Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People by Toby Young

This book should really be called, If You Ever Wanted to Write for Vanity Fair, Here are Fifty Million Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Bother, because, really, that’s exactly what I got from it.

Toby Young moved from London, England to New York City in the mid-90s to become a contributing editor for my favourite magazine, Vanity Fair. The LA Times called it “an undistinguished six-month stint at the magazine”. It was a little longer than that—three years, but who’s really counting?

This book is his memoir of his time in New York City amid the people who make up NYC: the rich, the famous, and those who think they are.

It was eye-opening. I suppose a part of me knew already what he had to say about life in NYC. Life is shallow, it’s hard to make friends or get a date, and ultimately people will leave in the lurch when you need them most. I’m sure there are lots of people in NYC who aren’t like that, but the world that I’ve always wanted to live in—the one Toby moved into—is that one. It really is Sex and the City, only it’s much more ruthless and everyone is trying to get into it. Who am I to compete with that?

It’s hard living in any large city without succumbing to the jadedness. Yesterday, Michael Bryant, a former Attorney General of Ontario was charged with dragging a cyclist to death with his car. It’s a sensational story getting a lot of coverage in the city. But I can’t seem to work up any feeling towards either the victim or the man who allegedly killed him.

I’ve only been living in Toronto for a year, but I feel like I’m already turning “cold”. Where is my innocence going? Is it possible to remain guileless while living amid the soot and grime? Or does it get beaten out of you by the people you meet and the things you see?

I thought about all of this after reading How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. In a way, I feel like it saved me from going down a path that would find me facing the same people Toby did. I don’t know whether to thank him for saving me the trouble, or steam forward, regardless of the warning signs I saw in his book.

No matter what the city’s affect has been on me, I don’t think I’m a lost cause just yet, though. My favourite part of his memoir was his story of Caroline, his wife. It gave me comfort to know that there are people out there who still fight for their love.

Anyway, I think I’ve veered a little bit in this review. If you want a great memoir from someone who lived and breathed the glossy magazine world for several years (and anyone who loves the zeitgeist would), you should pick up How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Plus, it was hilarious.


The Demigoddess said...

I have lived in my city for six years and got so accustomed to the lifestyle. It's very laid back. I am moving to a more cutthroat, more expensive, more fashionable city in two weeks and after reading this, I wonder if a woman like me can survive all that?

Olga said...

Every city has a variety of different cultures, especially NYC. The people that Toby Young ran with are only a small margin of what a big city cultivates. If you're not interested in the cutthroat lifestyle, you'll gravitate towards people who don't enjoy it either. I'm sure you'll love your new town!