Book Review: ‘All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers’ by Alana Massey

All the LivesTo say this book was right up my alley would be an understatement.

All the Lives I Want is an essay collection “examining the intersection of the personal with pop culture through the lives of pivotal female figures,” covering everyone from Sylvia Plath to Britney Spears (two female figures I love very much so you could say I was pretty much sold from my first read of the blurb). It’s a very interesting analysis of pop culture, specifically feminism (or lack thereof) in pop culture, so as someone who is very pop culture obsessed and always has been, I very much appreciated the overall tone and approach of this book.

I will admit though, it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Not really in a bad way, I still enjoyed what it is, but I was expecting a bit more of a link to Massey’s own life at times. She does explain her own fascination with certain famous females in some of the essays, but even then, it felt like you had to use your imagination during those times to really get a picture of how these ladies tie into her own life. But then it would go to the other extreme – where she will just drop subtle information about her personal life that the reader is supposed to understand seamlessly, information that somehow functions as both not enough information and too much information. For this reason, I think a lot of the essays are missing a bit of depth, in that they feel like the start of something that should go on longer to include herself in the essays a bit more as the blurb promises. Not that I picked up All the Lives I Want wanting to read all about Alana Massey – I don’t know much about her at all; I wanted to read her analysis of female figures and pop culture – but it seems like there was a missing link on more than one occasion. That and she just casually mentions that she once worked as a stripper, had an eating disorder, and had a sexually abusive sugar daddy, elaborating on none of them.

A few essays I enjoyed in particular were the one comparing Lana Del Rey, Fiona Apple and Dolly Parton (there’s a surprising connection between the three musical ladies, plus it’s just a very interesting look at pop music conventions for women that don’t apply to men), as well as the one about Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. According to her essay, the twins were cast on Full House as infants because they were the only babies who didn’t cry at the audition – and she traces their success as child stars and later as adults back to a joint career built off of not crying at one pivotal audition. Really makes you think about troubled child stars in a different way, especially considering that Mary-Kate and Ashley have always been among child stars who have surprised people by not being more messed up than they already were.

Overall, I would recommend All the Lives I Want to anyone who enjoys pop culture and analyzing it, because Massey has definitely done her homework and provides some great insight into the lives of important female figures in regard to modern popular culture. 4/5 stars.

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