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In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays

3.35  ·  Rating Details ·  903 Ratings  ·  143 Reviews
This powerful collection of essays ranges from pop culture to politics, from Hillary Clinton to Susan Sontag, from Facebook to Mad Men, from Joan Didion to David Foster Wallace to—most strikingly—the author’s own life. For fans of the essays of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Jonathan Lethem.
Named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times • The Wall Street Journal
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by The Dial Press (first published 2012)
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Dec 02, 2012 Ann rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Whenever a new essay by Katie Roiphe is published, I make haste to read it. I am invariably in for a good twenty minutes of fun. That is, I have fun in tracking how she will take a position that I essentially agree with, and overanalyze it, over-focus on it, over-decorate it with half-digestested statistics and generally make it unpalatable to me, until I find myself wanting to disagree with her out of pure contrariness.

Let's take, for instance, the first essay in the book "The great escape". Ms
Glenn Sumi
Apr 05, 2015 Glenn Sumi rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction

If, as people say, Katie Roiphe’s a love-her-or-hate-her writer, then place me in the love camp. Or at least squarely in the like and admire camp.

Throughout this highly readable and of-the-moment collection of essays, she’s clear-thinking, articulate, amusing and sharp. It’s no surprise that one of her subjects is Susan Sontag; she’s quickly becoming her generation’s premier cultural critic.

Whether analyzing society’s obsession with the TV series Mad Men, recounting the ways in which women write
May 21, 2015 Antigone rated it liked it
Shelves: essays-shorts
My first encounter with Katie Roiphe was her 2007 release of Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939. I thought this was an exemplary study of the personal relationships of several literary legends, loosely tied together by the commentary of Virginia Woolf (who seemed to know them all). I've recommended this book and still do, despite the fact that it can be tough to obtain on occasion. I was then, and remain today, ignorant of her labors in th ...more
I am sheltered in the fact that I don't have much of an internet presence aside from a blog and this account. I would avoid email if I could. And thanks to years lost in slacking off and binge drinking, I'm not entirely caught up yet on either my classic feminist theory or many of its current day counterparts. So I consider myself lucky enough, whether from ignorance or apathy, to be unaware of all except the existence of a certain sentiment of hatred surrounding Katie Roiphe. I decided to self ...more
Sep 27, 2013 Tanya rated it it was amazing
Let's say you are a suburban house wife with a lot of questions. Questions like "Is this really all there is?" or "Is safety actually first?" or "Why can't my 12 year old daughter make her own sandwich?" or "Why are mommies so mean to each other?" Or "Why do grown women refer to themselves as mommies?" Katie Roiphe might speak to you.
Let's say you are the mom who is so fucking thankful to be friends with the dad who actually brings mixed drinks in his thermos to back to school night and pours fo
Bonnie Brody
Oct 25, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays by Katie Roiphe. I found it to be enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Since she writes one of her essays on people who comment on articles (could this be similar to those of us who review books of essays?), I want to be as civilized and articulate as possible. I chose to read and finish the book, therefore my comments should reflect that.

Ms. Roiphe writes about a wide range of topics. They include single motherhood and the public's p
Mar 26, 2014 mark rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of contemporary culture
Amazon ‘asked’ me if Katie’s book “met my expectations”; and also “invited” me to review it. I wasn’t going to because I like Katie Roiphe and mostly like her perspective, and the topics – Old men writers; Female writers; Uptown, downtown, & backstreet columnists; Young, whiney/wimpy/angry, male writers; Sex (the act of); Parenting; Social media; and The Internet – she chooses to write about. I also find her funny —her wit, such as she displays in the essay “The Angry Commenter,” where she ...more
Dec 31, 2012 Terzah rated it really liked it
Put me in the camp of Katie Roiphe fans. In particular, I love what she has to say about the state of modern child-rearing (and she makes me very glad I don't live in New York City, where parenting sounds like even more of an earnest, exhausting and unnecessary competition than it is elsewhere).

I also agree with the idea of there being merit in what she calls a messy life. While my idea of a healthy "mess" is never going to be all-night parties, adultery and/or alcoholism (Roiphe comes across as
Morgan Schulman
Jan 26, 2013 Morgan Schulman rated it it was ok
I kind of amazed how many reviewers were completely aware of the controversy surrounding this author.

For those unaware- let me summarize. She is the daughter of a famous Second Wave feminist, and has spent her career bashing feminism for being "sexually conservative". She made her name in the 90s by writing a book in response to the Take Back the Night movement by basically laying out that college feminists were exaggerating rape statistics because they are anti-sex. She is known less for her w
Jan 01, 2013 Candace rated it it was ok
Not cohesive at all. Some essays were really interesting- like The Feminine Mystique of Facebook, and some just so full of ignorance and self-congratulatory insight like The Perfect Parent:

"Most of us do not raise our children amidst a sea of lovely and instructive wooden toys...and healthy organic snacks." Well that's too bad for your child, who is probably playing with plastic toys that are made with hazardous materials including lead, PVC, and mercury, and too bad for the environment being t
Feb 18, 2013 Angelica rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
Repetitive, uninteresting, grouchy essays about how Roiphe has, through some kind of charming aloofness, risen above the masses. These masses of course are over-reliant on technology and extremely nervous parents, the theme she beats like a dead horse in this collection.

The shape of this collection, too, is a mess, there is no sense as to why these particular essays go together (a few of them are personal, some of them are literary -- the best ones, most of them are moralizing about The State of
Sep 24, 2012 Stephanie rated it it was ok
I'm not sure this is the kind of book you can "like" or "not like." It's the kind of book that engages your brain while you're parsing the sentences and lingers in your mind even after you've finished a chapter. There is no question that Roiphe is a gifted writer, and there is plenty of incisive commentary on books, celebrities, parenting trends, culture, and life in general. But Roiphe's faintly snobby, self-congratulatory tone permeates the book, and the literary device she employs with the ...more
Apr 22, 2015 Nicola rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went into this expecting personal essays and got a few of those, but largely literary and cultural criticism along with a smattering of profiles.

It's a self-selecting world that she presents, one of WASPs and single moms, so surface level and so confident in assuming knowledge on the part of the reader that it doesn't seem worth the effort. I was utterly disinterested.

Her criticism, though, is sharp, meticulously detailed and well-delivered. Worth a read for these alone.

Apr 02, 2015 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Shelves: essays
A bit uneven.
I found myself wishing there was more depth.

Oh, man- I am getting older.
Aseem Kaul
Jun 08, 2013 Aseem Kaul rated it really liked it
Katie Roiphe's 'In Praise of Messy Lives' is really two books: one, an 80-page collection of book reviews and literary criticisms is acute and engaging, combining just the right proportion of provocation and insight. I especially loved Roiphe's well-deserved encomium to Joan Didion, and am grateful for her essay on 'The Bratty Bystander', if only because it so perfectly echoes my own skepticism with the genre.

The other book is a bloated, somewhat blurry commentary on our society and culture, th
Katy Derbyshire
Jul 18, 2013 Katy Derbyshire rated it liked it
Not being American, I was only vaguely aware of Katie Roiphe but was drawn in by her Guardian piece about single parenting. This collection ranges widely, with some articles less interesting for non-American readers and some universal.

What struck me was that she writes about a lot of things that fascinate a lot of other journalists, but her measured tone makes her articles and opinions stand out. Take her piece about how the child is king. I must have read about a hundred similar articles (in E
Feb 09, 2013 Stacey rated it really liked it
This collection of essays is, of course, uneven, but I enjoyed more than half of the essays, thus the rating. The essays are divided into 4 parts: autobiographical, books, messy lives and Internet-related articles. The last section is mostly terrible (Roiphe admits she rarely uses FB and hates Twitter), while the middle two sections are the best. With her PhD in lit, and her obviously long-time love of Mary McCarthy, Roiphe's best when casting a cold eye on her fellow writers and peers.

I am adm
Meg Allison
Aug 16, 2013 Meg Allison rated it really liked it
Immediately upon reading a review of this book in the New York Times Book Review, I set about getting my hands on it. (Okay, okay. I tagged it onto a Christmas order from Amazon. Sorry, Bear Pond Books). I have a yen for sharp social commentary, an almost visceral need to read essays entitled "The Feminine Mystique of Facebook", and a yearn for a smart, critical eye to dissect the culture I am both part, and apart, from. Roiphe's writings aren't for everyone, certainly not those with thin skin, ...more
Brenda Mengeling
Dec 17, 2012 Brenda Mengeling rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, 49
Apparently Katie Roiphe is a very controversial writer, and although I didn't agree with everything she wrote in this collections of essays, I agreed with her most of the time. The first essay was spectacular--worth the price of the book--for anyone going through a life change (in Ms. Roiphe's case separation and divorce) that is assumed to be only bad, but that also may have a hidden upside.

I grew up in a home of literature professors and writers, and I myself am a scientist. I can say with gre
Always Pink
Jan 18, 2015 Always Pink rated it really liked it
Fearless and fierce, clear-sighted and unforgiving. I enjoyed following Roiphe's thoughts and ideas leaning towards the unconventional and liked what she said. I'm no single mum myself but something in her exhortations of "love childs" strangely made me wish I was. She is given to quote from all sorts of intriguing sources, which made my to-be-read-list even longer. I fear Roiphe is right in her observation that we are all leading too well-kempt and ironed-out lives, all in order to fit the ...more
Jan 31, 2013 Shani rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book of essays until getting about 2/3 through the book. Roiphe is clearly a brilliant and independent woman, but starting around the essay about celebrity profiles she became a bit of a nag. I'm all for cultural criticism, but it just went over the top. As much as I enjoyed the essay that criticizes Maureen Dowd, there were instances where Roiphe committed the exact types of over-reaching hype-crimes that she blamed Dowd for. I wanted to like the book all the way through, ...more
Dec 28, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
While there were some essays that felt pretty shallow, there are a few here worth the price of the ticket. I found the first essays, on divorce and single motherhood moving, and I loved the essay contrasting the Updike generation of male writers with the Jonathan Franzen generation. (any piece that brings out the crazy in Ayelet Waldman is bound to be amusing) Also, the essay on Susan Sontag was haunting.
Jan 01, 2013 Margaret rated it liked it
I really enjoyed several of the essays. And I loved parts of several of the essays. But as a whole, the book felt a bit disjointed, and after a while I felt like I was getting the same themes over and over, and reading the same old rant time and again. She's an impressive wit and a deep thinker on a range of topics. She's perfect in 10-minute doses, one insightful essay at a time. After a whole book's worth, she starts to feel like work.
Geoffrey Rose
Mar 08, 2013 Geoffrey Rose rated it it was amazing
An incredibly polarizing writer which makes Roiphe an interesting and provocative essayist. I didn't always agree with her (it's hard to imagine any reader would) but I appreciated her precision and her bravery. And I suppose I enjoyed her repeated take-downs of the smug, bourgeois conventionality of the urban liberal class. The personal essays are marginally better than the literary essays but the book was a terrific read throughout. Highly recommended.
May 15, 2015 Colleen rated it liked it
Some of her essays were interesting and I didn't find her societal commentary as offensive as I had expected to based on some of the hype. She does seem annoyed with modern life at times - but in a way that being childless in a sea of child-rearing friends I can appreciate. Her essays on some books and authors weren't fascinating at all and I admit to skimming portions of those out of boredom.
Aug 23, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Read this if only for the essay "The Perfect Parent". Brilliant. If you are a thinker, considerer, muller or observer of current culture, consider reading this collection of essays. It helps if you aren't easily offended by feminists or literary criticism.
Jul 28, 2013 Carol rated it really liked it
Loved her sometimes unusual take on various things...agree with many of her observations of our current culture
Feb 10, 2013 Missy rated it really liked it
You might not always agree with Katie Roiphe (it would be weird if you did), but she's an excellent writer and a pleasure to read for that fact alone.
Kristin Stephens
Dec 23, 2014 Kristin Stephens rated it it was amazing
I love Kate Roiphe. I think she says things that other people are afraid to say.By messy, she means unconventional,exciting and not doing what everyone expects you to do.
James Tierney
Apr 12, 2014 James Tierney rated it liked it
Shelves: 9-own
An essay collection, with the inherit ups and downs. You've probably already read the best pieces.
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Katie Roiphe is the author of the non-fiction works The Morning After: Fear, Sex and Feminism (1994) and Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End (1997). Her novel Still She Haunts Me is an empathetic imagining of the relationship between Charles Dodgson (known as Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, the real-life model for Dodgson's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She holds a ...more
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“It's hard to explain how this works, and I admit that it's fairly implausible or untenable as a way of life, but that seems to be how I go about my days: peaceably in person, fiercely on paper.” 4 likes
“But the break is still there, not visible but there, the break where you find in yourself the ability to walk away from everything you have known; the break is thrilling, liberating, and, as Alexis says, a little like dying. Alexis describes her mother as” 0 likes
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