The question, What do you want to be when you grow up, often provokes feelings of existential dread as I ponder what, exactly, I am passionate about, and how, exactly, I will eventually make a living. In truth, I would really just like to be an explorer for the rest of my life, utilizing writing as an excuse to learn and travel to my heart’s content. A journalist, after all, can essentially be considered a professional learner, a student of the world, a curious observer. This is what I would like to be when I grow up, and, to be more precise, I would like to be Jia Tolentino.
Jia Tolentino is a 31-year-old staff writer at The New Yorker, a publication to which I seem to have a severe addiction. She lives in Brooklyn, is incredibly kind and personable (I had the privilege of meeting her after an interview she conducted at Books are Magic), and recently came out with her must-read book, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.
Trick Mirror is a collection of essays that combine Tolentino’s personal experiences with her well-informed observations of current cultural and political phenomenons (sweetgreen, sexual assault on college campuses, marriage, barre, religion). Each essay is meticulously researched, but rather than making incontrovertible claims, Tolentino explores her thoughts and beliefs with humble curiosity, often questioning her own assumptions, acknowledging that what she perceives may very well be incorrect or more nuanced than she realized. This intellectual humility–the willingness to admit that one is prone to mistakes–renders Trick Mirror all the more believable and influential.
This book is unapologetically a feminist text, and, at times, I found myself disagreeing with the strength of some of the author’s statements. But this, I believe, was merely a result of hearing and reading the claims of people who lack the aptitude for nuance, unfairly categorizing all men as predators and labeling women as the superior sex. Of course, such strong views are held by a comically small percentage of feminists. Unfortunately though, these feminists tend to be louder than the rest, resulting in an incomplete picture of what feminism truly is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” (according to google). Hearing these women misrepresent feminism has made me extra sensitive to the movement; I worry that the pendulum will swing too far in the opposite direction, so some of the pushback I experienced while reading Trick Mirror was not the result of Tolentino’s language or ideas but rather of a heightened sensitivity to issues of gender equality. Tolentino herself acknowledges that not all men are monsters and speaks fondly of her sweet, sensitive partner Andrew. She represents what feminism is actually about.
To fully grasp Trick Mirror‘s genius, though, it merits a second, and perhaps a third, read. I have only read it once, and possess the strong sense that I missed a lot. There are so many gems of wisdom and profound insights that to absorb it all, one must read it again. A single read will not provide the time nor attention required to understand the extent of Tolentino’s various deep dives. Indeed, after completing the book, I felt that I had only scratched the surface of the wisdom she so thoughtfully shared.
In truth, Trick Mirror is a treasure trove of profundity and wit and masterful storytelling, if slightly verbose at times. Tolentino’s keen self-awareness, capacity for asking compelling questions, and willingness to look back at the past with painstaking honesty render Trick Mirror refreshingly honest and incredibly powerful. I usually do not reread books because I want to check them off my list and move on to the next one, but in this case, I believe I have discovered the rare book to which I will continuously return, gaining several new and valuable insights every time.