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book review: ...Before the Mortgage... a Must Read for Graduates

Hilarious Collection Makes Me Happy I...m Not a Liberal Arts Major

By Jacqueline O’Connor

Before the Mortgage

Real Stories of Brazen Loves, Broken Leases, and the Perplexing Pursuit of Adulthood

Edited By Christina Amini and Rachel Hutton

Published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment

When you read this, I will be donning my cap and gown. After four long, hard years at MIT, I’ve really come to appreciate what people mean when they tell me that these are the best years of my life. Aero/Astro is my family, MIT is my home, and now I’m leaving to go to graduate school at Georgia Tech and I find myself wistfully wondering, “what now?”

“Before the Mortgage” is a compilation of stories about that nether-period of a young person’s life after college but before one settles down, the period I find myself now barreling into without a clue. Perhaps graduate school makes this period all that more confusing (Am I a student? Am I an adult? What’s up with those Yale folks forming a union?), or maybe it just allows me to avoid the “real world” for another five years. In the midst of my lack of finals and my post-collegiate musings, it was a blessing to find this book.

First and foremost, this book showed me that I’m not alone. The transition to adulthood seems to affect everyone in some way, and the eclectic mix of stories the editors chose show the best and worst of this time. In a very candid and honest manner, this book deals with some very serious issues. Finding your soulmate is addressed in the touching chapter “On Finding the It Guy: An Inquiry into the You’ll Know Theory” by Shoshana Berger. She discusses the challenges of relationships and the uncertainty of making big decisions while imparting her wisdom and experience the reader in a non-patronizing way. “Last Twenty-four Hours in New York,” written by the editors, accurately depicts the mixed feelings of moving from one life to another. In the form of a schedule, this chapter gives an unguarded minute by minute update of their last hours in their adopted hometown of New York City.

This book also highlights the little things in life that make this stage special. One tale by Sarah Vowell, a sometimes guest columnist for the New York Times and well-known cultural observer, recounts the first Thanksgiving that she hosted for her parents. Everything seemed to go surprisingly well until she realized that her mother had left her to make the stuffing, a sacred recipe in her house, and she dreaded disappointing her family. Another author, Ethan Watters, explains the mystical ways of inner-city “tribes,” or groups of friends, like on the show “Friends,” that take the place of families or significant others. He accurately describes the closeness and the importance of these tribes and made me realize how important my friends are to me.

Most of all, “Before the Mortgage” shows the hilarity of being a twenty-something. One particularly funny story is by Brian Grivna, a software engineer who decides to take a year to teach English in Japan. Anecdotes of language barriers and unruly students show readers the lighter side of these “enriching” experiences. Another chapter is from columnist Joel Stein of The Los Angeles Times and Time magazine in which he acutely describes the sensation of being an “adult” but feeling like a teenager at heart. Many of the 26 narratives reveal the comedic and light-hearted side of this trying age.

Interspersed throughout the text are short interludes: quotes from interviews and overheard conversations at work, roommate stories, relationship tips, and “budget recipes,” ways to eat on a dime. Short and sweet, these quick intermissions break up the book nicely and help transition between each engrossing story.

A lesser but still important benefit of reading this book was the boost my ego got from not going to a liberal arts school. My love for engineering has saved me from the misery that is living as an aspiring writer. Many of the authors in this compilation have creative writing degrees, and while I applaud their art and respect their talent, I’m glad I chose a more practical and industrially applicable career. Fortunately, each of the stories is extremely well written. The writing style is fluent and fresh, and it made me hope that after this book they’ll land something big — though of course, some of them are already quite successful.

“Before the Mortgage” is a must read for every graduate. It even features an MIT alumna, Jessica Nordell, and her story about finding inspiration in life. Highly entertaining and extremely insightful, this book has helped me move into this period in my life with a little more grace and levity.