Before we dive into these books that celebrate the millennial spirit, let’s talk for a second about why everyone hates millennials (and, for that matter, why we’re so gung-ho on hating ourselves.) From what I’ve picked up on the web and the street, we millennials are loathed for our lack of self-reliance, our constant need for emphatic and public affirmation (preferably in the form of a team trophy,) our inability to see the value in putting on real pants to go to work when we can get far more done working from home (those spreadsheets and the laundry!) our inability to commit to anything for terribly long, and our tendency to fill out job applications entirely in emoticons. And sure, maybe those things are annoying to anyone who spent their childhood walking 10 miles to school, uphill both ways, in the snow, without shoes. And yes, I’m guilty of causing a fair number of texting-while-walking collisions myself — but does all that really make us worthy of so much vitriol from the baby-booming generation who raised us that the one-and-only Elizabeth Gilbert once had to publicly come to our defense? (And just to lay it all out there: nine times out of 10 I’m texting my mother. A baby boomer herself. Who almost always texts me first.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t see what’s so bad about us millennials. Sure, every generation is going to have a few particular quirks, but on the whole I think we’re kind of wonderful. It’s not our fault that our ambition and willingness to take risks (i.e.: things like quitting our jobs, starting blogs and small businesses, and trying to earn a living doing what we love) is mistaken for a lack of commitment. And it’s also not really our fault that school became so fun by the time we started attending it that most of us want to stay students forever (I mean, we didn’t get hooked on phonics all by ourselves.) And so what if we pursue our dreams so tirelessly that we’re willing to work for free, and might have to live with our parents until we’re 30 (seriously, ask to see my resume. Half the jobs listed are unpaid.) On the whole we’re more open-minded and less judgmental, we care about the environment and we love our locally-sourced kale, we’re more interested in changing the world by sharing resources than dropping bombs, and we finally put a woman who wears the same size pants I do on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. What’s not to love ya’ll?
Here are 10 books that celebrate the millennial spirit — and to all my fellow ambitious millennials: get out there and write more! (And while you're at it, check out some of this killer advice from an older millennial to the younger ones.)
1. Songs of My Selfie: An Anthology of Millennial Stories edited by Constance Renfrow
This totally hashtag-able story collection by Millennial writers tackles everything from student loan debt and app dating, to the prospect of birthing your own children while still trying to figure out how to get your parents to see you as an adult. Doing for “bad Millennials” what Bad Feminist did for uncertain feminists, Songs of My Selfie celebrates the Millennial stereotypes — flaws and all — and traverses the emotional terrain beyond them, exploring selfies and self-doubt, self-reliance and self-realization. Reminding readers of any generation what we loathsome Millennials have really had to face growing up — school shootings and September 11th, decade-long war and even longer debt payments, an environment in decline and an economy once-collapsed — this story collection not only stands up for Millennials, it gives Millennials a place to stand up for themselves.
2. The Millennial Reincarnations by Daniel M. Harrison
While this novel doesn’t exactly celebrate the millennial spirit (yeah, I’m diverting just that quickly) Daniel M. Harrison’s The Millennial Reincarnations does seem to understand exactly some of the central forces influencing us young folks today. Harrison's Millennials are a generation that has been taken over completely by all-things-technological (sound familiar?) to the point that Millennials are actually reincarnated humans, birthed by technology itself. So eerie, yes. But in a nod to all us go-get-‘em Millennial women, the female characters in this book are Katniss-style strong. This is a must-read for Millennials interested in taking a critical (and perhaps worldview-altering) look into their own generation.
3. Girl Power in the Age of the Millennials: Essays on Women, Youth and Global Social Change by Christine Horansky
Say what you want about us, but there’s no denying that Millennial girls and women are more independent, higher paid (although still not always equal, let’s work on that), offered more leadership opportunities — especially in formerly male-dominated fields — and are more in charge of our minds, bodies, lives, and futures than women have ever been. Focusing on issues of international development, education policy, and the global advancement of women and girls, Girl Power in the Age of Millennials is filled with essays that examine the role of Millennial women in the world today. And spoiler alert: our role is pretty great.
4. Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman
What are Millennials if not constantly willing to test our limits, transcend our fears, throw out the script and completely reinvent ourselves, and dive into some life-altering ‘round-the-world adventures? That’s exactly what Blair Braverman did when she was only 19 — leaving her home in sunny California to work as a dog sledding tour guide on an Alaskan glacier. In an arctic landscape dominated largely by men, Braverman not only braved down the cold, she pushed through all of her physical and mental limits in order to survive — and thrive — in an unforgiving landscape. If there’s anyone more deserving of a congratulatory hot toddy, I don’t know who it is.
5. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
Set during Seattle’s 1999 WTO protests, the scene of Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist is perhaps too old for most Millennials, but the restless, agitated, compassionate spirit of the novel’s main character, Victor, is right in tune with many of the voices of my generation. Filled with intertwining journeys of self-discovery, disillusionment, and realized hope, all Millennials will recognize themselves or someone they know within the pages of this novel. A must-read for activists, world-changers, and just about anyone who spent more than fifteen minutes with the OCCUPY movement.
6. Paper Towns by John Green
Here’s the premise of Paper Towns: high school senior Quentin Jacobsen has spent his life loving Margo Roth Spiegelman from a distance. And after a night of reveling around town, she disappears and Quentin decides it’s his job to save her from herself and bring her back with the help of his friends. Compelling enough. But here’s what I love about Paper Towns: Margo, our heroine, goes on this Walden-esque journey of self-discovery, and at the end, she doesn’t want saving. She doesn’t even want discovering. She’s actually annoyed when Quentin shows up to rescue her, because he interrupted her journaling. She just wants to chill in the woods with her notebook and her art and figure her own stuff out and that, to me, is just totally cool. And Millennial.
7. Yes I Understand And Wish To Continue by James Schiller
Based on James Schiller’s writing I don’t know that this punk rock, take-no-prisoners poet would necessarily expect (or appreciate) being included on this list. But let me tell you, this collection read like my Millennial brain had jumped out of my head and scattered itself all over the page. And gave me a serious case of impostor syndrome (aka: I’m so not cool enough to be reading this.) It’s noisy and beautiful and angry and loving and primal and scary and confused and revelatory and there are words just everywhere asking to be made sense of — which feels exactly like my life right now. I don’t know if this collection is actually celebrating my generation or recognizing it or ignoring it entirely, but whatever it is it spoke to me and I’m just so down with it.
8. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
The Paris Geller of novels — but slightly more approachable — protagonist Blue van Meer knows everything there is to know about literature, cinema, philosophy, and science. But she doesn’t really have too many friends. Or marketable skills. Or a working knowledge of anything that would help her, say, sleep in the woods overnight, survive a zombie apocalypse, or replace a burnt-out light bulb without first consulting YouTube. But when she enrolls in the elite St. Gallway School, it appears that might all change. Until in a PLL-style twist all of her illusions about the world come crashing down around her. So, OK, another title that doesn’t exactly celebrate the Millennial spirit — but at least Marisha Pessl seems to understand it.
9. Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas
After graduating from the University of Buffalo with $32,000 in student debt Ken Ilgunas decided to do exactly what we all were thinking about doing in the backs of our minds, but never had the courage to do ourselves — he spent three years working odd jobs to pay off his debt, enrolled in a master’s program, and refurbished a used Econoline van as his new apartment. (Don’t pretend that’s not exactly what you wish you’d done too.) Inspired by the simplicity and self-sufficiency of Henry David Thoreau, Ilgunas promised himself he’d never take out loans against himself again. Millennials hate few things like we do student loan dept, after all.
10. No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen
When Clara Bensen and Jeff Wilson find themselves digitally-matched on dating app OKCupid, the two decide that instead of catching a movie and some dinner, they’re going to catch a flight instead. Traveling from Istanbul to London with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing, a couple of toothbrushes, and some credit cards, both are set on not only finding love, but minimizing their global footprint. Totally sounds like the perfect plan for your next date, amirite? Taking on 8 countries in 3 weeks, Bensen pushes her limits of both romance and sanity, and discovers what life looks like outside her comfort zone. Love it.
Image: E. Ce Miller