Sophie Kinsella Talks About Our Social Media Obsessions
The first installment of Sophie Kinsella's wildly popular Shopaholic series, Confessions of a Shopaholic, introduces Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist whose "perfect life" is tenuously supported by crushing credit card debt. The bestselling author has revisited her endearing protagonist over the course of seven more novels.
In her latest novel, My Not So Perfect Life, Kinsella has a new heroine, Katie Brenner, and examines our present-day obsession with social media and the impulse to project a perfect life through a carefully curated online presence. The following is an excerpt from our full interview that appeared in our February newsletter.
Goodreads: My Not So Perfect Life explores the theme of perception versus reality through the lens of social media. Where did the idea come from?
Sophie Kinsella: I've always written what I see around me. When I started writing Shopaholic, it was because I saw everybody shopping too much, including myself. I've always had radar, whether it's workaholism, whatever the topic is, and I've been fascinated by the explosion of social media.
I think it's brought out a part of us that's always been there. We've always wanted to put our best foot forward and give a good impression. People used to have their portraits painted—this is nothing new, the instinct has always been there. But I think with social media you add a new dimension. You can hide behind it, you can present a front, and it can be that the people you're connected with never see you in person, so these little fictions—which we all indulge in—they never get put straight.
In contrast, we're humans and are built to pick up signals, so you might meet a friend and she starts off saying everything is wonderful, but you pick things up from her expression, or her eyes, or her nervous laugh, and you can get to the truth behind this image. But with social media you don't have that; you just have the image. And it just seems to be the convention that we relentlessly put out information and images, and no one seems to break that convention. So we're stuck in this cycle of "isn't this great?" There's nothing wrong with that, except that it becomes the perception that this is what reality is, and I think if you're feeling insecure, rather than see someone's holiday pictures and think, Well, that's only one side of the story, you can think that's the whole story. It can lower your own self-esteem.
GR: In your latest book, the main character emulates her boss whom she imagines to have the perfect life. Was there anyone you emulated when you were just starting out? Do you ever think about that person now with fresh eyes?
SK: There was nobody in particular I looked at and wanted their whole package, but there were definitely people I would look at—there was an editor on the circuit when I was a journalist, and she was renowned for taking over her magazine at the age of 25. Everybody thought she was amazing, and I got slightly obsessed. How did she do that, and could I be like her? I was nothing like her, which shows how ridiculous it is. And I didn't even really want to be an editor for a financial magazine.
I think it's natural to latch onto people and think, Well, this is my role model, and I'm going to see what they did because you need some sort of guide. Other people I've looked at who have had their children before me, and I've looked at them and thought, What have they done, what decisions have they made? I look at somebody who has been there before me and try to map myself from them. Which can be useful, or it can be really stupid or irrelevant because their life is nothing like my own, and I've learned that. I think I have a natural propensity to compare and contrast. It's such a natural instinct, and can be useful, and can be a red herring.
SK: I'm far more relaxed! Your first child, you're absolutely paranoid. Every phase you think will last forever—they'll cry forever, you'll breastfeed forever—but you get such perspective after 15 years, and now I'm just so superrelaxed, whatever goes on. They'll all learn to read, they'll all learn to do up their buttons, they'll end up eating vegetables one day. I remember my third in particular, I remembered thinking, "This is fun. I have a baby, and I'm not freaking out."
And obviously the world has changed, and I think I'll have to be more vigilant about technology than I was with the first children because it's just a different matter. I haven't really let them have technology very young. I'm afraid we're the mean parents who wouldn't let them play the computer games or have a phone very early. It's a fascinating topic. I wrote a young adult book called Finding Audrey, and there's a secondary character called Frank, the brother, who's completely addicted to computer games and has an ongoing battle with his mother about it, which is the comic release. And let's just say I've had some family research on that.
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