Book Review: Once I Was Cool, Personal Essays by Megan Stielstra

Once I Was CoolOnce I Was Cool: Personal Essays, by Megan Stielstra 
Curbside Splendor Press
2014
212 pages 

Make no mistake about it: Megan Stielstra is very, very cool.

She may not think so (and she may say so in her essays) but trust me … she is.

She’s that kind of down-to-earth cool, the kind that’s so very absolutely real with no-holds-barred emotions in full view out there for everyone to see. The kind of person who has been through some shit and has learned some shit, too,  and is damn good at writing about her shit.

“It’s the single syllables that’ll kill you:

Your dentist says Oops.

Your pregnancy test says plus.

Your psychic says Oh.”

– from “Felt Like Something,” pg. 117

Megan Stielstra is funny and honest and self-deprecating. She’s a child of the ’90s and the mom of a toddler who drops more than a few literal fucks on the page while writing about her sexcapades of years gone by.

She knows that sometimes – a lot of times – working means having to say no to playing with your kid at the instant he wants you to play, and she knows the heartwrenching guilt that this can produce.

She knows what it is like to owe thousands to the IRS (right there with ya, girlfriend) and to see The American Dream turn into your personal nightmare.

And she tells you about it in a way that somehow feels different than other writers who might be classified in this or similar genres. Megan Stielstra comes across as a friend, yes, as do many others, but there’s a subtle difference. She doesn’t seem to take any of her life for granted. She gets how crappy and tough this life can be. Hell, the woman works three jobs and still manages to have a sense of humor.

I first heard of Megan Stielstra when I read her essay, “Wake the Goddamn World,” which is the piece that piqued my interest in this book. It is among the best in this collection. Really, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these, but “Channel B,” “The Right Kind of Water,” “Feels Like Something,” and “82 Degrees,” are especially spectacular.

In fact, the essays are so good and the writing so sharp, that I just have to ask … was there some sort of snafu with the editing or printing of this book? I mean, some kind of oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-that-just-fucking-happened type of scenario between the time that Megan Stielstra wrote these essays and the time that the ink hit the page? I’m being serious, not snarky. There’s more than one spelling error, and my copy doesn’t appear to be an ARC. Maybe I just happened to read a copy from the reject pile. Maybe the editor screwed up. I don’t know. Anything is possible.

But you know what? If there’s any message to be had from Once I Was Cool, it is that SHIT HAPPENS. As in, just when you think you’ve made it – say, you know, maybe when you’ve written a kick-ass essay collection that’s been getting some notable attention – four fucking typos appear on page 15. Four! Because, why not, right? And then some typo-obsessed book blogger in Pittsburgh harps on THAT and only that in her review instead of how awesome the essays themselves are.

I don’t want to be that person. Because you know why? Because we all make mistakes. Typos happen in this life.There are bigger problems in this world and besides, I’d rather focus on how good the writing is in this collection.

Because the writing is really, really good. So good that Once I Was Cool has earned a spot on my Best Books I’ve Read in 2014 list.

And Megan Stielstra has absolutely earned a spot as one of my newest favorite writers.

4 stars out of 5.