Being in a new place seems to invite reading. You don’t yet know your daily rhythm, or where you want to go when that rhythm slows down without notice. There’s so much to do but then there’s down time not filled by a clearly established routine.
This is all a fancy way of saying: OMG I read two books!
The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan
Last Sunday, browsing Barnes & Noble with the full knowledge that I already had a pile of books at home waiting to be read, and that I always purchase too many books, I moved from the section marked “Gifts” into the dangerous territory of “New Arrivals.”
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the striking sartorial image of Marina Keegan on the face of The Opposite of Loneliness.
I’ll admit, the fact that the back cover included a stamp of approval from Harold Bloom also caught my attention. You just don’t often see Bloom approving of anything, do you?
Keegan, a recent Yale graduate, was a rising star on her way to a job at the New Yorker when she was tragically killed in a car accident five days after graduation in 2012. The Opposite of Loneliness offers us a taste of her fictional and non-fictional portfolio, drawn from her work at Yale and the Buckingham Browne & Nichols School. The book is titled after her famed final essay for the Yale Daily News.
The collection includes haunting depictions of love and loss that tend to both sting and stun in their final moments, leaving us to marvel at just where else Ms. Keegan might have gone with the written word.
Anne Fadiman, who penned the introduction and mentored Keegan at Yale, captures the tenor of Keegan’s prose: “Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one: a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there were few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful” (xii-xiii).
The first two stories of the collection, “Cold Pastoral” and “Winter Break,” offer up the real and figurative chills of young adulthood and its harsh realities. While these two pieces stray no further from the college campus than a car ride home, the rest of the stories take us far and wide, from war-torn Baghdad in “The Emerald City” to the bottom of the ocean in “Challenger Deep.”
In the non-fiction section, one experiences some of Keegan’s charm and personality as she reflects upon her first car, always filled to the brim with the artifacts of life (food wrapper and otherwise) and her relationship with a gluten allergy.
Of this section, I probably most appreciated “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” in which Keegan interviews students and faculty members at Yale to interrogate the ever-increasing abandonment of the liberal arts upon graduation in favor of jobs in marketing and finance.
When I first started reading the book, I couldn’t quite consider myself part of the “We are so young” demographic to which “The Opposite of Loneliness” speaks. But, when Keegan speaks of the personal and professional pressures of “validation and rationalization” and time (“Even if it’s just for two or three years. That’s a lot of years! And these aren’t just years. This is twenty-three and twenty-four and twenty-five”), we can all relate, regardless of the field we’ve chosen.
I wish this book didn’t exist, because that would mean that Marina Keegan was still with us, but I am very glad to have read it, and if you haven’t, you definitely should.
Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris, Jennifer L. Scott
This book is all about how we as Americans need to have better skin, walk everywhere (or, at a minimum, up and down the stairs of the house ten times, that’s just like Paris!), stop snacking, get rid of our sweatpants and comfortable pajamas, and always be dressed up for the airport to increase the likelihood of being bumped to first class.
I read it in my unkempt apartment wearing old pajama pants while eating salt and vinegar chips that I washed down with a Coke.