Beyond Vassar

My Misspent Youth

By Yona Zeldis McDonough '79

by Meghan Daum ’92
Open City Books, 2001

Q: What do cyber-romance, flight attendants and wall-to-wall carpeting have in common?

A: They are all subjects for the bright, quirky intelligence of writer Meghan Daum, who has written on these and other diverse topics in her new book of essays, My Misspent Youth. Daum, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times Book Review, GQ, Self, and Vogue, says she had been encouraged by any number of publishers to write a full-length nonfiction book about a single topic. "But I kept coming back to the essay form," she wrote in an e-mail interview from her new home in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Daum is an avowed essayist: "Of all literary genres I find it has the most freedom, the most room for humor, reportage, memoir, social critique, irony, and even emotional resonance." The 10 pieces in My Misspent Youth (some of which have been reprinted while others were written just for this volume) certainly cover the range she describes. "Inside the Tube" is a trenchant assessment of how airplane travel has changed our relationship to each other and to the world; "Music Is My Bag" intimately describes Daum’s own upbringing in a highly musical family; "American Shiksa" charts the subtle calibrations required in romantic interactions between Jews and Gentiles.

Although several of Daum’s essays touch upon her reverence for life in New York, she has recently transplanted herself from Manhattan to Nebraska. "It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done but one of the most rewarding. Now I live on a farm, and my office window looks out over prairie grass. I even have a pet pig." Daum says that her next project will be about the move–though she assures that it will not be about the pig. Still, rendered by Daum’s deft and witty prose, even a porcine companion would no doubt emerge as pretty engaging.