Can You Tolerate This?: Essays

This riveting essay collection (256 pages) was published in July of 2018 by Riverhead Books. The book takes you to New Zealand. David read Can You Tolerate This? and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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Can You Tolerate This?


Ashleigh Young

Ashleigh Young was born and raised Te Kuiti, a town of 5000 on New Zealand’s North Island and the ‘Sheep Shearing Capital of the World.’ Her essays, read together in a rush inspired by their urgency and lyricism, form a coming-of-age story that’s both personal and universally affecting.

Youth and aging, disappointment, ambition, punk rock, the cult of Katherine Mansfield, and more are explored in sentences so carefully honed and tenderly observant. The essays feel like Young’s search for the things that make life worth living, a meditation on what makes life on this Earth tolerable for a woman in remote New Zealand.

In one essay, we meet the chiropractor who’s routine question Can you tolerate this? inspired the book’s title. It’s a heartrending piece of writing about egoism and the now. Equally moving is the story about her brother’s music career and the punk rock scene in their hometown. There are also tales of Japanese shut-ins, a French postman who crafted a stone fortress by hand, teenage yearning for Paul McCartney, falling in and out of love, and the double-edged sword of self-improvement projects — all set against the backdrop of New Zealand’s beauty and isolation.

Young is both a poet and an essayist, writing in unadorned prose that gets just the right words in the exact right order for sentences that directly place her thoughts in our minds. If you’d like to meet a New Zealander with whom you could become fast friends, this book is a fantastic place to start.

Was there any story I could tell that was truly certain? Write your way toward an understanding, a tutor had told me in a creative writing class during my third year of university. But what if you went backward and wrote yourself away from the understanding? Was it better than never to have started at all? If you were uncertain, should you make the understanding up - construct a meaningful-sounding statement so that your reader wouldn’t feel that you’d strung them along, wasted their time? — Ashleigh Young

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If you feel like you need a big adventure, New Zealand is a pretty fantastic place to get started. There are volcanoes and fjords, mountains and meadows, Māori mythology and gold rush history. And fairy bread.
New Zealand is an enchanting blend of colonial and Māori culture — against the prettiest green-and-blue backdrop of mountains and sea you could imagine. It's a place for exploration, all good vibes, and meat pies.

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