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Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion

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We are living in the era of the self, in an era of malleable truth and widespread personal and political delusion. In these nine interlinked essays, Jia Tolentino, the New Yorker’s brightest young talent, explores her own coming of age in this warped and confusing landscape.

From the rise of the internet to her own appearance on an early reality TV show; from her experiences of ecstasy – both religious and chemical – to her uneasy engagement with our culture’s endless drive towards ‘self-optimisation’; from the phenomenon of the successful American scammer to her generation’s obsession with extravagant weddings, Jia Tolentino writes with style, humour and a fierce clarity about these strangest of times.

Following in the footsteps of American luminaries such as Susan Sontag, Joan Didion and Rebecca Solnit, yet with a voice and vision all her own, Jia Tolentino writes with a rare gift for elucidating nuance and complexity, coupled with a disarming warmth. This debut collection of her essays announces her exactly the sort of voice we need to hear from right now – and for many years to come.

303 pages, Paperback

First published August 6, 2019

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Jia Tolentino

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,838 reviews
Profile Image for jq.
208 reviews155 followers
August 17, 2019
I feel awful terrible giving such a low review because i was so so so excited for this to the point where I refused to read any press so I could have a pure unmediated experience... but only like 3 of the essays in here were good: the ones where she reflects on her own life. Which is funny because I used to get kind of annoyed at the way she would unnecessarily drop in details about her life into unrelated articles à la girl-who-went-to-Barthelona.

I think there really is an inherent difference between the kind of writing you do for the Internet (thinkpieces, cultural criticism tied to news cycles and more importantly to deadlines) vs the kind of writing that deserves to be printed into a book. 4 of these essays were essentially just saying things everyone knows by quoting/rearranging/summarising a lot of secondary sources -- very lukewarm takes on feminism and modern life that don't provoke thought as much as make you go "yeah lol".

Like maybe the target demographic is people who don't know these things? I agreed with it all way too much, to the point where I was wondering why I was even reading this. like 10% of the book is unfortunately just summarising extremely well-known narratives like the birth of Facebook (we've all watched the social network 10 times baby), which, while I understand is necessary for her to be able to then make her point about said narrative, is, to me, ultimately totally redundant because i agree with, and have already independently thought the same things about, the narrative. So who is this book for??? Surely readers of The New Yorker also know these things?

Anyways, I never thought i'd say this, but, yes, Jia Tolentino, please tell me more about your year in Kyrgyzstan.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 40 books160k followers
November 15, 2019
This is an outstanding, rigorously researched and written collection of cultural criticism. I really admired the depth of thought here. I felt like each essay was a master class on how to write cultural criticism. I was definitely taking notes. Some of the essays ran too long and could use some tightening but that is a subjective opinion. I was particularly interested in the essay about the UVA rape case and the one about uncritical feminism and how it can flatten discourse in really troubling ways. This is well worth a read. I read it slowly so I could really think through each piece. It is a rare book that encourages me to do that.
Profile Image for Melanie.
72 reviews61 followers
August 29, 2019
I'd read Jia Tolentino's grocery lists if she let me.
Profile Image for Kat.
270 reviews80k followers
November 12, 2020
technically this book is well written, and i enjoyed a lot of jia tolentino's takes. yet, it felt like the majority of this collection rested on long-winded background info and occasionally tedious, overly intellectual writing that wasn’t necessary. this often made it difficult for me to grasp the actual point of each essay and dulled my enjoyment overall.

the most memorable piece was "ecstasy" and my favorite was "pure heroines"
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.7k followers
December 15, 2022
Here is who I recommend this book for: Anyone who has been in a coma for the last ten to fifteen years; a person who just discovered the internet, or perhaps only recently learned how to read; someone over the age of 70 or under the age of 10 who has a suddenly discovered interest in small and generally feminist happenings of recent years.

Everyone else, you’re probably covered.

There is nothing much new here.

This pains me to say, because I like Jia Tolentino a lot. I enjoy her New Yorker articles. (Is this just a way for me to brag about reading the New Yorker? You tell me.) I like her voice.

But I did not care for this book much at all.

Almost without exception, there is not a single essay in this book that has not been extensively covered already, in TV shows and thinkpieces and books and article after article after article.

I, in order to air out my frustration and grievances (and knowing I wouldn’t get around to writing this review for 2 months or so), jotted down a few examples of well-covered topics that are here covered again.

Here they are:
- very well-tread literary analysis about female characters and marriage (as in, had I shown up to a freshman-level literature course with this thesis statement, most of my professors would have asked me where the snap was)
- a rehashing of the events of the Fyre Festival, which has already had not just one but two extraordinarily well-watched documentaries made about it.
- the events of the 2008 housing crisis, which would have been bad enough, except Tolentino chooses to summarize it through the plot of the already made film The Big Short, so it amounts to a quick look-through of that movie’s Wikipedia page
- the founding of Facebook (the number of books and movies and articles and documentaries and biographies about that alone…)
- the founding of Nasty Gal (which, yes, also had a TV show made about it already)
- a seemingly endless list of items sold on Amazon and their individual prices? For no demonstrable purpose, other than to say “a lot of things are sold on Amazon,” after that statement is written
- the Rolling Stone “A Rape on Campus” article (if you haven’t read and heard enough about that already to make your eyes and ears bleed, message me where you hang out. I’d like to visit and take a goddamn breather)

What I’m getting at here is that a number of these chapters include pages and pages of what is ultimately literally more than summaries of very well-known movies.

And while that would be, at best, boring and monotonous even in the best case, I could forgive it if we were treading well-tread ground in order to get to a new point. A cool argument. An actually inventive thesis.

And maybe the conclusion of this - that all of these and other pre-established theories and thoroughly analyzed events coalesce into a culture of self-delusion in which all millennial women live - is new, but it’s hard to even remember that that’s the conclusion when all of the essays/chapters are so separate and so totally not unique.

Worse, they never coalesce in a satisfying way, leaving each chapter feeling like a Sparknotes summary of something that happened in the early aughts.

The best part of this is 1/7th of the chapter “The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams,” which describes the descent of feminism into a capitalist-friendly GIRLBOSS subvein that encourages participation in a fundamentally unequal economy in order to demonstrate one’s commitment to equality - buying shirts and mugs, becoming the symbol of economic inequality that is a CEO.

I love this thesis. Unfortunately, I’ve read about it in a far more satisfying way already, too, in a Boston Globe article written by a classmate of mine whose daughter, after receiving a shirt that said “GIRL POWER,” asked why her brother and boys at large didn’t have to wear shirts to remind them of their power.

Now that’s what we call a good angle. (You can read her article here.)

But I digress.

Bottom line: If you fit into one of the groups I outlined earlier, there’s no better way to play catch-up on the last dozen years of pop culture than in Jia Tolentino’s voice.

If not, you may be in for a frustrating read.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,521 reviews9,010 followers
September 1, 2019
4.5 stars

I have to start this review by sharing that when I finished the last essay of Trick Mirror, “I Thee Dread,” I literally started clapping and whisper screaming “oh my god, Jia really did that” and “ugh, queen of delivering a fatal blow to the capitalist patriarchal wedding industrial complex, we stan a self-aware icon.” Mind you, this fanboying took place while I sat alone on my couch in my apartment, where I’m typing this review right now. “I Thee Dread” serves both as an essay about how Jia Tolentino has never wanted to get married and an analysis of weddings more broadly, their history and social function. This piece encapsulates what Tolentino accomplishes when she reaches her peak in this collection, a powerful examination of her own psyche and how it runs parallel to the forces of history and popular culture. Here’s a quote from “I Thee Dread” that I love:

“And still I wonder how much harder it would be to get straight women to accept the reality of marriage if they were not first presented with the fantasy of a wedding. I wonder if women today would so readily accept the unequal diminishment of their independence without their sense of self-importance being overinflated first. It feels like a trick, a trick that has worked and is still working, that the bride remains the image of womanhood at its most broadly celebrated – and that planning a wedding is the only period in a woman’s life where she is universally and unconditionally encouraged to conduct everything on her terms.���

Tolentino applies this sharp insight to a gamut of fascinating topics throughout Trick Mirror, including: how we construct ourselves on the internet, the constant pressure we face to optimize every aspect of our lives, rape culture in relation to her alma mater the University of Virginia, the American scammer as millennial hero, and more. Several reviewers have used the word “millennial” to describe this collection and I feel like that fits. These essays all feel timely, fresh, and almost funny in a “I’m feeling distressed about the crushing rise of student debt so here’s a meme that I’ll post on Twitter about the collapse of the climate thanks to global capitalism” kinda way. What I admire most about this collection is Tolentino’s voice. Her writing voice is confident, distinct, and captivating, yet consistently aware of its own potential shortcomings. I also appreciated her incisive feminist takes that pushed the envelope on more mainstream liberal ideologies, such as by explicitly naming whiteness and how characters of Asian ethnicity are pushed into the background, as well as how having women adopt the role of the male oppressor (e.g., serving as prison guards instead of abolishing prisons altogether) may not truly further justice.

I did feel at times that some of these essays felt like they drifted away out of her control, like they would go on these stream-of-consciousness explorations whereas I wanted a bit more focus around a central point or argument. At the same time, I applaud Tolentino for an impressive essay collection which I hope many people will read. She includes “reflections on self-delusion” in the title which I think fits very well. Once you gain an awareness of the delusions you tell yourself, you move one step closer to freeing yourself and living your life on your own terms.

I also want to end this review with one more quote from the “I Thee Dread” essay because I loved it so much (as ya’ll can probably tell). Here it is:

“The conventional vision of a women’s life, in which the wedding plays a starring role, seems to be offering an unspoken tradeoff. Here, our culture says, is an event that will center you absolutely – that will crystallize your image when you were young and gorgeous, admired and beloved, with the whole world rolling out in front of you like an endless meadow, like a plush red carpet, sparklers lighting up your irises and petals drifting through your lavish, elegant hair. In exchange, from that point forward, in the eyes of the state and everyone around you, your needs will slowly cease to exist. This is of course not the case for everyone, but for plenty of women, becoming a bride still means being flattered into submission: being prepared, through a rush of attention and a series of gender-segregated rituals – the bridal shower, the bachelorette party, and later, the baby shower – for a future in which your identity will be systematically framed as secondary to the identity of your husband and kids.”
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews760 followers
October 6, 2020
I really enjoyed this actually, even though any collection of essays/stories tends to be uneven. I probably also enjoyed it more since it said a lot of things that I already agree with or thought to begin with. I tend to just like being reaffirmed in my view point, what can I say? I really didn't enjoy the essay on drugs and religion and spiritualism very much. I did enjoy the ones on feminism a little more, like the ones examining the way lodging any criticism at any woman becomes grounds for calls of sexism. I liked the undercurrents of the fragility of identity and the ideas about performing an identity that went hand in hand with the idea of commodification of the self. I enjoyed that there was context brought to each of the essays though maybe at times it felt a little excessive like other readers have mentioned in their review (lots of excerpts from books, the list of items of Amazon almost made me put the book down). Personally liked it but I think if you go into this expecting some kind of new hot take on things then you'll be disappointed. It does cover a lot of the things people have already talked about and especially talks a lot about this current cultural moment so I do think there's a limitation to new things that can be said.
Profile Image for Nicola.
Author 6 books499 followers
February 12, 2020
A bit of a mixed bag.

The first essay, The I in Internet, is excellent.

Always Be Optimizing had some great ideas but a bit circular and seemed to be holding something back.

The personal experience essays, Reality TV Me and Ecstacy were diverting enough, I enjoyed them.

Some of the essays cover some really well-worn ground at this point. Often, the context and asides are too heavy on research and info-dumping that isn’t fully relevant, or it’s just dull. Several times I felt like I was waiting around for the point to emerge (We Come From Old Virginia), and sometimes there was no thesis at all (Pure Heroines). A few essays and sections simply failed to catch my interest.

I like Tolentino, but I think I prefer her ideas in shorter form and fully distilled.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
326 reviews39 followers
May 25, 2020
I don’t know if I can top the review that calls this a “collection of high-functioning book reports” but I’ll try to elaborate.

Tolentino’s whole schtick is to identify topics that are “underarticulated” and expound on them - she’s that person in the meeting who hears the hint of an idea and then takes it and runs with it, never having an original thought or contribution of her own. What’s even more frustrating it that the ideas are trite, and she doesn’t have a strong point of view or thesis at all. What is this book about? Some vague idea about “the spheres of public imagination that have shaped my understanding of myself, of this country, and of this era.” Spoiler alert: it’s vague patriarchy and capitalism.

The whole thing is lukewarm and timid, but since Tolentino criticizes the the most radical corners of liberal social media, she pretends she is contrarian and bold. Really she just compiles and summarizes a lot of other recent, bland books written in the past decade. Wow, you mean the internet encourages approval-seeking and narcissism? Tell me more. The wedding industry is awful? People perform for us on reality television but we're all performing everyday in our lives? Fascinating.

My least favorite essay, by far, was “Always be Optimizing,” which is about the beauty industrial complex. Let’s call it "The Beauty Myth: Social Media edition." Unforgivable intellectual laziness displayed here. “Some deep patriarchal logic has made it that women need to achieve ever higher levels of beauty to make up for the fact that we are no longer economically and legally dependent on men.” What trite nonsense. I had to read some Camille Paglia immediately to cling on to some sanity. I will offer the same relief to you: “We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. Beauty is an eternal human value. It was not a trick invented by nasty men in a room someplace on Madison Avenue.”
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
November 23, 2019
Lucid and enlightening, the essays of Jia Tolentino’s debut collection Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion consider what it means for Millennial women to navigate a culture of spectacle, scam, and oppression. In sharp prose across nine essays Tolentino takes on everything from the troubling rise of athleisure to America’s obsession with reality television, difficult women, and weddings. Sketching brilliant fragments of cultural criticism for the digital age, the author demystifies perplexing trends and passionately critiques a society overtaken by rampant racism and misogyny.
Profile Image for Lucy Dacus.
96 reviews28.2k followers
May 13, 2020
I felt like this book was written for me. As a marriage dubious, Christian raised, Virginian who recently came to love reality TV and made a note years ago to write an essay comparing Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and The Awakening, it pretty much hit all the stops. But even if none of these descriptions apply to you, I recommend this book. It's smart and insightful and funny and strikes the balance between cultural criticism and personal account very well.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 3 books3,376 followers
August 11, 2019
Recently my rad friend B and I got into it about Roxanne Gay's Bad Feminist, which I loudly do not like. B argued that it was wrong of me to judge it so harshly because I was not taking into account the deep biases I bring to my own reading. I remain unrepentant because those essays are extremely bad, but I do acknowledge that I am only a combination of my life's influences: I grew up solidly middle-class, I am a cis-het woman and a Jew of European heritage, I went to a good liberal arts college, and white American intellectual values are the waters in which I have always steeped. So perhaps when I say something utterly subjective like "those essays are extremely bad," I do only mean that they're bad to me, and if I were a queer black woman like B, raised and taught and influenced in different ways, all my opinions would be completely different.

Be that as it may, I still am me, I still have the same brain and biases, and I will tell you this: Jia Tolentino is exactly everything I fucking love. This book (to me!) is basically perfect—devastatingly smart and endlessly fascinating and filled with essays that work, that interrogate the modern condition from every angle and leave you gasping with new comprehensions. They are deeply researched and wildly illuminating and also even funny, sometimes, when they're not devastating or brutal or so intense you have to put the book down and go take a dazed walk to let your brain synapses cool their firings.

Anyway, you don't really need me to tell you about Jia's brilliance, right? I mean, she's written and edited everywhere, from the Hairpin to Jezebel to now the New Yorker (which excerpted one of this book's best essays: "Losing Religion and Finding Ecstacy in Houston"). As of this moment, her release week, she's on a press blitz so thorough that it's the subject of its own roundups and memes. If you don't feel like scrolling through, find her profiled on Elle, interviewed on the Paris Review, and reviewed on Vanity Fair; see her food picks on Grub Street, her skincare routine on In the Gloss, and her dog on Jezebel. I could go on.

But you're here, so go ahead and listen to me talk about this book some more. To wit: In one essay she writes about how the internet has fundamentally reoriented the truth so that what's important now is only what's important to me ("The everyday madness perpetuated by the internet positions personal identity as the center of the universe"). In another, she dissects the perpetual burden of being an ideal woman in the days of self-optimization, managing to tie together chopped salads ("the perfect mid-day nutritional replenishment for the mid-level modern knowledge worker"), Barre classes ("the rapid-fire series of positions and movements resemble what a ballerina might do if you concussed her and then made her snort caffeine pills"), and athleisure ("tailor-made for a time when work is rebranded as pleasure so we will accept more of it").

She writes explosively about the harrowing history of racism and rape at the University of Virginia, her alma matter, linking the recent ill-fated and retracted Rolling Stone piece about fraternity rape all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and Saly Hemings—in fact, no, all the way back to ancient European "youthful war bands": wealthy young men who donned wolf hides and roved the forests looking for maidens to snatch, until they came of age and went home to find wives. She also writes about "difficult women" in a piece that considers everyone from Kim Kardashian to Madonna to Hope Hicks ("I feel as if feminist praxis has turned to acid and eaten through the floor. It's as if what's signified—sexism itself—has remained so intractable that we've mostly given up on rooting out its actual workings.").

She also writes about the lie of the literary heroine, the history of the conman, the Fyre Festival, her time on a reality show as a teenager, corporate feminism, recoiling at the idea of marriage, and who even knows, everything else under the fucking sun. She is so smart and so savvy and so, so good, and I hope she's already at work on her next collection, because I cannot believe I'll have to go back to reading other people's essays now.
Profile Image for Derek Ouyang.
162 reviews36 followers
November 16, 2019
This was a frustrating read. I can understand the hype because of Tolentino's overall on-point-ness and refreshing honesty on thorny cultural topics, but diving into the actual writing, I couldn't help but shake the feeling that these were like outstanding AP English essays whipped out by a student who had been partying all night with basic friends but could effortlessly crank out the winning formula of criticism topped with literary reference and personal anecdote in the hours before class began - and that formula is continuing to work a decade later for a professional career. One messy level deeper, I couldn't help but wonder whether the book itself was a trick mirror: either to her, the most unreliable narrator of 2019, projecting candid moral high ground when the result is actually a filtered selfie; or to the reader, willing to accept this projection only if we can delude ourselves about our own woke millennial high ground; or to me in particular, falling for the trap of my revealed snobbish bigotry, laid by a master trapper. Whatever its true form, it's smoke and mirrors to me, and I couldn't wait to get out.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews618 followers
December 15, 2019
Audiobook... narrated by the author, Jia Tolentino.

I really enjoyed listening to Jia read her book - (9 essays).
She’s bluntly insightful about the times we are living in without being preachy.
I admire the way Jia formulates her thoughts—brilliantly!

I became so curious about this magnificent woman, ( never knew of her until now), that I spent time listening to her YouTube interviews. I liked her even more!

There is something of value for everyone in this book.
I would have paid full price just for the first essay itself: ( about the internet)
I’ve read other books about the internet - and what’s it doing to our brains— etc.....
but this particular essay, is the best of the bunch. Jia had me thinking about things I never thought of - from
a historic point of view ....
from radio- to TV- to the early days of the internet - the later years - present day years- to......?????
Thought provoking and worthy of discussions.

I wasn’t as excited about her essay about Reality TV...
but... I admit I had my best laughed when she ate a plate of hot mayonnaise on a reality TV show......YUCK...
I’m still chuckling about the scene she described.

There’s an essay about modern weddings.
Ha... as my younger married daughter says ( all of 1 and a half years)>>
“Couples shouldn’t consider a large wedding until at least 10 years of marriage”.
She has a point - and so does Jia!

I like this ‘entire’ book and the current relevant topics covered.
Jia is smart, sassy, incredibly observant about life, funny, warm, and articulate.

I like this woman!!
Loved this book...and glad I didn’t miss it!!! 🎧📚

Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
December 31, 2019
So what's a trick mirror, anyway? Seriously, what is it? I googled three different ways and all I found was references to this book. (If you know, please tell me in the comments! Edit: Thanks, Marchpane!) I'm assuming a trick mirror is a mirror that shows you something different depending on how you look at it, blurring the lines between what's real and what isn't. If I'm right, it's an apt title for the book as well as an apt description of the experience of reading it.

When I began Trick Mirror, I was quickly impressed by Tolentino's writing, so unlike previous essay collections I'd read by people around her age. She wasn't just speaking off the cuff; everything she said was backed up by copious secondary sources. And yet, eventually all those secondary sources made me feel like I was reading a series of term papers. So much synthesis of other people's work! Haven't we covered a lot of this ground already? Haven't we been debating "girl power" feminism since the Spice Girls? Didn't we go just go over whether feminists need to support all women's choices back when Sarah Palin was hunting wolves by shooting them from a helicopter (or whatever the hell it was)? Rape culture on campus; the commercialization of weddings—these are worthy topics, as evidenced by the fact that they've already been written about over and over again.

But every time I thought my skepticism would torpedo my experience of this book, Tolentino would express something in a way I'd never heard it expressed before. Ultimately, her fluency is in the contradictions, the way the mirror shows us different things from different angles. It's true that in some ways women are in a better position than ever before: We can get a credit card or loan without a man's permission; we can hold virtually any job and attend virtually any university; it's now illegal to beat or rape us even if you're married to us, and more people than ever seem to get that sexual harassment is a thing. In this atmosphere, Tolentino worries that by discussing sexist sentiments we're actually helping to perpetuate them. On the other hand, the fact that we keep discussing them seems to imply they still hold quite a bit of significance, and of course they do. On paper, we have most of the same rights as men (save reproductive rights), yet things still seem pretty bad out there, in any number of ways. This is a murky, murky time, and the only way out is through it. I applaud Tolentino for being willing to wade into these muddy waters, and I hope she continues to do so. She's a serious thinker, and we've got a lot to think about.
Profile Image for Skyler Autumn.
229 reviews1,403 followers
January 23, 2021
2 Stars

Trick Mirror is just that a trick. Jia Tolentino has written a book that is compiled of essays in which she sums up, reiterates, or recaps major events that have circled all our lives for the last 30 years. Events that we have all heard of in some form whether through television, internet, newspapers, carrier pigeons or if you just blindly stumbled out into the world and talked to another human soul for a few minutes. Basically it's impossible not to know about the majority of the events depicted within these pages unless you are a bunker person.

So here comes Jia Tolentino taking what we all know re-wording it with gusto and flourish, even adding some quotes from famous writers, stamping a signature millennial opinion on it and then getting that instagrammable cover page before selling this book like the new lady Malcolm Gladwell. If that's not a trick in the same vain as the "girl bosses" she mocks then I don't know what is. I'm sorry to say this for such a highly regarded book but I'm calling it out. The Emperor has no clothes people. Unless you need a refresher on the last 30 years because you have serious case of Amnesia then I suggest you move on. If you're not Lucy Whitmore-esque then trust me when I say you have read all this before and most likely for free.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,174 reviews8,396 followers
September 7, 2019
I enjoy Tolentino's writing a lot. The standout essay to me is still "Ecstasy" which I read back when it came out in the New Yorker earlier this year. Some of her ideas are left a bit unexamined, in my view. They were more explanatory than critical, so as a primer in contemporary topics, it's great. But it did leave a bit to be desired.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,438 followers
August 9, 2019
I don't know if I’m going to have the time to write about this in the depth I would like, so I will just say that I finished Trick Mirror feeling I’d probably read any article Jia Tolentino writes about any topic, and I’d definitely read her memoirs. The personal stories woven through these essays bring the book to vibrant life. The autobiographical essays tend to be the strongest, particularly ‘Reality TV Me’, in which Tolentino revisits her experience of competing on a TV show at the age of 16 (this essay could easily pass as a brilliant short story); ‘We Come from Old Virginia’, in which she reckons with the controversial history of her alma mater, the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; and ‘Ecstasy’, about religion and drugs, in which she writes hypnotically about the woozy hip-hop subgenre of ‘chopped and screwed’.

Chopped and screwed mimics the lean feeling—a heady and dissociative security, as if you're moving very slowly towards a conclusion you don't need to understand. It induces a sense of permissive disorientation that melds perfectly to Houston, a place where a full day can pass in time-lapse without you ever getting off the highway, where the caustic gleam of daytime melts into a fluorescent polluted sunset and then into a long and swampy night.

I can’t remember the last time I read non-fiction and came away with such a fierce sense of the author as a person, which, I think, is partly because Tolentino is so unlike the cliche: raised in an evangelical megachurch in the American south; a straight-A student as a teenager, but also a cheerleader and a reality TV star; blithely, unapologetically open about her past and current drug use. It's not just that she’s a happy extrovert – though this in itself is unusual enough to stand out as memorable – but that this aspect of her character shines bright through her writing (without obscuring it). Indeed, it’s not the subjects of the essays that really leave an impression, but the way Tolentino writes around them, and the impression they create of the author as a luminous person, full of impossible confidence both as an individual and in her craft – someone I am ravenously jealous of.

So, yes, this is a collection of essays about modern society and pop culture by a young female writer, and there are many other examples of that kind of thing. You might feel there are already enough of them in the world; that this one doesn’t need your attention. But I can also honestly say I have never read anything quite like Trick Mirror.

I received an advance review copy of Trick Mirror from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews388 followers
January 27, 2023
An easy personal stand-out for personal non-fiction book of the year, Trick Mirror is an essay collection that touches on feminism, its intersection with the internet, our modern preoccupations with external appearance, and honestly staggering amounts of other good stuff. It's a bit tough to summarize a book that features an essay of complex analysis of the institute of marriage alongside one about taking ecstasy, religion, and DJ Screw.

Suffice to say that this is an audiobook that is packed to the gills with insightful commentary, intelligent analysis, hilarious anecdotes, and a voice that feels like an inoculation against the worst the modern world has to offer. I usually listened in to an essay over the course of meal-prep or to-and-from work. There's not an essay in the bunch that failed to stir my interest, or challenge a preexisting belief, or force me to think in new directions.

Indeed, the book feels like a warm shower of wokeness. One whose steam still feels like it is wafting off my pores. In the collection there's old ideas interrogated with sharp wit, questioning of culturally held beliefs, and some serious callouts. I'm not saying that Tolentino and I see eye-to-eye on every single matter, but hers is an opinion that I respect and always enjoy hearing out. This type of challenge to rote cognition is exactly what I love in a good conversation and Tolentino packs in almost ten solid hours of good stuff.

Again, not my typical fare. This book is more like an elective outside one's major that presents new ideas and ways of thinking that exemplify the best that post-secondary education has to offer. Nonetheless, it's put me on to an author whose work I'll be sure to follow in the future. Don't sleep on this one!

A huge shout out to Garrett who put me on to Jia Tolentino's writing: I don't know that I would have otherwise sought out such a book. Fortunately, I did!
Profile Image for Sunny.
702 reviews3,660 followers
July 29, 2022
feminism, pop culture, the internet: my favorite things to interrogate! Jia Tolentino does a brilliant job of eviscerating our current era of capitalism but with a cynically self aware liberal bent that I disliked at points.

Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews167 followers
June 19, 2020
Reading Trick Mirror was eye-opening - I so rarely read commentary on what's happening here and now, instead tending towards "retrospectives" which comment on the events of some decade past. Whether it's Chuck Klosterman making me giggle about the sillier stuff of the 90s or Tom Wolfe relaying what the hippy-dippy 70s were all about, I'm always out of step with the current times. Hell, I am more prone to reading old Newsweek and Time articles from archives of their 1950s and 60s material instead of what's on the magazine racks today. (As if anybody's buying magazines from the rack, old man - it's all online e-subscriptions now!)

My wife is the polar opposite. She knows every celebrity's name and why they are someone I'm supposed to care about. She knows the lyrics to every new song, weeks before I blunder into hearing it on the radio. She is whip-smart and quite the reader, but her tastes and mine simply don't overlap often. So when this book appeared on our shared public library account's hold shelf and we couldn't remember whether I had reserved it or she had, she came up with a proposition: a buddy read. We have lively discussions about politics and pop culture, and we often see the same things from a different enough angle to give each other a new perspective to consider. So why not take the opportunity to spend a little extra time here on something we both happened upon independently?

A great idea. Reading these essays and discussing them afterwards with someone provided such an unexpected benefit. Of course I knew it would be helpful, but I underestimated just how amplified the impact would be. I hope to do this again more often.

3.5 stars out of 5. I found Tolentino's writing a little hard to follow, both stylistically and logically. She tends to write lengthy paragraphs comprised of long and clause-filled sentences, and I had a bit of a tough time retaining what I'd read the page previously when her connections were not immediately clear. I grew mentally tired with the exercise of keeping up and backtracking, and my unfamiliarity with the most recent of pop culture references meant I was simply unable to connect to certain points or anecdotes without at least some cursory googling. But that is on me, not Tolentino. She is a provocative writer, not in terms of salacious content but in terms of mental stimulation. I would gladly read more from her again.

P.S. There's a quote right on the back cover: "Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet." - Jesus, if that isn't depressing.
Profile Image for Jaime.
232 reviews48 followers
August 5, 2019
I’m not sure I get the hype about Tolentino. Many times, I wanted to scream GET TO THE POINT with these essays. She goes off on tangents and reading this became more of an exercise in perseverance than anything else. I’d give it 2.5 stars but rounded up.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,551 reviews603 followers
December 25, 2019
[3.5] I can see why this collection has been received with such acclaim. The focus on cultural criticism with a theme of self delusion is perfect for our times. Tolentino is smart, insightful and her essays are well researched.
Yet... I personally feel oversaturated with input on our consumer and millennial culture. I am mostly lukewarm about her essays on the internet, reality tv, optimization, Ecstasy, and scamming. Finally though - her last three essays really struck a chord in me! I woke up and loved her thoughtful and sharp edged critiques on the UVA rape scandal, the cult of the difficult women and weddings.
Profile Image for Hannah.
595 reviews1,055 followers
September 15, 2019
This is an incredibly strong essay collection, brought down by a first essay that did not work for me and made picking this back up difficult for me. But once I finished that first essay, Jia Tolentino gives the reader an incredibly well-structured and presented collection. I know why this was one of my most anticipated reads for this year.

Jia Tolentino writes about many different things but always through a lense of feminism and internet culture – something I particularly adore as a feminist who is very much online. Her essays have a rambling quality that worked exceedingly well for me because I could trust her to pull her different strands of argument back together by the end of each essay. She combines the personal with the political, always underpinning her arguments with quotes and statistics in a highly effective way. This is the type of essay collection I adore.

My absolute favourite essay of this collection is about ecstacy – both the drug and the concept in religion. Tolentino reflects on her own religious upbringing, her relationship to drugs, her discovery of Houston’s hip hop scene, and her experience with god in a way that should not work for me (I am not particularly interested in any of these topics on their own) but that was just incredible. If you are only going to read one essay from this collection, make sure it is this one.

Content warning: discussions of rape culture and rape, bigotry, misogyny, racism.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Fourth Estate in exchange for an honest review.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,127 followers
August 16, 2019
I really loved this. I’ve been reading Jia Tolentino’s stuff ever since she started at Jezebel- we’re roughly the same age and she got assigned stuff I was guaranteed to click on, so I’ve read a fair amount. Some of her NYer pieces were even better, after she was freed from needing to write in Internet witty speak all the time and could show other tricks and styles she had up her sleeve. And I’d say those two voices and experiences are about equally on display here, to mostly utterly fantastic effect.

Seriously though, some of this was straight up brilliant. “The I in Internet” and “Always Be Optimizing,” should be read in college classes and debated on tv by public intellectuals, if this country had such a thing. (“Optimizing” in particular hit me where I lived and I read it several times over. There’s a great excerpt of it in The Guardian from a few weeks ago that you should all check out.) I thought “Story of a Generation in Seven Scams” was a really well laid out argument for why a lot of millennials’ politics and choices in their own lives may have turned out the way they did, given the parade of lies and con jobs that was the years of our awakening to political consciousness-from the Iraq War to the financial crisis to Amazon to bogus VC firms to the student debt crisis to our current president. When you put it all together like that I hope at least a few Boomer heads hang in shame. “The Cult of the Difficult Woman” was strong too. I loved the part where she tried to start a hard conversation around criticizing the appearance of conservative spokeswomen as a crucial part of the work they do in defending the ideas they’re paid to defend- and how sometimes looks can be up for discussion, with a point behind the observation that is relevant beyond as hominem attacks.

I respected the attempt to come to terms with her teenage choice to go on reality TV in “Reality TV Me” but while she made a good start, the essay ultimately failed at its apparent intentions of being honest with herself- she ended on a note of defending her actions and pointing out her specialness despite everything. It’s a hard task, I know, but maybe she needed to wait a few more years to disconnect a bit more? I thought Ecstasy had some lovely lines and images because she’s a fantastic writer but was somewhat overwrought and made a not very original point about the feelings produced by drugs and religion having a lot in common. Pure Heroines was fine but a bit too neat- it read like a school essay-, and I Thee Dread wasn’t finished yet. I think it should have been cut until she was ready to take it further than she did.

But overall, this is a thoughtful, perceptive, beautifully written, highly relevant collection of essays on 21st century society’s major issues, particularly those to do with self-presentation, seeking connection and negotiating being a woman with truth and integrity in a world that is still nowhere near equal. And I can only imagine she’ll get better as she keeps writing more. I bought this in hardback at the actual bookstore the day it came out and I’ll do the same for whatever her next collection may be. She’s earned it.
Profile Image for Rachel.
550 reviews926 followers
January 24, 2020
I'm pleased to report that it's every bit as good as everyone says it is.  Jia Tolentino probes the oddities of modern [female] life with the precision of a scalpel; she's a tremendously talented writer and a skilled observer, a critical combination when it comes to this sort of essay collection.  My favorite essay was the one about Tolentino's time on a reality tv show as a teenager, and my least favorite was the last essay about weddings, but I think each of those speaks to my personal interests more than objective quality.  I don't think there was a weak essay in here and I look forward to reading anything by Tolentino in the future.
Profile Image for Eliza.
596 reviews1,376 followers
February 5, 2020
Some essays were monumentally better than others but, overall, I still wasn't too big of a fan. I guess I didn't agree with too much Jia wrote about, and there was nothing that "wowed" me.
Profile Image for Monica.
621 reviews631 followers
October 31, 2020
This is the first book I've read that ever made me feel like I am knocking on the door of elderly (yes I'm well over 50). There is something about Tolentino's writing that lets me know squarely that another generation is becoming mainstream and that generation acquires and takes in information differently. The digital revolution of the 80s and 90s ushered in much more than access to data. The shear volume of information that comes at us daily is daunting. The younger generations have learned to receive and process these amounts of information in ways that I simply don't. Plus Tolentino writes indulgently and at length about things that don't matter as much to me (Reality TV, Ecstasy, Barre Ballet etc)…at least not as much as younger folks. She is thorough and frenetic and goes in tangents and fully explores them including the history behind much of what she observes. I found her essays to be long and bursting with information. There was almost more information than opinion. Some of which was interesting and enlightening, some was just noise that she couldn't seem to ignore in case there was a nugget that might have tangentially supported her thoughts.

I think Tolentino is a very smart and very good writer. For me the last half of the book was much stronger and more substantive (or maybe of more interest to me) than the first. I think a younger me who grew up with information coming at me through a cannon, might be more appreciative. Nonetheless, a worthwhile read.

3.5 Stars rounded up

Half read on kindle half audio book. Tolentino was the narrator. She made me appreciate her thoughts more through her narration. Audio book was the better choice for me here.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
660 reviews192 followers
August 21, 2019
If the attendees of my gay book club and various members of grouptexts are any indication, the Jia hype is for real. She has become something of a tribune for the millennial generation: funny and razor sharp, introspective and curious, she writes in a way that very often feels inspired. I followed Jia as she developed through stints at the Awl, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and finally the New Yorker, where she seems to have finally encountered an audience commensurate to her talents and the importance of the issues she grapples with.

Reading this book was a bit surreal: not only does Jia's work resonate as someone who belongs to the generation whose interests and experience are central to her writing, but we also ran in similar circles at the same college. It's odd enough to have someone describe the honeyed and cosseted life of your college experience to you, but it's even weirder to think "I was at that Girl Talk show where you talk about doing MDMA for the first time" and "I know this person whose peacock wedding you're describing!" Jia and I orbited in similar circles at UVA--I was friends with a lot of people in her sorority and she was only a year below us--but I don't recall any particular interactions in college aside from one email exchange we had joking about "As I Lay Dying" sequels. But I have no desire to overstate (or state) a relationship for Goodreads cool points. Ultimately I didn't have any strong impression of her upon graduation other than that a lot of people I was (and am still) friends with thought she was next-level cool.

It wasn't until a few years later that traces of the numinous mind we're more familiar with in 2019 began to surface. She had this amazing blog (which she has regrettably made private) where she would say brilliant, pithy, poignant, piercing things about books, people, the Peace Corps, etc. I read it assiduously, and kicked myself for not getting to know her in college; it turned me onto (among others) Winesburg, Ohio. At a certain point the blog dried up and I continue to mourn its loss, but Jia's writing continued to sharpen as it became better known on the aforementioned sites.

I remember in particular one post about her sitting in a cafe in Central Asia, going to the bathroom, and coming back to realize that she had left her laptop out to be stolen, and with it the novel she had been working on (and had not saved to the cloud, or email, or whatever people were doing in the early aughts to save their work). I remember thinking what a shame it was that some person stole and probably destroyed this laptop for a few hundred bucks, considering the work of intelligence and insight and perspective it no doubt contained. But I also remember mourning as a reader who would never get a chance to read her thoughts in book form. So it was with nostalgic excitement that I picked up "Trick Mirror," likely unimaginable at the time of the theft, and read Jia's first book. And it was just as entertaining, insightful, glancing, and tender as are the articles on which she built her reputation, and just as indicative of the thoughtfulness I've admired from afar, hopefully not too creepily, for the past decade.
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