Nobody wants to be a novice — at least not for long. We crave answers, guidance, an assured way ahead. So we turn to self-help tomes and how-to guides, religion, therapists, YouTube.
For a perpetual solution-seeker, “How to Skimm Your Life” ought to be just the thing. This simple guide aimed at millennial women like me runneth over with tips, tactics and all manner of “empowering” advice — from how to tip while you’re abroad to negotiating your salary and understanding how the U.N. works.
But the book left me stumped and mildly irritated: What millennial woman is inept enough to need this?
“How to Skimm Your Life” is billed as a casual, conversational primer on adulthood. But is it? Or will some millennial women find it insulting?
The information provided is astonishingly basic and easily Google-able — the sorts of questions you could volley to a wise aunt, a helpful parent or, shoot, even Siri. Inquiries range from what utensils and cookware to buy for your kitchen to how to qualify for a mortgage.
For the uninitiated, here’s some background: TheSkimm — the outfit behind this book — is a nonpartisan membership company targeted at female millennials, with a whopping community of followers. By theSkimm’s count, more than 7 million subscribers have joined its universe. The company’s flagship product is its massively popular newsletter, which every day offers short-takes on current events, pop culture and lifestyle. A sample: “The Story: A UN report just called for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to be investigated in a murder case. Intense. Yup.”
Co-founded in 2012 by two 20-somethings, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm was an early player in the snippety, aggregated news space. It’s grown into a powerhouse, including an app, podcast, video content and now this book. In the introduction to “How to Skimm Your Life,” Zakin and Weisberg tell us that the book “is the embodiment of our mission, and covers it all: personal finance, career, stress management, global politics, civic engagement, and more.” (Yes, there’s more.) The authors express their hope that readers “use it as a reference tool, and turn to it time and time again as you navigate the big moments in your life.”
These days, I’m curious about how to fix my leaky faucet. I’m pondering the nature of faith. I’m anxious about maintaining long-distance friendships, fully aware that when work picks up, my personal communication skills decline precipitously. And I’m fearful of “deepfakes” and their capacity to further infect our deteriorating political discourse during the 2020 presidential election.
This book can’t help with those sorts of quandaries. But it can tell you how to gauge whether your wine’s gone bad, the best way to clean a shower curtain, the steps necessary to procure a passport, how to craft a “stalker spreadsheet” for networking purposes (a tactic that sounds awfully retro — even in jest — in our awakened era), what renters’ insurance covers, the difference between a W-2 and a W-4 and how Congress makes laws.
Beyond the silly lifestyle-style stuff, much of the subject matter explored here is far too meaty to be skimmed. Entire books are dedicated to deconstructing personal finance; theSkimm serves up short, graphic-heavy chapters that offer tips like scheduling an automatic transfer to your savings account each month and buying a mutual fund. Health care is too complex to be contended with in fewer than 10 pages, as it is here. Scores of documents and considerations factor into purchasing a home; a three-page rundown seems dangerously skimpy.
The breadth of topics in this “adulting” guidebook is so expansive, it’s impossible to achieve any depth. It is, after all, called theSkimm for a reason. While it’s perfectly understandable — perhaps even advisable — to scan the ever-changing news headlines, skimming life zaps it of nuance, rids it of wonder.
Regular readers of the daily newsletter may be partial to the brand’s chummy, punny, informal language, but in my case, 200-plus pages of Skimm-speak proved a test of endurance. Serious matters are frequently compared to dating, as if that is the only resonant point of reference for young women.
The section on health care describes insurance plans like so: “For when you’re the monogamous type ... Consider putting a ring on an HMO” and “For when you’re the playing-the-field type ... Consider going for a PPO.” Subheads in the networking chapter read “Profile Stalking: The Spreadsheet,” “Swiping: The Blind Date,” “Reconnecting: The Former Flame,” “Flirting: The Follow-Up,” “Hanging Out with Each Other’s Friends: Introductions” and “Playing the Field: Making New Connections.” On how to qualify for a mortgage: “The bank needs to trust you to repay your loan. So you’ll need to have enough money for the bank to pick you, choose you, love you.”
Romantic analogies aside, the wording throughout occasionally feels like pandering. Flip through the pages and you’ll spot “halp” more than once. “Government” is frequently shortened to “gov.” “Cash money” makes multiple appearances, when “money” sans qualifier would suffice. “Womp womp,” “BRB” and “that new new” also make cameos.
Admittedly, we do enjoy a glass of rosé on summer evenings, but we wouldn’t be caught dead calling it “the Goldilocks of wine.”
Lest you think me a curmudgeon, let me say there are some compelling stretches. A chapter on career pep talks offers a lovely assemblage of quotes from accomplished, ambitious women, as told to theSkimm and printed in the heavy-hitters’ own handwriting. “I used to call my dad crying. And he would always say, ‘What makes metal steel? Extreme heat, baby.’ And he was right.” That came courtesy of Melissa Ben-Ishay, president and chief product officer at Baked by Melissa.
Or consider this, from Fiona Carter, chief brand officer at AT&T: “Say what you want. Say it out loud, and say it to your supervisor and HR. People are busy, or misguided by your gender, or simply can’t guess what you want. The first step to the next step is to say what you want.”
Here’s one more, short and sweet, from author and fitness expert Jillian Michaels: “A bad day for your ego is a great day for your soul.”
Other pluses: The book’s overview of geopolitics includes more watershed historical moments than one might anticipate, from the Armenian genocide of 1915-16 to Iran-contra. And the closing pages, on civic engagement, dovetail nicely with the company’s campaign to rev up voter turnout.
Still, is it wise to take the SparkNotes approach to our lives? Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather earn smarts and skills by probing the depths, not skimming the surface.
Ballantine. 242 pp. $27