12:42 pm Sep. 26, 2012
A 24-year-old struggling to find her footing and a self-assured, snobby six-and-a-half-year-old: it wasn’t the most obvious pairing. But last night at Housing Works, both launched books.
The 24-year-old was Emma Koenig (pictured below), whose self-deprecating tumblr Fuck! I’m in My Twenties has spawned a book of almost the same name (it's now “F*ck”). The six-and-a-half year old was Suri Cruise—or rather, Allie Hagan, who writes in the voice of the celebrity child on the tumblr Suri’s Burn Book, and is now also the author a petite pink hardcover subtitled Well-Dressed Commentary from Hollywood’s Little Sweetheart.
Of course, parlaying a popular blog into a book deal (and, in Koenig’s case, a possible television show; in conversation she mentioned her site had been optioned) is the easy part. Making the book something distinct from the blog is a great deal trickier, though Rachel Fershleiser, the director of literary and nonprofit outreach at Tumblr, and the host of the event thought both had succeeded.
“They’re shelved in the humor section," she said, "but these women have written the books. They’re, like, not just the blogs between covers.”
For Fershleiser (also the editor of several books in the “Six Word Memoir” series, which began online) the key to making a good book out of a good blog is fairly simple.
“Personally,” she said, “I’m not that into animal pictures. I like reading writing by people who I think are funny and relatable.” Koenig and Hagan’s online presences are certainly both of those things; and the mild controversies they’ve generated probably won’t hurt sales.
Koenig’s blog, which she founded in May 2011 while working a low-paying job and living in New York, features hand-drawn graphics about her dismal life prospects as a floundering twenty-something post-grad (a typical post lists several “Facebook News Feed Nightmares" that escalate from “Your Ex-BF is now friends with Some Girl” to “Your Ex-BF just fucked some girl”) in addition to the occasional video or song.
As the blog has risen in profile, it’s also encountered a certain amount of resistance.
Part of the perceived problem, in addition to Koenig’s relative youth, is her relative privilege. A New York Times profile earlier this year noted that, Koenig has “amassed all the accoutrements of her generation: an expensive college degree; a string of low-paying (and no-paying jobs) … degrading pseudo-romantic encounters; and the lease on an overpriced, undersize apartment in the East Village stuffed with a rotating cast of Craigslist roommates, which she eventually gave up to move back with her parents.”
Of course, those are only the accoutrements of a certain class of her generation. (The apartment was paid for by Koenig’s parents.) That she’s had more opportunities than most, and is now mildly famous on top of it, was enough to occasion some salty comments on the Times article (of the “I wish I had my parents to bail me out when I got bored of trying to live like an adult” genre) and more considered reactions elsewhere on the Internet.
But one senses that the real vitriol stemmed less from her circumstances (which, after all, are beyond her control), and more the fact that she made art from nothing more than the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that many twenty-somethings share.
“People ,for whatever reason, or, you know, reasons that have built up over time, have a much easier time accepting assertive men chronicling autobiographical experiences," Koenig said. "It’s certainly not touted as indulgent or entitled when they do it or, I think, to a much lesser extent.”
In person, Koenig, a petite woman with long brown hair and impossibly large eyes, gives the impression both of profound vulnerability and the kind of indefatigable optimism born of countless callbacks. (She graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts; reading from the introduction to her book, she mocked her aspirations to become “an actor, in a tampon commercial, if I’m really lucky.”)
Onstage, Koenig’s reading, though jokey, nevertheless confirmed a general impression of self-possession. She is capable of pinning down sharp, if not completely original, insights:
“It took me a long time to recognize,” she read, “that being in my 20s had also existed as a concept that didn’t match up with reality.”
Koenig performed two songs on the guitar before ceding the floor, and while she screwed up a few times, it was the humor of her lines (“You just want an angel undergrad with no gag reflex”) and the honest, if self-conscious yearning (one song repeated the line “I want you” over and over, then acknowledged its own repetitiveness) that proved most memorable.
If Koenig has faced criticism of a very personal sort, Hagan has encountered something potentially worse: the threat of lawsuits. After all, her tumblr is written in the voice of a real person.
Well-dressed, erudite, condescending, and very intolerant of the rambunctious behavior and inferior grooming habits of lesser celebrity spawn (Shiloh Jolie-Pitt most notably) Hagan’s Suri is both a precocious child embarrassed by her parents and, in Hagan’s own words “like this sophisticated 40-year-old in high heels.” (A picture of Seraphina Affleck wearing a T-shirt screen printed with her father’s face gets the caption: “I hate how much this family pretends to like each other almost as much as I hate imagining what the thread count is on that Target T-shirt”)
Most of the time Hagan (pictured at left) was on stage was spent chronicling discussions between her agent, herself, her editor, and her publishing house’s legal counsel as they tried to figure out what could be safely printed.
“You can say that a baby is fat,” she revealed, “but you can’t say that a three-year-old is fat.” She was also counseled to “Try to avoid anything involving fetuses cannibalizing other fetuses” (this in reference to “Suri’s” belief that Beyonce’s child, Blue Ivy Carter, was originally a twin).
What did get to stay in?
“Two pages in Chapter 4 devoted to the theory that Celine Dion is raising a family of French Canadian vampires.” Hagan paused while the laughter died down. “I’m not even sure I made that one up actually, there’s a lot of evidence.”
Scattered conversations about Michael Chabon aside, most audience members seemed thrilled to be in the same room with the creators of blogs usually found on dashboards, now in bookstores and, for one night only, in person. Hagan ended her reading with a celebrity kids quiz (correct answers got free Tumblr T-shirts), revealing an audience surprisingly well-versed in famous fetuses. (At least one person in attendance knew that Brooke Shields’s child was born in the same hospital and on the same day as Suri Cruise.)
As the evening ended, fans lined up to get copies of the books signed by the authors (books were sold in conjunction with the Brooklyn bookstore Word). Koenig and Hagan both seemed delighted, though one imagines their online counterparts—the pint-sized fashionista and the self-conscious striver—would probably have been embarrassed.
More by this author:
- The youthful fantasy worlds of writer Karen Russell are growing up
- For film and television writers, an awards show awash in liquor, raunch and self-loathing brilliance