Helena Dea Bala was unhappy in her lobbying job in D.C. and, on a whim, decided to post on Craigslist soliciting confessions from strangers in an attempt to feel connection with other people and bring purpose to her life. To her surprise, the response to her ad was strong and immediate. She soon found herself setting up several meetings a week with respondents who sat down and shared their secrets with her, anonymously of course. Dea Bala eventually quit her job and moved full-time into telling these strangers’ stories on various online platforms. This summer, she released a collection called Craigslist Confessional featuring 40 of the people she has met with over the years.
Why I picked it up: These types of voyeuristic glimpses into others’ lives are right up my alley, and Craigslist Confessional came highly recommended by Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves.
Craigslist Confessional is an engrossing read. There are stories of mental illness, bad parenting, secrets, abuse, pain, redemption, regret and much more. The chapters are short – 5-6 pages – so it’s easy to pick up the book, read a few confessions, and put it down. The stories tend to blend together, and I didn’t leave the book with particularly distinct memories of more than a handful of the confessors, but the cumulative swirl of humanity spun by Dea Bala certainly leaves its mark. I don’t know how you could read Craigslist Confessional and not become a more empathetic person. It is a privilege to get a glimpse into people’s heads and hearts and hear them explain their feelings honestly, without fear of judgment.
I listened to Craigslist Confessional on audio and I wouldn’t recommend it. The confessions are narrated by performers, so there’s a remove between the voice and the content. Some of the intimacy of these confessions gets lost when you know, as a listener, that the people talking are not the people who experienced them. I also found some of the narrators a little robotic. So if you’re interested in Craigslist Confessional, go for reading the book over listening on audio.
Memoirs/non-fiction have been working for me during the pandemic, and Craigslist Confessional was no exception. If you’re a fan of PostSecret or advice columns or Humans of New York, you’ll like this one.
Craigslist Confessional was Book #31 of 2020.