The past decade witnessed a publishing boom of essay collections by a certain type of woman: a coastal 20- or 30-something, witty and “famous”—on Twitter as well as for her actual career as an actress, comedian or writer.
Jia Tolentino, a New Yorker staff writer with more than 100K Twitter followers, fits this profile exactly. She is likely the most popular millennial writer working today—so one could be forgiven for anticipating that, like other books in this genre, her debut essay collection would contain mainly forgettable buffers to one or two standouts.
Instead, every single essay in Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is a standout; in fact, “The I in the Internet” and “We Come From Old Virginia” should be taught in journalism schools. Tolentino’s overarching project is to cast aside comforting illusions and gain the necessary clarity to construct a moral life. And as each essay finds Tolentino interrogating her beliefs about society, American womanhood and online feminism, it’s refreshing to see subjects so often reduced to 280-character sloganeering receive 30 pages of thoughtful analysis in her hands.
The subjects are wide-ranging, and nothing is too frivolous to unpack and examine. She writes about her stint as an evangelical Christian 16-year-old on a hormonally charged reality show (“Girls v. Boys: Puerto Rico”) with the same seriousness she brings to rape culture, pop-feminist celebrity and virtue signaling on social media.
Tolentino sets the bar higher for every other essay writer. Social media may be part of the reason she is so well-known, but Trick Mirror is a strong case for less tweeting and more long-form writing—for everyone.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our interview with Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror.