and matter-of-fact: the general negligence of her well-to-do parents, the fantasy of boarding school and the brutal reality, the addiction to Adderall and boys and the dedication to bodily perfection that gradually spirals her into a second-trimester abortion and expulsion six weeks from graduation. Marnell treads a knife edge between glamorizing her own despair and rendering it with savage honesty. Several sections read like the drug-fueled interludes of "The Goldfinch" : queasy-making stuff far more effective than a "scared straight" narrative. She propels the reader through what could seem like repetitiveness (drugs, binges, bad mistakes, sprawling parties) with the skill of a pulp novelist. In the introduction, she frankly admits, "If you are grossed out by 'white girl privilege' (who isn't?), you might want to bail now," before averring, "There's nothing I can do about that. Believe me, I have tried to cut this chapter out twice! My editor keeps making me put it back in." The exclamation points, the namedropping, the absence of social media, the obsession with print culture and "downtown kids" and Manhattan (the word "Brooklyn" barely appears in the book) - "How to Murder Your Life" feels like an artifact from a previous New York, previous internet, previous calculus of celebrity. The book's success stems from the wobbliness with which Marnell renders those worlds: Are they gross or sexy? Does she hate her body and run it toward destruction, or does she simply understand how female suffering has been rendered erotic? IN "ALL THE LIVES I WANT: ESSAYS ABOUT MY BEST FRIENDS WHO HAPPEN TO BE famous strangers," Alana Massey teases similar tensions. Massey shares several broad characteristics with Marnell: an obsession with New York, oscillation between ambition and addiction, frankness about disordered eating and drug use. Massey is three years younger than Marnell - enough time, in internet years, to make her part of a new generation of personal internet essayists, more circumspect and savvy about how to exploit their own narratives. Massey has excavated major parts of herself online - one of her first forays into online writing was a piece for xoJane entitled "I've Never Had an Orgasm and I'm the Only Person That Doesn't Care" - and has fought the "pink ghettoization" of writing about women's issues, arguing that such work is just "part of the familiar hazing ritual that many women go through when we aren't ushered into media through more respectable channels." With "All the Lives I Want," Massey continues to tell stories of herself, this time through analysis of celebrity women. In 15 brief essays covering a couple of dozen female celebrities and fictional characters, she makes claims like "Courtney Love, you see, is a witch." Each meditation reads much like an online essay: trenchant in places but in need of a ruthless edit, loosely researched, with individual lines ripe for tweetability and a stomach punch of a kicker. Massey is best when she pinpoints the particular viscousness of living under patriarchy. An essay on Fiona Apple and Lana Del Rey observes that both women attract "men who can smell the blood on the places where a woman is breaking"; elsewhere, she intermingles the narrative of how Britney Spears's body became public property with the way men call her body "perfect" only when it's below a healthy weight. But many of Massey's best points are swallowed by their extension to too many celebrities in too little space. As a result, she does a lot of telling the audience, in finely wrought, declarative sentences, how female celebrities have been mistreated by the world that venerated them - but does very little showing how that came to pass. Showing, after all, is the heart of the personal essay: People are enthralled less by the conclusions the author makes about her life than by the details that allow readers to come to their own. Which isn't to suggest there's no place for women to write analysis, or fiction, or whatever they please - just that Massey's particular voice, like Marnell's, works best when sharpened to a point, tilling the raw ground of the personal. There's danger there, of course: If you've murdered your own life, either in practice or through the act of flattening it on paper, what's left to live? But I think Marnell and Massey are working toward something different: They figured out their words can build fires, and they're learning how to torch the ground, rather than themselves. ? ANNE HELEN PETERSEN is a senior culture writer at BuzzFeed News.

  Booklist Review

When Marnell discovered that a prescription drug could control her then-undiagnosed ADHD, academic probation, at her tony Massachusetts boarding school, was behind her. Marnell had imagined working for a magazine since she was a kid. Some bumps in the post-high school road later, one internship in publishing led to another until Marnell was hired full-time at Lucky, as assistant to a beauty editor she idolized. She kept her drug use, now way beyond just prescriptions, private and got promotions. After stints in rehab, she was hired at, then VICE magazine, where she began to write openly about using, and her readers loved it. Though there is some healing, this isn't a recovery memoir. And it's much more than a manual for how to screw up one's life, or an encyclopedia of prescriptions, street drugs, and their glam nicknames (though it is both of these things). Marnell is a talented writer who's made a successful career centered on her passion. She writes emphatically and outrageously about things some would prefer to think don't exist, and that's pretty great.--Bostrom, Annie Copyright 2017 Booklist
From Cat Marnell, "New York's enfant terrible" ( The Telegraph ), a candid and darkly humorous memoir of prescription drug addiction and self-sabotage, set in the glamorous world of fashion magazines and downtown nightclubs.<br> <br> At twenty-six, Cat Marnell was an associate beauty editor at Lucky , one of the top fashion magazines in America--and that's all most people knew about her. But she hid a secret life. She was a prescription drug addict. She was also a "doctor shopper" who manipulated Upper East Side psychiatrists for pills, pills, and more pills; a lonely bulimic who spent hundreds of dollars a week on binge foods; a promiscuous party girl who danced barefoot on banquets; a weepy and hallucination-prone insomniac who would take anything-- anything --to sleep.<br> <br> This is a tale of self-loathing, self-sabotage, and yes, self-tanner. It begins at a posh New England prep school--and with a prescription for Attention Deficit Disorder medication Ritalin. It continues to New York, where we follow Marnell's amphetamine-fueled rise from intern to editor through the beauty departments of NYLON , Teen Vogue , Glamour , and Lucky . We see her fight between ambition and addiction and how, inevitably, her disease threatens everything she worked so hard to achieve.<br> <br> From the Condé Nast building (where she rides the elevator alongside Anna Wintour) to seedy nightclubs, from doctors' offices and mental hospitals, Marnell shows--like no one else can--what it is like to live in the wild, chaotic, often sinister world of a young female addict who can't say no .<br> <br> Combining lightning-rod subject matter and bold literary aspirations, How to Murder Your Life is mesmerizing, revelatory, and necessary.
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