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Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

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A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didi A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story. From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate. Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.


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A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didi A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story. From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate. Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

30 review for Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Let’s call this one two and a half stars. Alice Bolin is smart and talented--I can say that confidently--but she’s doing too much at one time. How she landed on the title is completely beyond me, because the Dead Girls to which she is referring are mentioned only sparingly. A better title for this book would be “I Moved to L.A. and it Made Me Sad,” with the subtitle “Can I mention every one of Joan Didion’s published works in 250 pages?” And that's not to say that I WOULDN'T want to read that bo Let’s call this one two and a half stars. Alice Bolin is smart and talented--I can say that confidently--but she’s doing too much at one time. How she landed on the title is completely beyond me, because the Dead Girls to which she is referring are mentioned only sparingly. A better title for this book would be “I Moved to L.A. and it Made Me Sad,” with the subtitle “Can I mention every one of Joan Didion’s published works in 250 pages?” And that's not to say that I WOULDN'T want to read that book. In fact I know I WOULD want to! It's just not what I thought I was signing up for this time. Alice makes some interesting cultural commentary, but it drowns in meandering memoir and I can't help but feel misled.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Autumn

    Even though this book didn’t examine the dead girl trope as much as I wanted it to, it’s still an incredible examination of the forces that create an environment that allows the dead girl trope to thrive. She also looks at the ways white women and white feminism are both trapped by, perpetuators, and by-products of the male gaze. Honestly, it’s one of the most critically interrogative essay collections I’ve read in a while. She even points out and examines the inherent problems of the personal e Even though this book didn’t examine the dead girl trope as much as I wanted it to, it’s still an incredible examination of the forces that create an environment that allows the dead girl trope to thrive. She also looks at the ways white women and white feminism are both trapped by, perpetuators, and by-products of the male gaze. Honestly, it’s one of the most critically interrogative essay collections I’ve read in a while. She even points out and examines the inherent problems of the personal essay. I’ll definitely be re-reading this one and marking it up as I go.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    The essays on the female body in American film, literature and television, or “The Dead Girl”, were very insightful. As someone who often analyzes (too much according to more than one annoyed friend) the images and words that flicker in front of my eyes, I had never really thought about what the author writes here about why the “dead girl” plot device is so popular. She argues that it is because it becomes a tableau for predominately men to work out their own issues: “There can be no redemption The essays on the female body in American film, literature and television, or “The Dead Girl”, were very insightful. As someone who often analyzes (too much according to more than one annoyed friend) the images and words that flicker in front of my eyes, I had never really thought about what the author writes here about why the “dead girl” plot device is so popular. She argues that it is because it becomes a tableau for predominately men to work out their own issues: “There can be no redemption for the Dead Girl, but it is available to the person who is solving her murder. Just as for the murderers, for the detectives in True Detective and Twin Peaks, the victim’s body is a neutral arena on which to work out male problems….Clearly Dead Girls help us work out our complicated feelings about the privileged status of white women in our culture. The paradox of the perfect victim, effacing the deaths of leagues of nonwhite or poor or ugly or disabled or immigrant or drug-addicted or gay or trans victims, encapsulates the combination of worshipful covetousness and violent rage that drives the Dead Girl Show.” I don’t agree with all of her argument here, however she makes her point quite eloquently and does raise some disturbing issues as to why this trope has the popularity it does. I would have in fact liked her to explore this concept further however the other essays meander a bit into areas that I personally didn’t find particularly interesting. A good part of the book is taken up with her analyzing Joan Didion’s essays about Los Angeles as the author intersperses her own stories go moving from Idaho, Nebraska and Los Angeles. After a certain amount of time, the writing about Didion feels like a bridge the author uses to talk about her own relationships and experiences in Los Angeles. In and of itself there is nothing wrong with that, but when your experiences revolve around a string of meaningless relationships (its telling or perhaps intentional that she identifies them only by their first initials) being broke, or how proud you are to have never been in an Ikea when your friends take you there, you start to wonder how we got so far away from the dead girls. By the time she gloats about how her friend taught her to steal bags of coffee from her job, I had pretty much ceased having sympathy or any positive feelings about her at all. Narcissism and amorality will usually have that effect on me. To sum up, there is some very strong and interesting writing to be found here in the book’s initial essays. However the further away we get from the premise of the book and into the author’s vanity, the book suffers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    3.5/5. Alice Bolin is undoubtedly a very talented literary critic and writer and I enjoyed reading this overall, but I can’t help but feel misled by the marketing of this book. The subtitle and blurb promise a thorough exploration of the Dead Girl trope so prevalent in (pop) culture, but only a couple of essays actually focus on this. Most of the other texts are about Los Angeles and depictions of L.A. (and the lifestyle it suggests) in literature (most predominantly, Joan Didion’s writing – she 3.5/5. Alice Bolin is undoubtedly a very talented literary critic and writer and I enjoyed reading this overall, but I can’t help but feel misled by the marketing of this book. The subtitle and blurb promise a thorough exploration of the Dead Girl trope so prevalent in (pop) culture, but only a couple of essays actually focus on this. Most of the other texts are about Los Angeles and depictions of L.A. (and the lifestyle it suggests) in literature (most predominantly, Joan Didion’s writing – she mentions Joan Didion a lot). Some essays also focus on literary and cultural representations of teenage girlhood, and these were definitely my favourites (for example, there's a chapter that talks about one of my favourite books, We Have Always Lived in the Castle). Ultimately however, this book uses the same marketing it tries to critique (using the eponymous Dead Girl to lure in readers), which Bolin seems to be aware of because she mentions it in the beginning, but which I still feel a bit cheated by. I’d recommend this essay collection, because it made me question and reconsider aspects of American culture I had never even thought of to question before, but beware that what you see isn’t exactly what you get.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kazen

    I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls - it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end. I do want to be clear - the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible. Bolin talks about "Dead Girl Shows" that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths. Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the ki I have mixed feelings about Dead Girls - it starts amazing but sadly I had trouble getting all the way to the end. I do want to be clear - the first part, about the titular women American culture obsesses over, is incredible. Bolin talks about "Dead Girl Shows" that use the memory of women-who-were to tell stories about the men who killed them or seek to revenge their deaths. Instead of looking at the impulse some men have to prey on young women the narrative of these shows concentrates on the killer's psychology and methods, making the practice seem inevitable and beyond the man's control. I highlighted many, many passages from this section and will be revisiting the essays so I can chew over them more. That's only part one of four, though. The second section takes a step away and examines women who are living but have been used to sell a story in a related way. I like Lonely Heart, about the contradictions and tragedy in Britney Spears' fame, but otherwise my interest started to wane. If the book were a tire that's where the slow leak started, with a more steady whooosh becoming apparent over the last two parts. Bolin gets deep into her experience of being lonely after moving to the West coast and I couldn't get on board. It's an amalgamation of things I have a hard time caring about or connecting with (LA, Joan Didion, accounts of roommates and boyfriends) with books that we are assumed to know but oftentimes I did not. If you love so-called "Hello to All That/Goodbye to All That" essays, worship Didion, and don't mind a jumble of thought, you'll do better here than I. It's hard for me to rate Dead Girls because it went from a compulsively readable, fascinating ride to a flat tire I had trouble rolling over the finish line. I thought it would be a great fit for my Serial Killer Summer but sadly only the first quarter or so fit the bill. Thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This isn’t quite the meditation on dead girls and women as a particular obsession of our culture that I wanted. There are a handful of essays that touch on it, but this is mostly the navel-gazing of a privileged white girl who read too much Joan Didion, moved to Los Angeles on a whim, and how it made her Very Sad.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    The blurb on the back of the book explains that the book will take you through dead women in fiction and the larger problems of living women. And I suppose it does, kind of, do that, starting by dipping its toes in the waters of “Dead Girl Shows” like True Detective and Twin Peaks, then devolving into dissections of books, movies, and songs where women have some sort of troubling presence--all loosely tied to the writer’s life/background--then devolving into anecdotes of the writer’s loneliness The blurb on the back of the book explains that the book will take you through dead women in fiction and the larger problems of living women. And I suppose it does, kind of, do that, starting by dipping its toes in the waters of “Dead Girl Shows” like True Detective and Twin Peaks, then devolving into dissections of books, movies, and songs where women have some sort of troubling presence--all loosely tied to the writer’s life/background--then devolving into anecdotes of the writer’s loneliness in LA. But, to be honest, I didn’t actually get anything enlightening about abused/killed/disenfranchised women out of these essays, as the blurb intimates I would. There were some interesting correlations, some interesting anecdotes. But when I closed the book at the end, I basically felt like I had just read a disjointed collection of women’s studies term papers rather than a “Sharp, incisive, and revelatory...much-needed dialogue on the woman’s role in the media and our culture.”

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Renner

    I enjoyed reading this book. Bolin is great at personal essays and cultural criticism. She left some questions unanswered though. My review for Broadly digs into that: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/articl...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bekki

    i don't understand how she ended up with the title of this book. i'd say about 40 pages are dedicated to the american obsession of the "dead girl" trope and then the rest segues into bolin's self indulgent memoir that truly has no direction. she writes about her father, then her move to LA, her boring white girl problems, AND THEN throws in basically every piece joan didion has every written, seeming to idolize her, then drags her for being classist, which actually made me laugh out loud because i don't understand how she ended up with the title of this book. i'd say about 40 pages are dedicated to the american obsession of the "dead girl" trope and then the rest segues into bolin's self indulgent memoir that truly has no direction. she writes about her father, then her move to LA, her boring white girl problems, AND THEN throws in basically every piece joan didion has every written, seeming to idolize her, then drags her for being classist, which actually made me laugh out loud because this woman truly has some spectacular blinders on it she thinks she is better than joan. not to say a criticism of joan has no merit, but seriously, the irony. this book is 20% dead girls (if that), 50% dull memoir, 20% joan didion musings, and 10% "throwing in some POC writers so i don't seem racist."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Cortese

    This is the best essay collection I have read in years. It's true, as others have noted, that the dead girl trope is addressed most directly in the first few essays, but the trope threads throughout the entire collection. The reader will think that they are reading an essay about Britney Spears, and there the dead girl is. Or the reader will think that they are reading an essay about Los Angeles, or Joan Didion, or female friendships, or reality TV, and there the dead girl is again. I love how d This is the best essay collection I have read in years. It's true, as others have noted, that the dead girl trope is addressed most directly in the first few essays, but the trope threads throughout the entire collection. The reader will think that they are reading an essay about Britney Spears, and there the dead girl is. Or the reader will think that they are reading an essay about Los Angeles, or Joan Didion, or female friendships, or reality TV, and there the dead girl is again. I love how discursive these essays are. They wander. They meander. They move. In other words, they are alive. Bolin weaves meticulous research with her own personal experiences; the essays move between her own life and the larger issues the book explores. These essays are deeply intelligent, deeply feminist. Bolin's sentences wowed me throughout the book. Here are some of my favorites, though I underlined so much more: "Heterosexual relationships are dangerous: one must balance the necessity of sex with the impossibility of trust," "[The] belief in the falsehood of narrative and the truth of fragmentation is another story we tell ourselves," "[In] True Detective and Twin Peaks, the victim's body is a neutral arena on which to work out male problems."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    What a beautiful, insightful book! Dead Girls is an original first person coming-of-age story rooted in essays that reckon with pop culture's obsession with girls (white ones, primarily, which Bolin examines) and what all this means for the self— that vulnerable, fleshy material that is forced to see itself as both an object of adoration and an object to be destroyed, when all it's trying to do is get a good job with benefits and a taco truck burrito for dinner. The book is not so much exclusive What a beautiful, insightful book! Dead Girls is an original first person coming-of-age story rooted in essays that reckon with pop culture's obsession with girls (white ones, primarily, which Bolin examines) and what all this means for the self— that vulnerable, fleshy material that is forced to see itself as both an object of adoration and an object to be destroyed, when all it's trying to do is get a good job with benefits and a taco truck burrito for dinner. The book is not so much exclusively about "dead girls" as it is about American culture's obsession with "girlhood" in general, and the ways that femininity is marred, manipulated and controlled by representations in true crime, music and popular culture. Like many millennial culture writers, Bolin is very aware of her positionality in reference to her material. She uses her own life for texture and adds characters for substance; what does it say about her father that he is so fond of Swedish crime novels, and what do those crime novels aim to get at with their audiences? Although she grapples with themes of misogyny and privilege, the book is a highly approachable examination of the personal and political. Unfortunately the marketing for Dead Girls totally undermines the book— ugly cover, misleading subtitle, weird summary. It fails to get at what makes this book so successful; namely, the way Bolin manages to capture her own coming-of-age with hawk-eyed clarity at a highly politicized time in popular culture. It is also a beautifully rendered ode to Los Angeles, a city whose complexity she channels with more love and care than the many writers who stay fixated on the isolated, white-washed Hollywood crowd and its immediate vicinity. And counter to what the title might suggest, this book was lively and inventive. I'm excited to see what's next from Alice Bolin.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Makenzie

    My favourites in this collection were definitely "Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show," "The Husband Did It," and "A Teen Witch's Guide to Staying Alive." I also loved Bolin's writing about general pop culture, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twin Peaks, and Lana Del Rey, and I fell particularly in love with her musings about LA and her focus on Joan Didion. This book is somewhat falsely marketed as most of it past the first essay strays from a cultural criticism of the "dead girl" trope, altho My favourites in this collection were definitely "Toward a Theory of a Dead Girl Show," "The Husband Did It," and "A Teen Witch's Guide to Staying Alive." I also loved Bolin's writing about general pop culture, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Twin Peaks, and Lana Del Rey, and I fell particularly in love with her musings about LA and her focus on Joan Didion. This book is somewhat falsely marketed as most of it past the first essay strays from a cultural criticism of the "dead girl" trope, although it is a topic that reoccurs from time to time throughout. I would recommend this for fans of Leslie Jamieson or Rebecca Solnit.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Davies

    this book knocked me out. i can't wait for everyone to read it

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Like all essay collections, some will resonate more than others. For me, Bolin really soars when she writes about pop culture and more specifically, about the ways "dead girls" become impetus for character development of men. She critically explores girlhood and race, without making sweeping statements about the status of girlhood -- she breaks it down, exploring what white girlhood to us culturally. What that says about who we are and what we care about (hint: it's not the dead girl, but it's a Like all essay collections, some will resonate more than others. For me, Bolin really soars when she writes about pop culture and more specifically, about the ways "dead girls" become impetus for character development of men. She critically explores girlhood and race, without making sweeping statements about the status of girlhood -- she breaks it down, exploring what white girlhood to us culturally. What that says about who we are and what we care about (hint: it's not the dead girl, but it's a pretty way to start the story). My favorite essays in here were the ones on Britney Spears. This could be read really well alongside Sady Doyle's Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why. I also felt like her piece on the (brilliant!) movie GINGER SNAPS gave what is a badass feminist horror flick some of the credit it deserves. I found her pieces on Los Angeles to be pretty boring, though. I don't harbor an interest in the "Hello from all of this"/"Goodbye to all of this" essays. I don't care about Los Angeles or New York City or finding yourself as an artist in either. The Didion stuff was especially uninteresting to me as someone who hasn't read Didion. That said -- I see who those pieces are for and suspect they're well done. I looked forward to more pop culture pieces instead. Don't go in expecting the book to be entirely about Dead Girls. Bolin addresses this pretty early on, and we all fall for it. We want the pieces to be about the dead girls, about that trope, and they are. But not all of them. It's that promise which draws you in and keeps you. It's kind of brilliant how she uses that for her own character assessment.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    I think I expected a little more true crime focus to these essays than there was. The collection was a lot of personal reflections and musing on various books and films, and it was interesting to hear the author’s perspective on works by literary giants like Toni Morrison. I will say, if you’re a Joan Didion fan that you’ll appreciate the references that pop up throughout this collection! I’d also recommend listening to the @thereadingwomen podcast interview with this author which I loved! (@aut I think I expected a little more true crime focus to these essays than there was. The collection was a lot of personal reflections and musing on various books and films, and it was interesting to hear the author’s perspective on works by literary giants like Toni Morrison. I will say, if you’re a Joan Didion fan that you’ll appreciate the references that pop up throughout this collection! I’d also recommend listening to the @thereadingwomen podcast interview with this author which I loved! (@autumnprivett I’ve never seen Twin Peaks 🙈)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    So approximately 50 pages of this 288 page book dealt with Dead Girls--and the author made some excellent points and gave me a lot to consider as I consume pop culture. Those chapters read like the best essays from Bitch Magazine. Consume your pop culture, but be very aware of what we're actually hearing/watching/reading. However. Everything else was disappointing. If I wanted to read a book about how someone moved to LA and didn't like it, or loved to talk about Joan Didion's take on California, So approximately 50 pages of this 288 page book dealt with Dead Girls--and the author made some excellent points and gave me a lot to consider as I consume pop culture. Those chapters read like the best essays from Bitch Magazine. Consume your pop culture, but be very aware of what we're actually hearing/watching/reading. However. Everything else was disappointing. If I wanted to read a book about how someone moved to LA and didn't like it, or loved to talk about Joan Didion's take on California, I would have expected the title to reflect that. Once I realized the author was going to keep going back to the LA/Didion well, I started skimming (this was around page 120) and stopped here and there when it looked like we might get back to the "American Obsession" but we never did. I would love to read more from this author, as what I did read was usually insightful and at times humorous. That said, I think the publisher needs to more accurately title/blurb/edit these collections in future.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Monika

    I really wanted to love this, but I can't help but feel like I was misled. The analysis of the "Dead Girl" only pops up occasionally from chapter to chapter. Instead, this is more of a memoir with a dash cultural criticisms and numerous references to Joan Didion. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's not what I signed up for. Bolin is extremely intelligent and insightful, but I would have liked to see that keen eye turned to the actual topic of the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Two things: 1) I loved this smart, insightful, and funny collection of essays by Alice Bolin. 2) It’s not really about what you think it’s about. I went into Dead Girls expecting a collection of essays examining our cultural obsession with violence against women as entertainment. The book’s called Dead Girls, for god’s sake. But only the first few essays really address that topic. Honestly, Bolin is more focused on Joan Didion than on the dead girl trope. I was disappointed at first, but once I Two things: 1) I loved this smart, insightful, and funny collection of essays by Alice Bolin. 2) It’s not really about what you think it’s about. I went into Dead Girls expecting a collection of essays examining our cultural obsession with violence against women as entertainment. The book’s called Dead Girls, for god’s sake. But only the first few essays really address that topic. Honestly, Bolin is more focused on Joan Didion than on the dead girl trope. I was disappointed at first, but once I let go of my expectations, I ended up deeply connecting to Bolin and her writing. Bolin is primarily interested in entertainment and how our consumption of media effects our reality. She uses the Millennium series to discuss her relationship with her father, if he’s on the Autism spectrum, and whether or not that matters. She examines how Joan Didion both led her to LA and let her down. She uses a 1962 New Wave film Cléo from 5 to 7 to investigate her struggles with hypochondria. Dead Girls is half critical analysis and half a deeply personal coming of age story. As with all essay collections, I connected with some sections of this book more than others. I struggled with some of her essays worshiping Joan Didion (haven’t read her yet. Eeeeeek) and exploring LA. On the other hand, I was absolutely obsessed with the Weird Sisters portion of Dead Girls, specifically her essays “A Teen Witch’s Guide to Staying Alive” (discussing Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle) and “Just Us Girls” (about a campy, feminist, werewolf horror movie called Ginger Snaps). I also deeply connected to her last essay, "Accomplices", which dissects her first serious relationship, growing up late, and the privilege, power, and culpability of white women. Dead Girls is cultural criticism that is both academic and intimate. At times, I felt like I was learning so much. Other times, I felt like I was talking shit with my best friend. It was the perfect balance. I loved Dead Girls and will be keeping my eye out for more works from Bolin.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Neville Longbottom

    3.5 - Hmmm. This wasn’t totally what I thought it would be. From the title and summary I thought it was mainly going to be focused on the obsession with “dead girls” in pop culture. From fictional stories and true crime stories about murdered or abused women, and why society is so enamored with them. That is the focus of the first section of the book, but then after that most of it veers off and doesn’t relate back to the “dead girls” topic that much. I was so ready for a book full of media crit 3.5 - Hmmm. This wasn’t totally what I thought it would be. From the title and summary I thought it was mainly going to be focused on the obsession with “dead girls” in pop culture. From fictional stories and true crime stories about murdered or abused women, and why society is so enamored with them. That is the focus of the first section of the book, but then after that most of it veers off and doesn’t relate back to the “dead girls” topic that much. I was so ready for a book full of media critique and analyzing why stories about “dead girls” are so popular. The first section of the book was really satisfying and interesting. It looks at “dead girl shows” like Twin Peaks, True Detective, Pretty Little Liars, Veronica Mars, etc where the plot of the show revolves around a “dead girl” and figuring out who killed her. It looks at a lot of the misogyny present in these narratives and how men control and harm girls’ bodies. I just wish the entire book was about this topic. Much of the rest of the book were essays about the author moving to Los Angeles and what life in LA is like. There is so much about Joan Didion it’s almost a little ridiculous. Occasionally things would tie back into the “dead girls” topic, but for the most part they didn’t. I don’t think this is a bad collection of essays. And I still enjoyed most of the ones that weren’t about “dead girls”... but I just wish this book had been given a different title. I just felt a little bit duped since I went in thinking it would mostly be examining this specific pop culture obsession when in fact it was much more broad than that.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Yuni Chang

    took me way too long to get through this but mostly not the book's fault, i'm just bad at being a disciplined reader. it was strongest in the last couple essays- generous but relentless with her predecessors, meditative but with a clear point- her voice is humble without pretense. a couple of the essays didn't say much, just wading distractedly through the water of her own thoughts, and were kind of boring- but the others were spicy, really liked her essay on serial killer culture. would recomme took me way too long to get through this but mostly not the book's fault, i'm just bad at being a disciplined reader. it was strongest in the last couple essays- generous but relentless with her predecessors, meditative but with a clear point- her voice is humble without pretense. a couple of the essays didn't say much, just wading distractedly through the water of her own thoughts, and were kind of boring- but the others were spicy, really liked her essay on serial killer culture. would recommend to anyone with a long-term relationship with L.A. and/or the west, complicated or not. other than that not anything to cry home about, which was somewhat disappointing since i was really excited for this book

  21. 4 out of 5

    jenice

    while not every essay is based around the dead girls trope, i do think the vast majority of this collection is worthwhile

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan Merrell

    Underscoring the importance of this book--when you search for it on Goodreads, about a thousand books with Dead Girl in the title come up. The first few essays, about the patriarchy and what our obsession with dead women actually means about our culture, are brilliant. The rest of the book is really fine. Well worth the read, especially if you are a writer working in the murder area.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thelonia Saunders

    This one is rough. I really, really enjoyed the first and third section, but the 2nd and 4th fell a bit flat to me, as someone who doesn't particularly care about LA or Joan Didion (and who was expecting more cultural analysis and not an autobiographical dive into the author's life that isn't particularly relevant). Honestly, I'm going to check out the author's articles, since I suspect that the stronger pieces in here probably exist as stand-alones, and forward those to friends, instead of recom This one is rough. I really, really enjoyed the first and third section, but the 2nd and 4th fell a bit flat to me, as someone who doesn't particularly care about LA or Joan Didion (and who was expecting more cultural analysis and not an autobiographical dive into the author's life that isn't particularly relevant). Honestly, I'm going to check out the author's articles, since I suspect that the stronger pieces in here probably exist as stand-alones, and forward those to friends, instead of recommending they read this one (unless of course, they like LA and hearing about people's roommates).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    A very interesting set of essays. Parts 1 (The Dead Girl Show) and 3 (Weird Sisters) are the strongest sets of essays examining the culture’s obsession with The Dead Girl in TV/film/books and how a living female body is harder to handle (“Just Us Girls” about the B-horror flick Ginger Snap is excellent). Part 2, which is about LA and Bolin’s connection with Joan Didion was fine, but the writing didn’t feel as strong to me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Samantha

    I enthusiastically showed up for this book for its examination of the dead girl trope in literature and pop culture, and unfortunately, it suffers from a not uncommon publishing ooops - its title doesn't effectively match its content. The first section (of four) is indeed a smart commentary on what's become a common and (imo) lazy stereotype in TV/movies/books - a dead girl as a prop for an entire story, often for the advancement of a male-centric narrative. I was happy to see Bolin critically e I enthusiastically showed up for this book for its examination of the dead girl trope in literature and pop culture, and unfortunately, it suffers from a not uncommon publishing ooops - its title doesn't effectively match its content. The first section (of four) is indeed a smart commentary on what's become a common and (imo) lazy stereotype in TV/movies/books - a dead girl as a prop for an entire story, often for the advancement of a male-centric narrative. I was happy to see Bolin critically examine shows like True Detective, and even more happy for a mention that it's specifically white dead women who are put on pedestals here (she is critical of white feminism throughout the book, and yet I still wanted more). This is all great - a good start that leaves me excited to delve deeper into how this trope manifests throughout pop culture. And it does thread in some form throughout the book (I will always, show up for analytical takes on Britney Spears). And then we take a sharp turn into essays about Joan Didion and living in L.A. Huh? I read for a while, sort of expecting Bolin to go back to her #deadgirls, and it never really happens. Her essays offer thoughtful takes, tied in with some novels (and seriously, lots of Joan Didion) and elements of her personal life, but it just isn't what the reader expects, given the title. And that can be disappointing (unless, of course, you really love Joan Didion). What's interesting is, Bolin even discusses in the book itself her reservations about calling it Dead Girls. Of course, authors aren't always 100 percent in control of their book's packaging, at the end of the day. But editors and publishers make missteps, too, and a mismatched title can make all the difference in a reader's perspective of a book. All that said, Bolin is a strong writer, and this is a good debut. It's not as focused as the title suggests, covering a mixed bag of topics, including dead girls, L.A., literature, and feminism. I can't say I would have picked this up if I'd known this, which is to say I guess the marketing worked on me. But it's certainly worth a read if you're interested in any of the above topics.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paula Russel

    This was somewhat interesting and enjoyable, but I feel like I expected it to be an analysis of a specific harmful trope from a feminist perspective. It felt more like a collection of personal essays mixed with literary criticism, and it felt like the trope of America’s obsession with women who die young was merely something that popped up here and there based on the authors interests and life story. I feel like I’m ultimately disappointed, but with that said, Bolin is not a bad writer. I just f This was somewhat interesting and enjoyable, but I feel like I expected it to be an analysis of a specific harmful trope from a feminist perspective. It felt more like a collection of personal essays mixed with literary criticism, and it felt like the trope of America’s obsession with women who die young was merely something that popped up here and there based on the authors interests and life story. I feel like I’m ultimately disappointed, but with that said, Bolin is not a bad writer. I just feel like there’s some depth that’s missing here and that this book was not at all what it has been described as, and I didn’t love the personal parts of this book. I didn’t really love the narcissism that I saw in this book. Bolin addresses moments in her past where she’s been able to reflect on narcissistic behaviour, but i got the sense she thought that was all in the past when it was omnipresent in this book as well. There’s a strong tone of “look at how interesting I am” to this book that left a bad taste in my mouth, and it didn’t seem like there was much personal reflection in most of what she wrote about her life. The personal parts of this book often felt quite self aggrandizing and as though they didn’t speak to her development of self or the development of her opinions. I generally quite enjoy memoirs or personal essays because they often seem to be a persons analysis of their experience (like Jeanette Walls or Cheryl Strayed) or give insight into their perspective about the topic they’re writing about (ex. Krakauer), but neither of those were to be found in this book. It felt more like the personal parts of this book were only there so that the author could have the focus be on *her* rather than the books and media she was analyzing, not because it informed her perspective or added depth to the subject matter.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard Noggle

    (3 and a half stars!) Bolin's collection of cultural criticism is sharply observed and pretty accessible, offering a nice mix of close analysis and personal reflection, though it's a little less explicity focused than the title suggests. As with any collection, readers will gravitate toward certain pieces. I personally loved the dissection of Los Angeles Noir (which articulated a connection between the "aimlessness" of the plotting in these works and the landscape of the city that makes perfect s (3 and a half stars!) Bolin's collection of cultural criticism is sharply observed and pretty accessible, offering a nice mix of close analysis and personal reflection, though it's a little less explicity focused than the title suggests. As with any collection, readers will gravitate toward certain pieces. I personally loved the dissection of Los Angeles Noir (which articulated a connection between the "aimlessness" of the plotting in these works and the landscape of the city that makes perfect sense but which I'd never fully considered before). I also enjoyed the odd, longish piece in which she attempts to understand her father's obsession with Swedish mystery novels by immersing herself in them: "...this essay seems like a Freudian patricidal project to ignore, then obsessively read, then talk shit in print about my dad's favorite books." However, I've personally read enough Britney Spears and reality television essays to last me a lifetime (and I haven't even read that many). But those pieces are well-written too, and no doubt some will prefer them.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    I don’t always include the entire synopsis of a book on my blog, but I did for this book, because in retrospect, I perhaps should have seen one of my main problems with this collection coming. This was not especially a book about problematic reliance on dead women to galvanize male protagonists. It was a much broader look at the place of women in pop culture. Even given that premise, this felt meandering to me. We often went off on tangents a lot. For instance, while I agree that autistic patien I don’t always include the entire synopsis of a book on my blog, but I did for this book, because in retrospect, I perhaps should have seen one of my main problems with this collection coming. This was not especially a book about problematic reliance on dead women to galvanize male protagonists. It was a much broader look at the place of women in pop culture. Even given that premise, this felt meandering to me. We often went off on tangents a lot. For instance, while I agree that autistic patients should be able to speak for themselves, I was very confused when I found myself in the middle of a two paragraph rant on this topic. If you don’t agree with author’s liberal politics, I’m guessing you wouldn’t pick up this book in the first place. Even agreeing with her, I found these random rants annoyingly out of place. My only other major complaint is that almost every point the author made relied on anecdotal evidence, often with a single example. I generally agreed with the points she was making about the way pop culture treats women. However, I really would have liked some stats to back up her points, instead of just feeling I was in an echo chamber hearing my own opinions. That said, I’ve now spent a large portion of this review criticizing what was generally a well written and thought provoking book. The writing style reminded me of Didion, who the author identifies as one of her problematic faves. And for all that I wished this had been more focused, some of my favorite parts were memoir. In particular, the author’s essay on her hypochondria was emotional and vulnerable. There were a lot of great things about this collection and I would recommend it. I think had my expectations better matched the content, I’d have enjoyed it even more. This review first published at Doing Dewey.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I have been dying (excuse the pun) to read this book since I saw it on Bitch magazine's list of most-anticipated books of the summer back in spring. I checked throughout June to see when it would be published so I could get it from the library....and finally, three months later, I got my hands on it and DANG did it live up to expectations. The "Dead Girls" in the title of Alice Bolin's critical essay collection are the girls we love in media precisely because they are dead: the Laura Palmers, th I have been dying (excuse the pun) to read this book since I saw it on Bitch magazine's list of most-anticipated books of the summer back in spring. I checked throughout June to see when it would be published so I could get it from the library....and finally, three months later, I got my hands on it and DANG did it live up to expectations. The "Dead Girls" in the title of Alice Bolin's critical essay collection are the girls we love in media precisely because they are dead: the Laura Palmers, the women of "True Detective-" the women whose deaths create narratives for the men around them. Bolin expertly explores our obsession with dead girls - from the women in police procedurals to the Manson girls to the pop mythos of Britney Spears - while weaving in her own story as a young woman in Los Angeles, navigating loneliness and isolation with the help of novelists like Joan Didion and James Baldwin. The writing can be dense at time (these are critical essays), but if you have any interest in new critical perspectives on true crime, police/crime media, and/or feminism, you should definitely read this.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cassie Gutman (happybooklovers)

    I wanted to like this so much more than I did. The series of definitely well-written essays warrant the praise they've been getting, but marketing this book as an examination of society's obsession with beautiful dead girls and true crime was wholly incorrect. This topic was only touched upon and never really gone into detail, which I was disappointed with. Other than that, it was a great collection of essays about the difficulties of starting over in an unknown place, but it was marketed and sol I wanted to like this so much more than I did. The series of definitely well-written essays warrant the praise they've been getting, but marketing this book as an examination of society's obsession with beautiful dead girls and true crime was wholly incorrect. This topic was only touched upon and never really gone into detail, which I was disappointed with. Other than that, it was a great collection of essays about the difficulties of starting over in an unknown place, but it was marketed and sold incorrectly and to the wrong audience. ~still in search of a book about society's obsession with harrowing crime, if anyone knows of any, send 'em my way~

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