Welcome to My Planet – Shannon Olson

I picked up Welcome to My Planet by Shannon Olson while visiting my sister-in-law in Minnesota. I was looking for something light hearted to read and found myself engrossed in this funny book. Now, granted I am not usually pulled into female coming of age stories but the writing was crisp, funny, and rang true. I basically read it in whenever I had a spare moment and finished before the weekend was over.

The book details the travails of a fictional Shannon Olson as she struggles to become an “adult.” To get a career not just a job. To develop mature relationships with men, with her parents, etc. The fictional Shannon deals with credit card debt; moving back home; her mother’s tumor; her boyfriends; graduate school; counseling; and a host of other life issues. It really communicates the boredom and ennui that can develop in middle class, Midwestern, and middle brow communities. You know what you are supposed to do (go to college get a job, get married, etc.) but are unsure of what it all means and whether you really want to take the plunge. Here is Olson discussing the issue with her mother:

Her next inquiry, after scanning the paper: “Name three things you expected to have in life, which you no longer are expecting.”
“Three anythings?” I ask her. “Could it be experiences?”
“It could be anything,” she says, looking at me across her bifocals, taking a sip of her coffee.
“I don’t know if I ever expected anything,” I say. “Then again, I expected everything.” I stop and think for a second. “I expected to have everything, without having to do anything to get it.”
“Did your father and I do this to you?” she asks. “Is it something we didn’t do?”
“Women’s magazines did this to me,” I say. “Watching Love Boat did this. I did this to myself.”
“It’s true,” she says. “You always wanted to be a princess. Maybe letting you live here just encourages that.”
“I have a job,” I say. “Just not a job I ever wanted. And I have a car,” I say. “I just never pictured myself buying a car – but then eventually you need wheels. See?” I say to her, “What good are expectations when life keeps throwing you new expenses? How can you plan?”

The dialogue rings true – you can understand her perspective, picture the conversation. It makes you think of your own life, your own perspective.

Olson does a good job of blending humor with real issues without getting either maudlin or preachy. The characters she creates seem real and meaningful while still being entertaining and interesting. This is no mean feat – making real life seem important and interesting. Some parts are just funny. Here, for example, is her description of a co-worker:

Steve is a member of the sales force and walks quickly, even if he’s just going to the kitchen for coffee. He is forty-five and recently divorced, and sings Def Leppard songs, “Love Bites,” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” as he circles our island of cubicles on his way to meetings, to the bathroom, to the kitchen – sending his loneliness like a flare.

Maybe my own in-securities and issues helped, but I found the book to be engrossing, entertaining, and thought provoking. Olson’s comfortable style, her built in cultural commentary, and her wry humor makes this an rewarding read.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).