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In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays

3.3 of 5 stars 3.30  ·  rating details  ·  703 ratings  ·  126 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.

Katie Roiphe’s writing—whether in the form of personal essays, literary criticism, or
ebook, 288 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by The Dial Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
Mar 26, 2014 mark rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 s ...more
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
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 ov ...more
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
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
Aseem Kaul
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
Meg Allison
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
Katy Derbyshire
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
Brenda Mengeling
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
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 norm ...more
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
At least half of the fun of reading Katie Roiphe is her ability to provoke the reader--sometimes to call out "Amen!" (see precious parenting and the dulling impacts conservative family values becoming American values) and sometimes in protest (see her contempt for a lot of feminists and those that disagree with her literary taste).

She is a sensational writer most of the time, and her essay dissecting the pervasive influence of Joan Didion is remarkable in how she marshals her carefully cultivat
This book has three parts: 1, life and time, mostly on the author's life events: divorce, raising children as a single mother, reflecting one's gender during a trip to Asia, a sexual experiment; 2: books and authors, mostly contemporary American writers, 3: the way we live now, cultural observations.

In general, I found this book verged too close to solipsism and characteristic of the strident New York brand of intellectualism. Evidently erudite in literature and journalism, the author neverthel
Geoffrey Rose
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.
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.
Ann Buechler
I expected this book of essays to at least have some sort of flow throughout. Unfortunately, it was merely a collection of essays with no sort of common theme as the title suggests. The essays in Part I were thought-provoking but the writing seemed stunted and jumpy. Part II would have been interesting to me if I had read all of the authors Roiphe has read. Since I haven't, it was not particularly compelling to me to read reviews about authors I don't know. Parts III and IV were much more enjoya ...more
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.
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.
Danielle Mohlman
This book came to me as a recommendation from my friend Gus. He’d read it on a flight from San Francisco to DC (we’re both transplants from California) and said that Roiphe reminded him of me. Like I did, Gus latched onto Roiphe’s commentary on how society views unconventional parenting and the pity so often associated with families of circumstances and women who choose to raise their children without a father.

Others may point out her essay on Mad Men, or one where she talks about how authors wr
I am trying this year to figure out why I picked up a particular book as well as whether I learned anything from it. I have no idea where I heard about Roiphe's book of essay and I am really not sure why it stuck with me long enough for me to request it from my local library. Whatever the reasons, I am glad that I found and read these essays.

Let me first say that many of her essays were not aimed at me. Roiphe lives in NYC and the parenting issues she discusses were not in my life when I had sma
Kristin Stephens
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.
3.5-4 stars. A collection of essays, some of which I didn't care for (about the work of specific authors), but many of which I enjoyed because of their insight and humor. Some kindle quotes:

After my essay “The Naked and the Conflicted” appeared in The New York Times Book Review, the paper ran the following response in the letters column:

To the Editor:
Not only are you contributing to the total annihilation of the literary culture, but also to the destruction of our civilization. Think about 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.
Loved her sometimes unusual take on various things...agree with many of her observations of our current culture
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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 Ph ...more
More about Katie Roiphe...
Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 Still She Haunts Me The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism Last Night in Paradise: Sex and Morals at the Century's End Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Marriages in Literary London 1910 -1939

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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.” 3 likes
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