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In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays Hardcover – 4 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press (4 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812992822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812992823
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.7 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 679,540 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Brilliant and unflinching, on everything from divorce to Mad Men to sex to the food we eat. Every sentence is an eye-opener (India Knight)

[A] devastatingly good new book (Dwight Garner The New York Times)

Roiphe strides across the modern culture with [these] magnificent essays... In Praise of Messy Lives is a worthy successor [to Joan Didion] (Joy Lo Dico Independent on Sunday)

Daring, vivid, combative...the refreshing irreverence of her book might well be unique among writers of her generation. (Wall Street Journal)

I am in awe of Roiphe's style and range, her scholarly attention to detail, that she clearly has an impressive intellect... Roiphe is a brilliant writer and thinker (Sarah Vine The Times)

An edgy, subversive critique of this dreary era (Independent)

No sacred cow, exalted personage, or sanctimonious hypocrisy is safe from the sharp eye of Katie Roiphe. In In Praise of Messy Lives, she delivers timely, coruscating verdicts on everything from working women's fantasies to Philip Roth to the rage of Gawker. An essential read for our cultural confusion. (Tina Brown)

Katie Roiphe is one of the most insightful, exciting writers of her generation. She's daring, fierce, and entirely original. (Gay Talese)

Roiphe's writing is prickly and provocative...courageous, and most welcome when it cuts deep. (Publisher's Weekly)

Her work is personal, and often topical, funnelling her ideas about the world while exploring popular culture or politics (Irish Times)

Bracing...and hilarious...Roiphe writes with an archer's aim and a bullfighter's bravado. (Booklist)

A thoughtful and beautifully written examination of topics ranging from modern parenting to the complicated joys of authors such as Joan Didion and Susan Sontag... this book is a treat for the brain (Sunday Business Post)

With its spunky and confronting personal spin, this lively collection of essays, some of which have appeared elsewhere, spans literature, journalism, media, culture and life (New Zealand Listener) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Katie Roiphe is a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. She writes a column on life, literature, and politics for Slate and writes for The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Paris Review, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her two children. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S on 9 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Intelligent, brave, inspiring and thought-provoking, this is the kind of voice our generation has been lacking. Roiphe's take on 21st-century feminism, as well as her sharp observations of contemporary life and culture are refreshingly different, compelling, convincing. Surely, some of her conclusions may provoke some and disturb others, but isn't this what a great thinker is supposed to do? And even if you don't quite get her, do read the book if only to admire her impressive ability to craft a sentence.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Metropolitan Critic on 13 Jan. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Praise of Messy Lives (2012) collects thirty articles by the journalist and academic Katie Roiphe. They originally appeared in various periodicals including The New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, the Financial Times, and the online magazine Slate.

The articles are arranged into four sections. First up is a group of autobiographical essays. This is followed by a suite of book reviews and overviews, with the focus on recent American luminaries such as Joan Didion, Susan Sontag and John Updike. The third section contains articles that might be called political, at least if that term is given the feminist expansion so that the personal is political and sexual politics counts. Finally, there is a section on various Internet phenomena: Twitter, Facebook, trolls, Gawker.

A theme developed in several articles is the acceptability, even the praise-worthiness, of the 'messy life'. Roiphe does not mean a life which is messy in the Iris Murdoch-John Bayley sense: ankle-deep clutter round the house, field mice in the car etc. She means a life which diverges from the template of a married couple living under one roof with their children.

Roiphe, it transpires, scores high marks for messiness:

'I have two children, with two different fathers, neither of whom I am living with. It did take me a little while to achieve quite this level of messiness, but I did it in the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Helen Reece on 20 Nov. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Exquisite writing. Roiphe captures aspects of modern life so beautifully that it's almost unbearable. She is an unusually fresh commentator.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not what I was expecting, but this collection of essays is definitely something to look into. Katie Roiphe's voice is extremely entertaining and so unique, witty and humourus. There is very little in the world that is not examined within those pages, with the occasional joke or personal anecdote.
If you're into non-fiction (or trying to understand how to write really good essays eheh), I would give it a go!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 32 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and Varied Essays - Accessible to Anyone With a Mind 26 Oct. 2012
By Bonnie Brody - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays by Katie Roiphe. I found it to be enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Since she writes one of her essays on people who comment on articles (could this be similar to those of us who review books of essays?), I want to be as civilized and articulate as possible. I chose to read and finish the book, therefore my comments should reflect that.

Ms. Roiphe writes about a wide range of topics. They include single motherhood and the public's perception of single mothers and their children; divorce and its impact on 'family'; betrayal; how great male writers write about sex; the fact that there has not been a comprehensive history of women's writing in America; the role of women behind great men; the impersonal nature of Joan Didion's memoirs; the fragility of Susan Sontag beneath her strong exterior; John Updike's being perceived as a misogynistic writer; Mad Men on TV; the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray; Maureen Dowd; the repetitiveness and similarity of articles about movie stars; women not liking Hillary Clinton; parents who try to have perfect children are doomed for failure. This is only a small portion of the issues and topics that Ms. Roiphe writes about. As you can see, they are varied and interesting.

My two favorite essays were the ones on Graham Greene and writing about incest. In the essay about Graham Greene, she discusses her own personal interest in the writer and how she reflected on him during her travels to the far east. She explores the concept of transactions, especially how female companionship is so often for sale. In her essay about incest, she is very hard on Jane Smiley and her book A Thousand Acres which is one of my favorite novels. Ms. Roiphe examines the theme of incest in literature and how writers first wrote about how horrible men were. This led to writing about men as monsters.

Overall, I had fun reading this book and looked forward to the next topic once I finished an essay. The book is not politically correct which I appreciate and the writing is fresh and not all that academic. It is a book that is accessible to anyone with a curious mind.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
When convention fails us 12 Jun. 2013
By Gary C. Marfin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
First: “In Praise of Messy Lives,” is a provocative, insightful, quite often funny and, in more than a few places, even wise book. I would have preferred “The Messy Lives Tour” as a title, but “In Praise of” does do more to elevate the cause. The tour consists of thirty, wide-ranging chapters, but don’t worry about the official guide: readers can start the messy lives tour wherever they want and visit the varied sights in whatever sequence suits their disposition.

Along the way, Ms. Roiphie provides an intelligent assessment of sex and its treatment in some of my favorite, and increasingly discredited male novelists, offers insightful chapters on Joan Didion and Susan Sontag, and throws in an all too short stop at Alexis, whose Facebook photograph shows Alexis in fishnet thigh highs, and crazy platforms holding a whip over her head. “

Prominent among the messy lives surveyed is Katie’s Roiphie’s own. Ms. Roiphie describes the mess early-on: “I have two children, with two different fathers, neither of whom I am living with. It did take me a while to achieve quite this level of messiness, but I did it in the end.”

On the perverse, if well-intended practice of parenthood at this point in the 21st century, Roiphie delivers an often humorous, and largely sound critique. Her concerns include: the growing amount of structured time, and the corresponding, vanishing lack of free time, in the lives of contemporary children; the obsessive concern parents display over placing toddlers in sufficiently prestigious pre-schools; the growing inclination of parents to achieve their own personal realization through their children; the extent to which the very identities of parents have become sublimated to, or equated with their offspring and; on Facebook, the odd preference that many mothers, and women more generally display for employing photographs of children instead of themselves.

“I am,” Ms. Roiphie admits early-on in this collection, “kind of a failed conventional person.” Ms. Roiphie may indeed see herself as a failed conventional person, but that’s not the same as saying she would prefer success.

This is not to deny the veracity of Roiphie’s account of the caustic, inappropriate criticism she received from friends and colleagues when they learn of her decision to have and to raise her children. Nor is it claiming that Roiphie is immune to, or derives some peverse enjoyment from being, the brunt of the barbs inflicted on the unconventional.

Rather, the difficulty with Roiphie’s confession is that it simply doesn’t withstand the strength of her own defense. A few lines after she pleads guilty to being “a failed conventional person”, we’re told that “this book [is] a defense and celebration and interrogation of precisely those failures.” Roiphie’s defense is so spirited and compelling, her celebration so soundly genuine and deserved, that it is frankly difficult to imagine that Roiphie could actually prefer life as a successful conventional person to that of a failed conventional one.

If anything, by the end of this collection, it has become apparent that convention failed Roiphie. In that, surely, she is not alone.
14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Terrible 19 Dec. 2012
By Kindle Customer - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One or two of the essays are okay and have some insight. But the rest are really awful. She will make one point in the first couple of paragraphs and then belabor it over and over in a not very original way. I really expected something very good but thought these essays were extremely dull. I loved the subject and the one about the messy lives was good but not worth buying for one good one. Really a dull book. A rare book that I wish I had my money back. Dogmatic, pendantic and truly awful. The highest expectations for the dullest book of the year.
perfect! 6 May 2014
By Carol from nyc - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Clever. Insightful. Loved it and made my sister read it immediately! An insiders look at women's (my!) life. I know this existence!
Good Book Club Choice! 23 April 2014
By Marie Keefe - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nice collection of essays covering different topics. Some content I agreed with, some not so much, but the book certainly generated lots of interesting discussion in our book club! Worth reading with an open mind!!
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