Trick Mirror – Jia Tolentino is a peerless voice of her generation, tackling the conflicts, contradictions, and sea changes that define us and our time. Now, in this dazzling collection of nine entirely original essays, written with a rare combination of give and sharpness, wit and fearlessness, she delves into the forces that warp our vision, demonstrating an unparalleled stylistic potency and critical dexterity.
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly through a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies, should become more efficient and beautiful until we die. Gleaming with Tolentino’s sense of humor and capacity to elucidate the impossibly complex in an instant, and marked by her desire to treat the reader with profound honesty, Trick Mirror is an instant classic of the worst decade yet.
Advance praise for Trick Mirror
“Jia Tolentino is the best young essayist at work in the United States, one I’ve consistently admired and learned from, and I was exhilarated to get a whole lot of her at once in Trick Mirror. In these nine essays, she rethinks troubling ingredients of modern life, from the internet to mind-altering drugs to wedding culture. All through the book, single sentences flash like lightning to show something familiar in a startling way, but she also builds extended arguments with her usual, unusual blend of lyricism and skepticism. In the end, we have a picture of America that was as missing as it was needed.”—Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
Table of Contents
Book Review by Disney Denizen
INTELLIGENT ENTERTAINING WELL-WRITTEN ESSAYS
This book consists of 9 erudite and amusing essays written in 18 months shortly after Donald Trump took office. The Introduction was so light, fluffy, and humorous that I thought I was in for a much lighter read than turned out to be the case – in a good way. The author’s insights are both illuminating and entertaining. It is an intelligent thought-provoking well-written read.
The author herself provides the best description of the 9 essays in the book:
“These essays are about the spheres of public imagination that have shaped my understanding of myself, of this country, and of this era. One is about the internet. Another is about ‘optimization,’ and the rise of athleisure as late-capitalist fetishwear, and the endlessly proliferating applications of the idea that women’s bodies should increase their market performance over time. There’s an essay about drugs and religion and the bridge that ecstasy forms between them; another about scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; another about the literary heroine’s journey from brave girl to depressed teenager to bitter adult woman who’s possibly dead. One essay is about my stint as a teenage reality TV contestant.
One is about sex and race and power at the University of Virginia, my alma mater, where a series of convincing stories have exacted enormous hidden costs. The final two are about the feminist obsession with “difficult women and about the slow-burning insanity that I acquired in my twenties while attending what felt like several thousand weddings per years.”
Literally everything about this paragraph spoke to me. I related to the thing about the weddings. I wanted to read about her experience as a teenage reality show contestant. The heroine’s journey appealed to me. I have been interested in the horrifying topic of women’s body image for decades. And on and on.
This book does not disappoint. Well done.
“It’s easy to write about things as you wish they were—or as others tell you they must be. It’s much harder to think for yourself, with the minimum of self-delusion. It’s even harder to achieve at a moment like this, when our thoughts are subject to unprecedented manipulation, monetization, and surveillance. Yet Tolentino has managed to tell many inconvenient truths in Trick Mirror—and in enviable style. This is a whip-smart, challenging book that will prompt many of us to take a long, hard look in the mirror. It filled me with hope.”—Zadie Smith
“I worship at the altar of Jia Tolentino, who is undoubtedly the sharpest and most incisive cultural critic alive. Jia is a for-real genius, so damn funny it’s absurd, and her ability to cut through all the noise to reveal the heart of the matter is unmatched. What a gift to the universe that, in Trick Mirror, one of the subjects is herself. This book is a master class in how to think about the world in 2019.”—Samantha Irby, author of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life
“In Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino’s thinking surges with a fierce, electric lyricism. Her mind is animated by rigor and compassion at once. She’s horrified by the world and also in love with it. Her truths are knotty but her voice is crystalline enough to handle them. She’s always got skin in the game; she knows we all do. Her intelligence is unrelenting and full-blooded, a heart beating inside every critique. She refuses easy morals, false binaries, and redemptive epiphanies, but all that refusal is in the service of something tender, humane, and often achingly beautiful—an exploration of what we long for, how we long for it, and all the stories we tell ourselves along the way.”—Leslie Jamison, author of The Recovering
“It isn’t hyperbolic to say that New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino could be the Joan Didion of our time—writing about feminism, vaping, popular music, religion, and sexual assault with equal amounts of ease and insight. In her debut essay collection, the writer unveils nine new pieces that help cement her place in the essayist canon. She’s an expert in the sweet spot where contemporary politics and youth culture meet and make out.”—Vulture
“From The New Yorker’s beloved cultural critic comes a bold, unflinching collection of essays about self-deception, examining everything from scammer culture to reality television. Tolentino is among our age’s finest essayists, dissecting the foibles that animate our modern lives with wit, intellectual rigor, and empathy.”—Esquire
“Modern American life, especially as lived online, increasingly takes on qualities of insanity, even nightmare, and Trick Mirror has something profound to say about how that happened.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
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About the Author
Jia Tolentino is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Raised in Texas, she studied at the University of Virginia before serving in Kyrgyzstan in the Peace Corps and receiving her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan. She was a contributing editor at The Hairpin and the deputy editor at Jezebel, and her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Grantland, Pitchfork, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn.
Originally published: 6 August 2019