Upon my 25th birthday last month, I set off to do this 50 for 25 thing, where I would read 50 books in my 25th year to validate my existence as a creative and intellectual soul. Basically, a book per week with a tiny margin of wiggle room. Several of my overachieving friends are doing this too, but they’re better at it than I am (one of them doesn’t drink, which makes the goal a lot more attainable in her case).

I’m not sure whether I’ll meet this lofty goal, since I also read lots of magazines and online media and, to my great chagrin, don’t really have one of those dayjobs that allows me to optimize media consumption time by dicking around on the internet all day (try as I might). I’m also, admittedly, not the world’s fastest or most disciplined reader and will happily stop halfway through a book if it’s no longer ringing my bell.

So, truth time: I’ve read only two books since my February 27 birthday, both memoirs. I just realized, in fact, that I’ve read only one novel in 2011. Nonfiction bender, I guess.

The first book I finished after the 25th birthday was Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel, which was huge in the mid-’90s when it was first released. I was a little kid at the time but still remember it being on my radar (maybe from all that MTV I watched at my babysitter’s house). From what I gather, these are the reasons why everyone’s undies were in a right twist over the book:

1.) Hot and brainy female author whose “sexily undone” photo is the original paperback cover. Pretty girls sell things. And, by the way, Wurtzel is the first to acknowledge the obvious motives behind the publisher’s decision to market a book about depression with a photo of its author’s exposed midriff.

2.) Did I mention the author is hot and brainy? Wurtzel is the kind of girl that my friends and I all secretly wish we could be: soap-star beautiful, unusually smart and undeniably gifted as a writer, she’s charming enough to make you kind of love her even though her writing makes abundantly clear that she is probably one of the most self-absorbed and categorically unlikeable people you will ever encounter.

3.) The writing. This is maybe the most transportingly self-aware depiction of what depression feels like that I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). It’s honest, and I related to a lot of it. By the way, don’t do as I did and read this after attending your friend’s funeral.

So, here’s the stuff I didn’t like:

1.) Too ’90s. I love a good Gen X narrative as much as the next ’90s brat, but there’s something incredibly dated about Wurtzel’s “listen to me talk about myself and how miserable I am with total indifference to the world around me” approach to memoir writing that, in our post-9/11 era of economic ruin, simply doesn’t fly. I don’t mean to shit on the coming-of-age woes of the generation above me, but the 90s were a pretty awesome time to be seeking your young adult footing (at least if you were, like Wurtzel, highly educated and white). The economy was good, jobs were abundant (at least, again, for the white/educated), the music was fantastic, and the tech boom was beginning to unveil a whole new dimension of possibility–which, in case you’ve forgotten, was super exciting.

Obviously I don’t mean to belittle Wurtzel’s depression, but I feel her privileged experience offers little to feel sorry for–or even, to empathize with–in comparison with the circumstances of most of my contemporaries, who are struggling to find meaningful employment and chart their lives’ paths during this time of political and economic bleakness and in relation to it. In the end, it is this lack of perspective that turns this well-written and candid memoir into another self-indulgent Gen X handwringing session–a factor that, while common when published, now seems painfully passe.

2.) Too long. It’s not a particularly long book, and the writing is consistently solid throughout, but by the last third of the book I was ready for it to be over. “I get it,” I thought to myself. “You’re miserable. You want this to end.” By the end of the book, I too wanted it to end; I’d gone through so many of Wurtzel’s echoed ruminations that I felt like I was depressed myself. Which, maybe, was the point.


I’d been meaning to read this book for years, and I’m glad I did. Wurtzel’s nimble prose is certainly something to admire. But, when push comes to shove, Marya Hornbacher is a better choice for madness memoirs.