The thirty-year-old New Yorker staff writer Jia Tolentino has been called the millennial era’s Joan Didion for her incisive essays on everything from internet culture to modern feminism. Her essay collection, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (Random House), which was released on August 6, explores these issues and also delves into the autobiographical, including examinations of her Texas upbringing (she grew up in Houston but lives in New York City) and her stint on the mid-aughts reality TV show Girls v. Boys. Tolentino explains how these themes come together in her book.
Why exploring self-delusion is important in 2019.
The entire internet economy is based on selling and reselling data about the self. It’s interesting to me that, in these conditions, knowing yourself seems like a mandate and, at the same time, an impossibility. In a lot of ways, the entire internet is structured around self-delusion, and it seems like an apt time to write about it.
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How she became an essayist.
I was drawn to essays because you didn’t need a reporting budget or much experience to just write essays. It was what was available to me. So it started within an economic context.
On becoming famous for writing instead of, say, for appearing on a reality TV show.
It’s certainly not a wish I’d make on a birthday cake: this deep, secret desire to be a famous writer. But I guess I’ve been behaving in such a way that that would be my goal. And so it’s this issue of my subconscious doing all these things beyond my own thoughtless ability to keep track of them. I definitely don’t feel like I’m going to be famous from writing this book.
Her motivation for writing.
I am always writing to figure things out for myself. Thinking too much about how other people might react is just not a road I want to go down. I think that I’m my own extremely harsh critic, and, in general, I try to just think about the audience as little as possible. But if I can figure something out for myself, then hopefully it will be useful for other people.
On if she’d ever move back to Texas.
Not imminently. I love New York, but also, I love Texas. Things are getting spicy in Texas. The state’s true demographics are starting to inch into its politics. That whole idea of Texas as a blue, nonvoting state, part of me wants to be there and watch it turn. When Texas turns, I will be so excited. My parents still live in Houston, and I miss the food and I miss so much. But I don’t miss the heat. Houston summer humidity feels like your body instantly going into shock when you step outside your car.
This article appears in our October 2019 issue. Subscribe today.