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Once I Was Cool: Personal Essays

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  559 ratings  ·  103 reviews
In these insightful, compassionate, gutsy, and heartbreaking personal essays, Stielstra, whose essay “Channel B” was recently featured in Best American Essays 2013 edited by Cheryl Strayed, explores the messy, maddening beauty of adulthood with wit, intelligence, and biting humor.

The essays in Once I Was Cool tackle topics ranging from beating postpartum depression by stal
Paperback, 200 pages
Published May 20th 2014 by Curbside Splendor Publishing (first published April 21st 2014)
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4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  559 ratings  ·  103 reviews

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Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
When I read Megan Stielstra’s second collection of essays late last year, I had to rewrite my “best of the year”-list. As such it comes as no surprise how much I enjoyed her debut essay collection. I just adore the way she writes essays, from the structure to the sentences to the messages, I find it beyond incredible. The only reason I “only” rated this four stars is because her other collection is just that strong and there are some essays there were a bit too similar.

Megan Stielstra writes abo
Elizabeth Jackson
Feb 27, 2015 rated it did not like it
Nope. Four misspellings in the first 20 pages? I don't care how cool you once were, hire an editor.
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Am I Megan Stielstra? Is Megan me? Megan is everyone I know? Who is me? Me is Megan? Has Megan been following me around Chicago? How does she know everything about me?

Essays are hard to pin down, I love reading essays but have a hard time following my fave essayists, I can barely keep track of the one book I am reading let alone multiple blogs and serial publications. Sometimes it just feels like a gift when you get to read all the essays together wrapped up in a neat little package. And sometim
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Megan Stielstra’s wonderful writing and her storytelling bravery is truly a gift for everyone who reads her. Once I Was Cool is refreshing, hilarious, touching, and wise. You get a little bit of all life's juicy parts here: music, love, a yearning for home, parenting, becoming a writer, sadness, joy, and unashamed human striving! If she keeps writing like this, I’m going to bet she’ll always be cool.
Jen Hirt
Feb 20, 2015 rated it liked it
I bought this because I'd read the phenomenal "Channel B" in Best American Essays; however, the 28 other short essays in this collection don't live up to expectations. I'm sure they are crowd-pleasers when Stielstra performs them live as part of Chicago's oral storytelling series, but they fell a little flat on the page. I felt the humor in them was safe -- all stuff I'd heard before, infused with re-runs of "damn the 90s were great and now I feel old." Still, I liked (liked, not loved) the essa ...more
May 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For me, finishing a good book is a sad affair--you've come to the end of a relationship with this thing in your hand, this thing that has hopefully helped you grow in some small way and has challenged the way you've thought, whether it be about something large or something very small. When you finish a good book, you may always revisit the relationship, but it's with a nostalgia of what you used to have in that relationship; it's "present-you" reading the "you-who-was" when you engaged with the ...more
xTx xTx
Jul 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
so relateable and honest
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Let’s imagine what might happen if—right now, in this very second of reading these words—we reclaim the idea of nice and what it has the potential to achieve. Maybe buy the person sitting next to you a drink; they might really need it. The next time you go through a toll, pay the fare of the person behind you. Chicago, if you get back to your car before the parking ticket runs out of time, give the sticker to the person waiting for your spot. Might make their day, and we could all use our day m ...more
Victor Giron
Dec 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'm the publisher so, like, disclaimer. But here is my heart-felt review:

What I love about this essay collection by one of Chicago's golden lights in literature, story-teller and teacher Megan Stielstra, is that it inspires without being, you know, cheesy. Through her essays you learn Megan has had a fairly normal upbringing, parents that nurtured and helped her grow an interest in reading and writing, had the opportunities to travel and attend schools, met an amazing partner and lived in an ar
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Stefanie by: Meryl Williams
1. Stielstra is Chicago-authentic for those, like me, who have a relatively privileged experience with the city--indie rock and dive bars and CTA and bad choices that turned out ok. What luck that I lived there! How snooty to look down on brunch lines! How silly to expect things to be the same for at least a few years! (And here I note that name I'd searched for during at least 6--Swank Frank.) These essays made me feel so HARD about Chicago and horrible for ever thinking I could leave.

2. The ma
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm not always a big fan of essays, but I'm definitely a big fan of these essays. The attention to the story function of the essay is wonderful and the writing is tight, clean, and moving. Each calls up something from my past as I read what happened in Stielstra's life and somehow something is moved forward by the end of each, even if just a small amount. Stielstra is definitely cool.
Megan Kirby
Mar 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great essays about Chicago, Prague, writing, music, fiction, live storytelling--all things I am incredibly invested in. I've been a fan of Megan Stielstra for some time, so it was great to have all her essays in one place. Once again, Curbside put together a stunning paperback, too.
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it
The essays and voice are strong, but man, this needed a proofreader.
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Curbside Splendor
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's the coming out party for Chicago's very own Best American Essayist, Megan Stielstra!
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
All Splendor and Cool. It changed my life.
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
Make no mistake about it: Megan Stielstra is very, very cool.

She may not think so (and she may say so in her essays) but trust me … she is.

She’s that kind of down-to-earth cool, the kind that’s so very absolutely real with no-holds-barred emotions in full view out there for everyone to see. The kind of person who has been through some shit and has learned some shit, too, and is damn good at writing about her shit.

“It’s the single syllables that’ll kill you:

Your dentist says Oops.

Your pregnancy t
Jaclyn Bauer
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Megan Stielstra's recently released collection of personal essays, "Once I Was Cool", is a look into not only into the life and mind of Stielstra herself, but into the world of every Chicagoan, writer, student, teacher, probably mother, and woman on this planet. I found myself time and again scrawling “Yes!” in the margins of the text, as if the author could hear my silent exclamations of agreement through the roughage of the page.

Touching on heavy topics such as abortion and suicide, Stielstra
Wow, I was able to relate to so many of these essays! Megan has an honest voice and a witty, sarcastic personality that was so much fun to get to know. I think "Juggle What?" and "Nice" were two of my favorites. Of course after typing that, I thought of a bunch more that I loved.

Megan was able to say out-loud a lot of things I'm too scared to admit. This is one of those books to add to your bookshelf so you can read certain essays on a bad day to remind yourself you are not alone and others have
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I really don't read v. many essay collections but I would if they all promised to be as good as this one. This book of essays makes me wanna read more essays and makes me wanna write my own, which is a big deal for me. Reading this book felt like the best parts of honest late-night conversations. "Channel B" was just so good. I'm a mama and a writer too, so I esp. loved the mama stuff. And also, all of it. I loved "Who Wants the Shot" and "82 Degrees" and "Dragons So Huge." Also, all of them. I ...more
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I fell in love with Megan Stielstra after reading this book. Have to be honest though, it wasn't love from the first essay, not even from the second. But I do believe it was the third that hit me like a train. After that there was no way back, I couldn't wait to spend 10, 20, 30 minutes a day reading this book.
She's funny, witty, clumsy and absolutely authentic. Her stories are so appealing, so believable even when she talks about living in Prague for a year or so teaching Kafka (which sounds s
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
These personal essays focus a lot on family and parenting.... much more than I anticipated, and that's not really my interest when it comes to essays. But I did enjoy her voice and would really like to read more from her, maybe on a larger scale as opposed to personal scale. There is, unfortunately, a lot of copy editing mistakes in this text.
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Megan is my friend, and reading her essays is like spending time with her. She's an open person. She listens with her whole being. She pays attention. She loves words. She's honest and funny and insightful.

These were written to be read or told aloud, and they have that kind of urgency.
Jen Barnicle
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book and the way Megan so honestly shares her personal stories and experiences. Megan is authentic and reading her essays feels like you sat down with a good friend who has bared her soul to you.
Lance Cox
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
All that I really think I need to say is--hell to the yeah. Pick up this book. Chew on it. Feed it to your kids (well. maybe not all of it). Love it.
You will laugh and cry and think and cry and laugh more.
Joseph Haeger
Oct 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have a one year old. It is wonderful to read all of my hopes, fears, questions, ambitions, and concerns about being a writer and parent articulated so well by Strielstra. This book made me feel not so alone, and I am grateful for that.
Feb 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: excellent
What a beautiful written book it touch my heart. I won this book on Goodreads. Thank you.
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Could've used a good deal more editing. I'm enjoying some of the essays but finding the number of errors distracting.
Julia Culbreth
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you like essay's, you'll love this! Excellent!
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Megan Stielstra is the author of the essay collection Once I Was Cool. Her work is included in The Best American Essays 2013, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, PANK, Other Voices, f Magazine, Make Magazine, Joyland, Pindeldyboz, Swink, and elsewhere, and her story collection, Everyone Remain Calm, was a Chicago Tribune Favorite of 2011. She’s the Literary Director of the critically-acclaimed 2nd St ...more
“I could’ve said a thousand things in that moment, and all of them would’ve been true. I’d like to travel—Florence and Thailand and Prague. I’d like to write books. I’d like to fall in love a thousand times. Live hard and desperate and full, my pulse pounding like a bass drum. And when I wake up one morning suddenly, surprisingly, a grown-up, I’d like to be sure in the knowledge that I enjoyed it. Every fucking second.” 2 likes
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