I know I'm way late to this party, but I read Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? this weekend, and I can't give it a higher recommendation. If you've ever asked yourself that question, at any point, you owe it to yourself to read this book. (And if you haven't asked yourself that question, perhaps you're overdue.)
I'd been ambivalent about Bronson as a writer. I enjoyed both his second novel, "Bombardiers," (about burned-out bond traders) and his first nonfiction book, "The Nudist on the Late Shift," (a series of pieces about Silicon Valley and its oddities), and although they reflected the talents of an adept craftsman with a knack for sniffing out a good story, they were simply solid, honest books. There's no shame in that, of course, but neither the prose nor the subject matter really moved me.
WSIDWML moved me, deeply. I laughed, I cried, all that shit. Really. Bronson apparently came up with the topic while asking himself the same question after the publication of "Nudist," wondering whether he'd come up with another story worth telling, while simultaneously going through a difficult divorce. Having convinced himself it was worth pursuing further, he interviewed some 900 people and got to know about 70 quite well--just over 50 of their stories made it into the latest edition, published in 2003. Each brief chapter tells an individual's story--their circumstances, their dream, their struggle, their resolution. Most end happily, or at least peacefully, but not all. This is an affirming book, and if you're wrestling with the question it poses, you'll find encouragement to pursue the process, but Bronson never pretends there's a pat answer (and even questions whether his interviews offer unwarranted encouragement to his subjects.)
Bronson's language still doesn't sing at all times, but that's actually to his credit here. His greatest strengths as a writer are his ability to speak directly to the reader, in passionate but straightforward terms, and his ability to get close to his subjects and portray them honestly without violating their privacy. Those tasks require a writer of character, who won't let his style get in the way of the story (and his role in it.) Although at times Bronson casts himself in a suspiciously catalyzing light, helping several subjects achieve some life-changing realizations about themselves, in the end I trusted him and his reportage. It took a charismatic person to conceive and carry out this project, and such a person person probably would have a significant effect on the other people involved.
But those are quibbles. Bronson has achieved something of lasting value here, identifying and portraying people whose stories will resonate deeply with anyone who's ever found themselves wondering the same thing. I'm telling you: read it, punk.