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All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers

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From columnist and critic Alana Massey, a collection of essays examining the intersection of the personal with pop culture through the lives of pivotal female figures - from Sylvia Plath to Britney Spears - in the spirit of Chuck Klosterman, with the heart of a true fan.

Mixing Didion's affected cool with moments of giddy celebrity worship, Massey examines the lives of the women who reflect our greatest aspirations and darkest fears back onto us. These essays are personal without being confessional and clever in a way that invites readers into the joke. A cultural critique and a finely wrought fan letter, interwoven with stories that are achingly personal, All the Lives I want is also an exploration of mental illness, the sex industry, and the dangers of loving too hard. But it is, above all, a paean to the celebrities who have shaped a generation of women - from Scarlett Johansson to Amber Rose, Lil' Kim, Anjelica Huston, Lana Del Rey, Anna Nicole Smith and many more. These reflections aim to reimagine these women's legacies, and in the process, teach us new ways of forgiving ourselves.

244 pages, Hardcover

First published February 7, 2017

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Alana Massey

3 books149 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 293 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
March 31, 2017
Hmmm. On the whole, I appreciated the intelligence of these essays and there are some incredibly sharp turns of phrase throughout. I kept wanting more from the essays--more depth, mostly. Too many of the essays felt like a good start to something that demanded longer, more complex treatment. The range of pop culture addressed here is really great. And the author's obsessions come through clearly, which is also something I like. I enjoy knowing what a writer cares about the most.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
March 4, 2017
3.5 I had a decidedly mixed reaction to these essays. I am and am not the ideal target reader, as a woman I four d them interesting, but I have never been the type, not even in teen years, to idealize nor base my perception of life on the famous, or infamous. Still I did like some of these much more than others. Some I understood the message was not familiar enough with the subjects, such as Fiona Apple or Little Kim. The essay on Sylvia Plath was very interesting. The cult of followers that she unwittingly unleashed, and somewhat sad that she is more known for her suicide than any of her literary accomplishment. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and their lives, or rather how their lives were shaped by their early stardom, I found also unfortunate. How do you develop a separate identity after that?

The author intersperses her experiences, how she felt about these stars and many other of the well known. How their lives were. shaped by the media, the men they were with and how others felt about them. The Joan Didion essay for me didn't work well, and it was the one I had been looking forward to the most. Surprisingly the essay that stuck most in my mind is on Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain, and I was never a fan of either. But it is well written and it seems Love is another that has been misjudges and her talent unacknowledged. Have a new respect and liking for Angelica Huston. Interesting to see how these women are perceived, some essays were written better than others, some worked for me, some didn't. Worth reading though especially if one considers themselves a feminist.

ARC from Grand Central publisher.
Profile Image for Nat K.
425 reviews158 followers
November 16, 2020

"Sisters are doin' it for themselves
Standin' on their own two feet
And ringin' on their own bells…”

- Words and music: Annie Lennox & David A. Stewart
- Vocals: Annie Lennox & Aretha Franklin

My head hurts from reading this. It’s that good.

Do I want to live other people’s lives? Probably not. Do I like to read about them? Yes. Do I imagine what they’d be like? Often. The cover is why I bought this book. I can be that shallow. I admit it. I’m attracted to pretty, shiny things. And the title is catchy. Luckily, what’s inside the cover is more than a match for the words written in glitter on the outside.

Don’t be fooled by the pretty cover. There are plenty of tough topics in here, and many ugly ones too. The ones you preferred didn’t exist. Some are distasteful. Others will make you think.

Fat shaming, body shaming, depression, repression, suicide, eating disorders, celebrity, sexuality, too much, too little. Let’s not just talk about the sisterhood, as it seems here we’re just all trying to survive as best we know how. And trying to keep up with the moving goalposts. We don't always have each other's backs.

Modern culture seems to have an unerring ability to have us often - if not constantly - comparing our lives to others. To envy, without particularly knowing what we’re envious of, or even if we should be. Pressing our noses to the glass of other people’s lives, looking in.

There's an element of sadness threaded through these stories. But for some reason they don't leave me feeling disheartened. There was a weird kind of strength to them. As if the speedbumps of life just made these women stronger and more determined.

Some of my favourite lines of the book come from a story about Amber Rose (an ex-stripper whom I'd never heard of before), and the writer’s own sojourn as an adult entertainer.

”The declaration was less an exclamation point than a shrugging politeness for which there is no punctuation.”

”I don’t know if I said these things because I believed them to be true or because I wanted them to be true, but I don’t see these two places as that far from each other anymore.”

”They ask so often that you strip off more than your clothes...They ask that you answer their questions and that you love them for no reason other than the fascinating beat of their own unremarkable hearts.”

The most telling quote of all is when Alana Massey was asked how she would feel when faced with the wives and partners of men she had stripped for. What she would say to them:

“I took his money and your side every time.” Touché.

Another powerful quote someone once said is Never complain. Don’t explain. The women in this book do that. Repeatedly.

Winona, Gwyneth, Sylvia, Britney, Courtney, Scarlett, Dolly, Anna Nicole, Anjelica. No surnames needed. You know exactly who we’re talking about here. Girl power. Powerful girls. Even more powerful women.

Many are the aspiration of other women, others the ultimate male fantasy.

But why do we assume we "know" these perfect strangers, let alone have any right to pass comment on their lives.

Pop culture, music, literature, (un) reality TV. They all get a mention. It's a wonderful mish-mash. The mirror and the lolly shop all rolled into one. Who do I want to be when I grow up?

Judging, passing judgement, being judicious. This is a great collection of essays that show just how crazy, mixed up and resilient we are.

The writing is sharp and intelligent. Women from all walks of life, all social stratas, all job descriptions, all shapes and weights are here.

Should we be envious? Possibly. Is it a case of “I’ll have what she’s having” a la the famous line from When Harry Met Sally? Maybe. Faking it. Making it. This is great writing that may just give you some insight that the grass isn’t always greener from the other side. Though it might be. It’s all in the tasting.

Trigger warnings! Sexually explicit and adult themes. Strong language.

"But my heart is home to docile rage because I am afraid: afraid I don't know how to wield my own viciousness with any expertise and afraid that once I do know how, I won't stop until the fire I set can be seen from space."
Profile Image for Blair.
1,792 reviews4,424 followers
April 18, 2017
Once, for my birthday – I can't remember which one, some late-teens birthday – I asked for just about every book I'd been able to identify about the Smiths and Morrissey. Family and friends dutifully bought them; on my birthday, I unwrapped a pile of thick biographical paperbacks. And I never read a single one of them. I'm not sure I even opened some of them. They sat and gathered dust until I sold them on eBay years later. The one Smiths book of mine that ended up being-well thumbed was The Smiths and Beyond, a collection of Kevin Cummins' photographs of the band, which contains few words other than a scattering of well-known quotes.

I've always had this weird thing of not really wanting to know anything much about my idols, invariably preferring an idea of them I've assembled from scraps of information, their own work, even things as tenuous as a single picture. As a teenager, I imbued my image of Victoria Beckham with an intelligence and wit the press certainly didn't ascribe to her, but also held close to my heart her reputation as the quiet, moody, aloof Spice Girl. I'd essentially made her into a composite of things I both liked and hated about myself, an interpretation that was probably a million miles from who she really was. I regarded Amy Winehouse like a personal saint, but have read very little about her, though I do own hundreds of bootleg live recordings of the same handful of songs. I always felt her music and her voice told me everything I needed to understand, that her lyrics were a far better way to know her than any number of tell-alls. I think this way of seeing is also part of why I seldom participate in fandom, despite being fascinated by it as a culture. I want to carefully guard my personal interpretations of the things I love rather than open them up to others' analyses.

There is a point to all this that has to do with the book I'm reviewing, I swear. Actually, there are two. The first is that the subtitle of Massey's book, My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, kept bringing me back to a Morrissey quote I half-remembered about how records or songs were his best friends when he was growing up, and that's what led me to this train of thought (although I absolutely can't track down the quote or anything like it now and am beginning to think I imagined it, or attributed someone else's words to him. Which seems quite ironically appropriate here). The second is that – as is made explicitly clear by the last essay of the collection – these essays are an exercise in personal mythology. They're as much about the author as they are her subjects. To put it another way, they're about the subjects not as they actually are, but specifically as the author sees them. There's an argument to be made that this is is a memoir-in-celebrities.

The essays often look at how female icons are interpreted at large – the ways in which the media tears some famous women apart and boxes others in to stereotyped categories – but they also deal with much more personal themes, touching on how Massey's adolescence, nascent adulthood and present life has been influenced by her icons. Those who bemoan what Slate called 'the first-person industrial complex' will probably not enjoy All the Lives I Want: it's a quintessentially millennial book, in both its critical approach to pop culture and its confessional nature. (On that note, Massey is candid about her eating disorder, and while it's clear her writing on the topic of celebrity bodies is cathartic, parts of some essays might make a tough read for anyone who has struggled with their own body image.)

The essays focus exclusively on women, ranging from fictional characters (the Lisbon sisters from The Virgin Suicides) to women writers (Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion) to contemporary pop stars (Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj). An essay about Amber Rose sits back-to-back with one about Plath; Massey dissects books, films and song lyrics, and examines stereotypes such as the 'crazy ex-girlfriend' trope. The titles are fabulous, for example 'Run the World: Amber Rose in the Great Stripper Imaginary' and 'Charlotte in Exile: A Case for the Liberation of Scarlett Johansson from Lost in Translation'. 'The Queen of Hearts' is an intriguing take on Courtney Love, positioning her not as the vulnerable, exploited figure many fans perceive, but embracing the negative image of her as a Machiavellian bitch. 'American Pain' similarly rejoices in Anna Nicole Smith's ascent to stardom despite her deprived origins and lack of demonstrable talent. 'Emparadised', which closes the collection, is the strongest and most personal of the essays, unpacking the impact of a fitful, destructive love affair as filtered through Didion's Play It As It Lays.

Some assumptions made here might be tenuous – but aren't assumptions and stubbornly-clung-to beliefs, often with very little root in fact, how we all understand and form 'relationships' with famous people who mean something to us? Regardless of whether you, the reader, were traumatised by the same 80s horror movies as the author, or cared about the media's skeevy countdown to the Olsen twins' 18th, Massey's book is a mirror held up to the way we understand the people we term our idols.

I received an advance review copy of All the Lives I Want from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Profile Image for Thomas.
1,518 reviews8,976 followers
March 5, 2017
A smart book about the intersections of pop culture and our personal lives. In this sharp set of essays, Alana Massey dissects and reimagines some of the most talked about women of our time: Lana Del Ray, Courtney Love, Lil' Kim, Britney Spears, Joan Didion, and many more. Her analysis delves deep into the double standards we create for women even when their male counterparts mess up over and over again, the racism that musicians like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift have wielded against artists such as Nicki Minaj, and the cruelty we inflict on female celebrities for our own merciless entertainment. Massey calls for a more compassionate and nuanced approach to understanding these "famous strangers," and she uses her own relationships with them as a primary example. I wanted to share one of the many quotes I noted All the Lives I Want, this one pointing out a hypocritical trend in the music industry:

"Those who accuse these women of fraud in their image craft seem not to have heard of David Bowie's successful alter ego Ziggy Stardust or even Bob Dylan, the folksy creation of a genius named Robert Allen Zimmerman. There is a tradition of male artists talking on personae that are understood to be part of their art. It is as though there is so much genius within them that it must be split between these mortal men and the characters they create. Women who venture to do the same are ridiculed as fakers and try-hards; their constructed identities are seen as attention-seeking stunts more than new embodiments of the artists themselves. Madonna is perhaps the most successful woman to reinvent herself but never to fully slip into an alter ego, and even she is routinely called an insufferable bitch for it."

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in pop culture or feminism. My only critique centers on how I felt that Massey's personal life faded into the background of All the Lives I want; I wish that she had put forth a more cohesive voice that would have connected these essays together even better. Still, she delivers fresh, intelligence insights about a celebrity culture that we so often only see the surface of.
Profile Image for Corey Kindberg.
1 review3 followers
December 16, 2016
While many authors have tried to make the case for the coexistence of high and low-brow art as equally important in public consciousness, I have never seen it done so seamlessly and with such good humor as in All the Lives I Want. Massey doesn't belabor the point that Britney and Anna Nicole have profound significance to culture or struggle to argue that Joan Didion is relatable. Her confident prose makes it clear that she doesn't have to over-explain these points, and her style and research render them self-evident.
Profile Image for Emily.
705 reviews2,045 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
September 17, 2017
I read the first three essays in this book, which were about Gwyneth/Winona, Britney Spears, and Amber Rose. I really liked the concept, but the essays were ham-handed and read like a college senior's gender studies paper. It seems like Massey has some interesting stories to tell that didn't need to be filtered through celebrities. When she tries to, you end up with the mess of the Gwyneth/Winona essay, which attempts to make a redemptive arc for Winona Ryder by describing her in a Rag & Bone campaign: "perfectly content to make goofy faces and have her own fun, telling herself a bad joke that no one else can hear, and laughing and laughing." What?
Profile Image for Sam Escobar.
2 reviews2 followers
February 10, 2017
I've loved Alana Massey's writing online for a long time, and All the Lives I Want does not disappoint whatsoever. I realize how cliche this sounds, but it genuinely did make me laugh and cry throughout, which was therapeutic — I hadn't read a book in a while (for a slew of embarrassing as well as less-embarrassing reasons), so it was a solid catharsis to have my first after a long break be so energizing.

It doesn't matter if you consider yourself "not the kind of person who cares about pop culture and celebrities," because regardless, you know most (if not all of) these names and, at the very least, the tabloid headlines about them, which barely scratch the surface on their significance. These essays are about so much more than individual famous humans' lives, though I did learn quite a bit despite being pretty well-versed on many of the subjects. All the Lives I Want considers figures like Amber Rose, Sylvia Plath, Winona Ryder, and Princess Diana, dissecting what they represent about our culture and how the narratives surrounding them reflect on how we, as a society, view women.

All the Lives I Want is sharp without being patronizing, and uncomfortable without being off-putting or deliberately contrarian, which is a hard balance and shows just how self-aware the author is throughout the book. I've recommended it multiple times to people in person already, so I figured I should officially recommend it to the internet here, too. Definitely give it a read in 2017.
Profile Image for Care.
84 reviews7 followers
January 6, 2017
A stunningly frank and insightful collection of essays centered around famous (or infamous) women that tell the tale more of the author herself. Th essays cover topics of body image, the "crazy ex-girlfriend" trope, and general vilification or celebration of women by the public.

All the Lives I Want is well-written and sharp-witted. Focusing on famous celebrities, authors, and other female figures, the author delivers sharp commentary on aspects of how it is to live as a woman in a society where these public personas of women (self-designed or contrived by others) exists. And though the essays each center around one or two specific famous women, the author generally does a good job of avoiding assigning too much intent or trying to characterize these women (who she admits are strangers to her in the title) - although a couple of the essays did make me cringe at just how much personality was assigned to a famous figure based on interviews. The author does demonstrate an amazing ability to analyze and describe the actions of these women without tearing them down and without being patronizing, demonstrating her thoughtfulness in refusing to play into the habit of women putting down other women.

Overall, a very thoughtful, well-written and researched novel that brings a surprising level of academia-style research to examine aspects of pop culture.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance digital copy in exchange for a fair review!
Profile Image for Karen Germain.
827 reviews52 followers
February 28, 2017
Thank You to Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of Alana Massey's, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- In her essay collection, All The Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, Alana Massey explores female icons, and their role in popular culture. She looks at how these celebrities influence us, and how society molds them, making the idea of celebrity a process of compartmentalizing and dehumanizing. She also explores how celebrities have impacted her own life. 

LIKE- I like Massey's concept for All The Lives I Want, how she doesn't simply explore the idea of celebrity, but chooses celebrities that have made a direct impact on her. It's often seen as bad taste to admit that you've been influenced, or even take an interest in celebrities, but whether people admit it or not, I find it to be a rare thing that a person is not at least a little affected or interested in celebrity culture. I find Massey's willingness to admit this about herself and explore it, to be refreshing.

The last essay in the book, On Joan Didion and Personal Mythology as Survival, had my full attention. This essay is by far Massey's most personal, as she recalls her love of Didion ( who doesn't love Didion?), to a time in her life where she was in a toxic relationship with a drug addict. Massey also eloquently writes about Los Angeles and New York. Sure, some of the things she says about my beloved Los Angeles are not the most flattering, and I don't agree with her assessment of it being a fake city. When I hear someone refer to Los Angeles as a false place, I know in my heart that they don't understand my hometown. This aside, Massey writes poetically about the desert landscape of Southern California and juxtaposes it with the pulsing city of Manhattan. It's beautifully written and made me slow down to fully absorb the impact of her rich descriptions. 

When writing about female celebrity bodies, Massey does not hold back from sharing her own anorexia. Her descriptions of her obsession with thinness are grotesque, yet she does not make apologies for feeling this way. She owns her obsession. I was repulsed and saddened by her confession, yet at the same time, I admire the brazen quality of her writing. For better or worse, this is how pop culture has made an impact on her, and there is no need to apologize or feel shame. 

DISLIKE- When I requested All The Lives I Want, on Netgalley, I requested it for the premise alone. I was completely unfamiliar with Massey and to be honest, even after reading her book and doing a Google search, I'm not sure that I know a lot about her. To this end, her collection read as if I should have prior knowledge of her, as if she is a well-know celebrity. She drops bits of information about herself, such as being a former stripper, her battle with anorexia, or that she went to seminary school; but none of this adds up for me to really understand who she is or why I should care about her essays. Either this collection needs context or perhaps I'm just out of the loop. The essays are uneven in regard to those that have a personal vibe, and those that are more academic in tone. All The Lives I Want would have been much stronger, if the essays had all been more personal.

All of the celebrities that Massey profiles are ones that will be well known to most readers, which works as it makes All The Lives I Want, accessible, however, it's also material that has been done to death. Do we need another essay about Scarlett Johansson's sex-symbol status, or another one explaining the mistake in vilifying Courtney Love? Massey adds little to the conversation. Again, if she had gone a more personal route, I think I would have found relevance, but her often academic approach was dull and off-putting. 

RECOMMEND- No. I loved the concept of, All The Lives I Want, but I found it to be a tedious read. Massey didn't leave me with a different perspective, and there isn't enough personal content to make me interested in her as a narrator. All The Lives I Want, could have been a much more engaging read, if she had placed herself at the center of exploring her interest in celebrities. 

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Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,420 reviews2,559 followers
January 3, 2020
Almost there but not really there.

I liked the concept for the book. While I am not big on pop culture it was great getting some history and tidbits about certain celebrities eg. The Olsten twins were selected for their roles because they didn't cry during auditions.... Crazy right...

So yes, I liked the concept explored I just felt Massey had really great notes that needed to be developed further. It's like being given a really great trailer to a movie that didn't deliver. Overall an ok read that maybe would have benefited from more depth.
Profile Image for Kirsty.
Author 71 books1,316 followers
February 5, 2017
This book is setting my 2017 reading off right. I love the perfect mix of intelligent insight and light readability. The essays on Sylvia Plath, Courtney Love and Left-Eye Lopes were particularly great, and made me think differently about how we consider and discuss female celebrities. I also had a soft spot for the chapter on Being a Winona vs. Being a Gwyneth (Winona forever, obvs). Buy a copy of this book for yourself, then more copies to give to all the 15-35 year old women you know.
Profile Image for Laura.
647 reviews26 followers
February 24, 2017
I loved these essays. Some felt a little short -- my favorites were definitely the longest ones, which also tended to be the ones that folded in the most memoir-ing. The most personal essays were mostly heartbreaking, in a great way.

I love that "pop culture analysis w an emphasis on how the patriarchy has fucked over famous women" is increasingly a genre of its very own.

Ps. Ban men.
1 review1 follower
February 7, 2017
There are tens of thousands of essays on women and celebrity in the world, and yet Alana Massey manages to cut a path perpendicular to this well worn road. Bypassing the traditional sociological analysis of the influence these women and girls have on our culture, Massey examines how our culture influences them. In “There Can Only Be One,” she litigates the media-created feud between Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Kim as the product of cultural misogynoir that will only “allow” one tough and sexy Black woman to rule hip hop at a time. Essays on Anna Nicole Smith and the “crazy ex-girlfriend” label applied to women as seemingly dissimilar as Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes and Princess Di critique our treatment of women who break the traditional boundaries of class and gender rules, often to be met with derision even when they suffer tragedy.

But All the Lives I Want is not simply cultural criticism; Massey digs several miles below the surface, past intellect and emotion into the spiritual meaning of our one-sided relationships with these famous figures. Her essays don't attempt to humanize these women (though that does happen as a byproduct of her singular empathy) but rather to make a compelling case that each of them fulfills the timeless necessity as the individual incarnations of the many faces of femininity. My favorite, “The Queen of Hearts: An Alternative Account of the Life and Crimes of Courtney Love”, presents the rocker and actor (more famous for being a widow than an artist in her own right) not as a parasitic nagging wife (and accused murderer by her husband’s fans), but as an aspirational icon of chthonic power, a destroyer figure, and necessary model of “female brutality.” Her elevation of the Lisbon sisters in The Virgin Suicides alongside the many clusters of sisters scattered across Greek mythology, interwoven with the genuinely mystical love she shares with her own sister (born on the same day under the sign of Gemini), is almost unbearably beautiful. The essay is not just a coruscating love song to sisterhood, but punctuated throughout with a needle sharp critique of the failure of imagination of the male gaze that fetishizes and sexualizes sisterly love while missing the deep spirituality of the connection.

Massey’s time at Yale Divinity School may seem incongruous with writing about something so “trivial” as celebrity, but she effortlessly clarifies the metaphysical quality of feminine fame; by comparison, all others writing on the topic see only as if through a glass, darkly.
Profile Image for Alex.
114 reviews
March 19, 2019
This was a solid book of essays about important female celebrities, largely from the past 30 years or so. I love getting a peek into other people's fandom and reading analyses of the public figures they obsess over, partly because it makes me feel like I'm not crazy for obsessing over famous strangers. Massey keeps it interesting even if you know nothing about the people she's talking about.

My favorite essay was the last one, "Emparadised". I feel Massey's writing is at its best here, particularly her descriptions of Los Angeles, and I love her deconstruction of James and her comparison of him to the loathsome California city. I also liked her (unfortunately, but necessarily) dark reflection on the Olsen twins' careers and her perspective about the role of Charlotte in "Lost in Translation". I can't say I completely agreed with everything in the latter essay, but it is interesting to see the movie and its characters from another point of view.

Unsurprisingly, the essays sometimes get overly preachy and stray too much into the "call to arms" realm. While this is probably the purpose of a lot of these essays, that preachy-ness can unfortunately detract from the actual narratives of the essays. In all likelihood, the people reading this collection of essays already share Massey's sentiments and don't need their minds changed, so reiterating the issues with how the public views and treats female celebrities seems unnecessary.

One of the strengths of the book is that it makes me want to revisit (or visit for the first time) a lot of the media it discusses. I'm more interested in listening critically to some Lil' Kim, Nicki Minaj, or Courtney Love than I would have been before. I want to rewatch "Lost in Translation" to see what I might have missed and if I have a new perspective on it, since I haven't seen it in probably 10 years or so. And I want to figure out a way to rewatch "The Anna Nicole Show", because I completely forgot that existed and that it was a dark comedy without really meaning to be. I think a lot of these essays warrant a reread after I revisit their topics, and I'll probably just be stuck in this cycle forever.
Profile Image for Arianna Rebolini.
Author 1 book36 followers
February 9, 2017
I know I'm biased as someone who knows and loves Alana Massey, but the only reason we ever met was because of her work — work which has moved me, consistently, for over two years now. This book is no exception. Like Massey herself, the collection is almost impossible to categorize, moving seamlessly from fresh (really, truly fresh!) and incisive cultural analysis, to brutally honest confessions, to joyful and often hilarious celebration. I saw bits of myself in this book, but also — and more compellingly— I saw a lover of and cheerleader for many of the women pop culture has passed over or tossed aside; I saw a woman figuring out and forgiving herself, and showing other women they can do the same. ALL THE LIVES I WANT is academic and entertaining, funny and moving. Massey's honesty is cutting, her insights illuminating, her feminism unapologetic. I was expecting so much, and she more than delivered.
Profile Image for Tara.
5 reviews
February 19, 2017
Wow, what a beautiful read. The essays in this collection are as intelligent and thought-provoking as they are accessible. I have long been simultaneously infatuated with/afraid of the complex, difficult, and hard to define (in myself and mirrored back to me by other women), and this book was a fascinating unpacking of that feeling. The author's own vulnerability present throughout made her feel more like a friend, lovingly laying bare experiences many of us have lived in secret, setting us free. I would highly recommend this book-to Winonas and Gwyneths alike.
Profile Image for Trina Marie.
225 reviews22 followers
June 16, 2017
I kind of wanna gush about this book of essays. It is full of my own favorite iconic women of pop culture: Winona Ryder, Fiona Apple, Scarlett Johansson, Princess Di, the Olsen twins, Joan Didion. The intricate thoughts/stories/anecdotes about each life is a dream. Alana writes v deeply about each woman and her plain perspective is what I find most fascinating. Weird read at times, but I do love it regardless.
Profile Image for Paris (parisperusing).
187 reviews24 followers
November 25, 2018
Alana Massey's writing is explosive, heart-warming, operative and clever. There's a degree of suspense with which she writes that made me excited to turn these pages as fast I could. Cannot wait to see what she does next.

From a Winona, with love.
Profile Image for Ylenia.
1,073 reviews387 followers
July 20, 2019
Smart, well-written essays about famous women & society, mixed with personal experiences.
I loved some of them & liked the rest - definitely a strong collection.
Profile Image for daemyra, the realm's delight.
908 reviews37 followers
April 30, 2017
I have been actively following Alana Massey's Twitter profile and her online essays for a year or so, and was excited to read her first book of collected essays. If you are not aware of Ms. Massey, she is a prolific writer on topics such as dating, relationships and gender. One of my most favourite essays from her is "Against Chill" and another one that escapes my mind.

Some of the essays have been previously published online including the first essay, "Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth" that was originally published on Buzzfeed. It is about the author's "Winona in a world of Gwyneths" theory where Gwyneth Paltrow stands in for the ideal and boring American woman, and Winona, the relatable and cool woman. Massey works in her personal life and anecdotes as she talks about Gwyneth and Winona's respective careers, first sharing her criticism with what Gwyneth represents before coming to the conclusion that she has put Winona on a pedestal too: "giving Winona back her full humanity meant giving it back to Gwyneth, too."

The book is called "All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen To Be Famous Strangers" and the essays follow the same premise: what are Massey's thoughts on a female celebrity? Ensue socioeconomic, feminist and interpersonal observations about modern living.

Depending on how much you like the celebrities, you may find the essays a hit or a miss. I learned a lot about the types of celebrities Alana liked but I had not developed a strong interest for many of them including Fiona Apple or Courney Love. I felt left out because most of these female celebrities I never felt strongly one way or another about, and I skimmed for the most part those essays.

What I liked the best was Massey's absolute honesty in how she felt about the celebrities in relation to her self-worth and as well the personal details about her life. In terms of refreshing honesty, Massey's candid discussions on weight in the essay on The Virgin Suicides and on Lost in Translations were moments s that created a thrill in me because she expressed something new in writing that I had not seen, probably because it's not popular or okay to voice these thoughts. But that's what makes it so good.
Profile Image for Alice Lesperance.
19 reviews15 followers
July 2, 2017
I'm really loving the influx of personal essay-pop culture crit written by women coming out lately. I thought overall this collection was very good, though some essays were stronger than others. I never thought I would want to read another essay about ~reclaiming~ Sylvia Plath, but hers was quite good. None of the viewpoints are particularly revolutionary in 2017, and many are very similar to Sady Doyle's Trainwreck, another recent release in the same genre. What makes Massey's collection unique is her particular place of writing (she was a stripper who then went to yale's divinity school[fact check me on the school] before writing full time) and her blend of the personal essay with cultural criticism (which unlike Maggie Nelson, is geared specifically toward pop culture and the construction of celebrity). Definitely worth a read.
Profile Image for Eric Snow.
22 reviews5 followers
February 11, 2017
A marvel of a debut from an incredible essayist. These stories are steeped in critical, emotional, literary, and cultural insight the likes of which I haven't quite encountered before. I'm reminded of the best and worst parts of myself, equally comforted and challenged, and filled with the deepest desire to see the bitter truth and astonishing beauty of humanity in the faces of everyone I encounter.

This is an amazing book that I will read again (which I rarely do with anything), and I will be first in line with Massey's next book is published.
Profile Image for Morgan Jerkins.
Author 8 books925 followers
February 7, 2017
I have been in love with Alana Massey's writing for a little over a year and a half and she never disappoints, especially with her debut essay collection. Funny, witty, and engaging, Alana has a talent for being able to do deep-dives into character analyses and mind-boggling comparisons that reveal how interconnected we are to the celebrities we may never know.
Profile Image for Sam (AMNReader).
1,320 reviews285 followers
July 7, 2017
Some essays are amazing, some I wish went further. I believe I responded best when it connected to The author's deeper and more personal stories. Regardless, all essays elicited a level of response and thought from me, even if the ideas were familiar they felt like looking through a fresh lens.
Profile Image for Beth Shultz.
263 reviews3 followers
February 6, 2017
This was an entertaining read. Very good writing. Won this book from Goodreads giveaway.
Profile Image for Angela.
680 reviews12 followers
July 8, 2017
Couldn't relate to this author or her experiences.
Profile Image for C.
697 reviews
October 18, 2017
I love pop culture, and I like the author's voice in this book, but the analysis/connections seemed a little forced for most of the essays.
Profile Image for Sarah.
596 reviews26 followers
October 27, 2019
I really loved this book. She’s written a love letter of sorts to pop culture icons that have influenced her in one way or another. It’s an interesting group she’s put together—the Lisbon sisters from the virgin suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, Winona Ryder juxtaposed against Gwyndth Paltrow, Courtney love, Joan didion and the concept of the ‘crazy’ ex as enacted by princess di and Lisa left eye Lopez. Oh and an ode to lil Kim. And a beautiful tribute to Anna Nicole smith which made me cry. She writes about the tabloid stories but that’s not what makes this so special. She really writes lyrically about the women as symbols and touchstones in her life. She’s an awesome writer and really brings tenderness and kindness to these profiles. There’s some self mythologizing but I forgave it because I love the subjects she chose and when her writing lands, it’s pretty devastating.
Profile Image for Mary Clare.
136 reviews10 followers
September 21, 2017
Full review!

In this collection of essays, Massey explores her own identity and understanding of the world through the lens of writing about celebrities who she loves or finds fascinating. A mix of confessional-style personal writing and media criticism, this collection is an enjoyable and enlightening read from start to finish.

I was very intrigued by the concept behind this collection. I put it on my Amazon wishlist the minute that I first read the title. I'm a sucker for personal essays and for talking about celebrities, so this collection seemed to be perfect for me. And a lot of this collection was exactly what I wanted it to be. A lot of it had an incredible way of weaving Massey's personal experiences and the lives of celebrities.

I particularly enjoyed her discussions of Lana Del Rey, Amber Rose, Lil Kim, and Scarlett Johansson. I found Massey's observations to be precise, bold, and very enjoyable to read. I even stopped reading a few times to remind myself of what a particular Lana Del Rey music video looked like or to refresh myself on Scarlett Johansson's hairstyle in Lost in Translation. Over all, I love this kind of commentary. I love when an author uses personal experiences and observations to frame pop culture in a way that readers may not have experienced. I always liked Amber Rose but I never thought about what she might represent to others. And now that Massey has pointed out that the mouth is really the focal point of Lana Del Rey's face, I can't look anywhere else when I see a photo or video of her. I love gaining insight into how other people experience the pop culture that I have always consumed almost religiously.

But I ultimately found this collection to be a little bit lacking in the flow that I really wanted. More specifically, there were essays that were personal with passing references to celebrities and there were essays that were about celebrities with passing references to herself, when what I really wanted was something in between. And certainly, many of the essays did accomplish this and I absolutely loved those essays. But there were also some essays that I found myself less interested in because they were just lacking that personal element that I find so intriguing when reading media criticism. Basically, there were some essays where I was left wondering why I should care about the points she makes about the celebrities. I prefer to be told why I should care so that I can really emotionally invest in the essay.

While I found many of these essays enjoyable and insightful, I did find some of the essays to be lacking the raw personal element that I really want in a collection like this.

In all, I gave this collection 7.5 out of 10 stars.
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