Books about urban twentysomethings
March 7, 2013 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Recommend me some books about people who work at startups, have roommates, go to happy hours and do online dating.

So I just started reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, and I realized that I read very few books about people whose lives look like that of me and my peers: urban twentysomethings with a roommate or three, who have been affected by the recession, work in some vague "marketing" role at a startup (or maybe in customer service?), own a bunch of gadgets, maybe go camping or play sports on the weekends while trying to find meaning in it all. I've seen this question, but I'm really interested in the modern take on this topic.

The Platonic ideal of what I'm looking for, I guess, would be the aforementioned Mr. Penumbra and A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins (the main character is in his mid-30s and divorced, but the apartment above Dolores Park and the sad little startup in Palo Alto are right in line with what I'm talking about). I suppose part of what I like about these books is that they have the current San Francisco zeitgeist down perfectly, which obviously not every book is going to be able to do, but I went through a period of reading chick lit books mainly because they were the only books I knew of where the characters had roommates and worried about their careers, so clearly I'm not that picky. I do love that these books address technology and its role in our lives, so books written in the last few years are best (though I also liked The Collective by Don Lee, which came out last year but is about a group of Asian American artists in the nineties). I'm also going to go out on a limb and say I'm slightly less interested in books set in New York, just because it seems to have a culture and mindset all its own, and not one I necessarily relate to. (But don't let that stop you from recommending them, both for posterity and because who knows, I might fall in love with one.) I am, however, interested in other cities--Minneapolis, Austin, Seattle, Philadephia, Chicago? Bring it.

Thanks, Mefi!
posted by sunset in snow country to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Microserfs...and the semi-sequel JPod, by Douglas Coupland
posted by hellojed at 1:23 PM on March 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think they turned this into a terrible TV show at some point, but I enjoyed the quick read I Just Want My Pants Back by David Rosen.
posted by General Malaise at 1:25 PM on March 7, 2013

A Hologram for the King is about a salesman of the previous generation, but from what I've heard of it, it portrays the contemporary world in the way you're looking for.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:42 PM on March 7, 2013

I was going to suggest Mr. Penumbra before I read further. I second the suggestion of Microserfs by Douglas Coupland. I don't remember much about it, but for reference, my review is here.
posted by nakedsushi at 1:58 PM on March 7, 2013

I have to unfortunately disagree about Hologram for the King -- I just finished it in my (urban, twenty-something with roommates, some of whom literally work at startups) book club and literally nobody liked or connected with it.

It's much more about a middle-aged American sales guy who travels to Saudi Arabia in a last-ditch hurrah to resurrect his failing career. There are a couple of young people, but they're basically background players/plot points.

Someone even said, and I agree, that if we were about twenty years older we might connect with it more. I'm an urban gadgety twenty-something with roommates and I didn't connect with it at all.
posted by andrewesque at 2:00 PM on March 7, 2013

Thanks for catching my mistake, andrewesque! I wish I could offer another suggestion, but I got nothin'.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:01 PM on March 7, 2013

No worries, Rustic Etruscan! I just found this question very personally timely since we were literally deciding between Penumbra and Hologram for last month's book club and we chose Hologram, so it's very fresh in my mind.
posted by andrewesque at 2:04 PM on March 7, 2013

Came here to suggest Microserfs, which I love for the aged Linux references.... Thomas Pynchon's new book will be set in Silicon Vallley pre 9/11 if that helps....
posted by laukf at 2:04 PM on March 7, 2013

Microserfs is 20 years old - I loved it, but it's not really got anything about current technology.
posted by jacalata at 2:31 PM on March 7, 2013

Makers by Cory Doctorow might scratch your itch. It's certainly got the young people, the roommates and the technology. Not the urban part, though.

I found the writing seriously annoying, but since you're not picky...
posted by Skyanth at 3:00 PM on March 7, 2013

I'm also reading Mr. Penumbra's right now, and I really hated Microserfs, so I think there is some daylight between them.

The first thing that came to mind: Dog Days by Ana Marie Cox (the original Wonkette). It's about twentysomethings, blogs, dating, etc., but substitute "political campaigns" for "startups." (It's about Washington. And there really aren't that many novels about the young people who run DC, which is weird, because young people run DC.)
posted by psoas at 3:33 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

You could ask the author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore too (@robinsloan)! He's recommended Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman as a 90s book in the style that you're looking for.
posted by dreamyshade at 3:56 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

'Bottle Rocket Hearts' and 'Holding Still for As Long As Possible', both by Zoe Whittall, fit the bill in some, but not all the aspects you've mentioned. Probably Holding Still is more apropos; it's set in Toronto and is more recent.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:13 PM on March 7, 2013

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams
posted by Phssthpok at 4:41 PM on March 7, 2013

Judy Blume's Summer Sisters might work? It's a little older, but there are roommates and shenanigans.

Mindy Kaling's memoir is also very urban early career 20something.
posted by spunweb at 4:48 PM on March 7, 2013

Microserfs may be 20 years old, but as someone who's been working in the SF startup scene for... uh, well, since the area around South Park was called Multimedia Gulch, it holds up surprisingly well. The technology may seem archaic, and the Linux references are kind of cute, but the cultural aspects and interpersonal stuff between the characters -- well, all of that seems pretty darn familiar to me, even today.

See also: The Nudist on the Late Shift, and possibly The New New Thing... both of which are supposed to be more documentary than novel, but are fairly well written stories of young dynamic smart people in SF or the Bay Area, working on startups, and so on...
posted by toxic at 5:07 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas.
posted by peripathetic at 5:18 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, I think I have a pretty good one for you! It's not Allegra Goodman's best work, but The Cookbook collector is set in California and is about two sisters, both in their twenties, one of whom works at a startup. One of the things I enjoyed most about it was the descriptions of the work and relationships at the start up company. It's a pretty light read, and I found it entertaining. I think it was set in the height of the dot com buzz though (although it was published in 2010).
posted by pie_seven at 5:24 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius or whatever it's called. This is exactly what it's about.
posted by fshgrl at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein.

peripathetic got there first, I had also wanted to recommend Scarlett Thomas. I think The End of Mr Y could also fit your criteria - the main character is a doctoral student at a university, but she is an urban twentysomething wondering about the meaning of life.

Edit: This is a great thread, I want to read all these books now!
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:55 AM on March 8, 2013

Then We Came To The End? I don't remember whether there was a lot of dating in it but it definitely had that young, semi-corporate environment. Also - you might enjoy E and the sequel E2, by Matt Beaumont - written entirely in e-mail correspondence and set in an ad agency. The first was written in 2000 but the e-mail flirting and the various chats between secretaries, creatives and management feels contemporary. It's very funny - I re-read it recently (I was eighteen when it came out) and it does hold up.

Microserfs was already a little bit dated by the time I read it in the late '90s, but I'd still recommend it. DO NOT read J-Pod. It will upset you, not because it's emotionally devastating but because it feels phoned-in. Or e-mailed in.

Most of the things I can think of that reflect what you're talking about are sitcoms, rather than books. Being Erica you might enjoy. I think novels for adults (rather than YA) are taking their time to catch up to things like e-mail and online interactions so while I can think of a few things with characters of a similar age/background, they don't have that internetty thing going on.
posted by mippy at 5:17 AM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try And Then We Came to the End for fiction. Not a start-up, but rings some of the same bells. The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything is a how-to book for 20-somethings that covers a lot of that territory.
posted by annabellee at 7:25 AM on March 9, 2013

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