I was going to write a post about how you need to read or re-read Jenny Lawson’s Furiously happy, and gift it to everyone you know for Christmas, even if you already gifted it to them last December holiday season, because the book is just that good… And then, I read some of the reviews on Goodreads, and realized, maybe a book with a hugely grinning, taxidermied raccoon on the cover is not everyone’s cup of tea.
At first, this made me sad. Jenny’s collections of essays are often funny, sometimes heartwarming, and usually dealing with mental illness, which is a bit of a scary topic that is not covered enough in the media, which makes people with mental illness feel terribly alone.
So instead of telling you that you HAVE to read this book, because I as an arbitrary person really, really, really, really, really, REALLY think you should…
Today, I am going to write a post on the difficulties of writing about important things, and also maybe not being an asshole when you review shit.
I don’t believe I am. I hope that I am right. But the fact is, I probably hurt the feelings of some authors, by virtue of writing honest reviews. I try to take care not to be personally offensive, which is something that I occasionally saw within the reviews for Furiously Happy. The fact that I, personally, do not enjoy something, and potentially cannot even fathom how anyone else could, either, does not mean that other people who read and enjoy the work are of lesser intelligence, lesser understanding, or inferior in any way. Nor does the fact that I did not enjoy something that a lot of other people are raving about indicate subpar intelligence or sophistication as a reader on my part. People are different, and they like different things. The fact that I did not enjoy something, and do not recommend it, does not mean that it will not be the next book you clutch to your bosom and sigh over dramatically because you have found your next true love.
One of the most difficult things about writing about big issues such as mental illness, racism, gender inequality, rape, etc., is the niggling feeling in the back of your mind that says: “You aren’t good enough to write about this issue in a meaningful way. Readers won’t get what you’re trying to say. You will offend someone, because not everyone experiences these issues in the same way.” These doubts are on top of the normal doubts that all writers already have that their writing isn’t good enough, that they are wasting their time, that they might as well just sit on the couch watching marathons of well-written television while getting drunk.
Yet the alternative, if all writers give in to these doubts, is to have a literary landscape that is devoid of controversial topics. And if no one is writing and no one is talking about controversial topics, how is the world supposed to evolve and become a better place? How are people supposed to learn and mature and figure out what they think of the world and what they think is their place in it?
I prefer a literary landscape in which writers take chances, promote the issues that they feel passionate about, and make me think about what I am reading. I recognize that this means I will not always like what I read, and that other readers will not always like to read the writing that I greatly enjoyed, but this issue is one that can be overcome simply by maintaining empathy. Some people might find the writing of the Marquis de Sade to be absolutely disgusting, whereas others might be titillated by it. Does that mean the writing should not exist? I argue in favor of its’ existence, though I also maintain that as a reader, if you are really not enjoying something, and furthermore, do not see any other benefits from reading it, it is perfectly fine to stop. Just remember, that simply because you are not deriving what you want or need from a work of literature does not mean that that work should not exist.
What do you think? Where is the balance between writing about difficult topics and being insensitive? What is the difference between a review that is honest and a review that is cruel? Do you consider these topics in your own writing (blog, review, or otherwise)? Or would you like to fangirl/vent about Furiously Happy? I would love to hear your thoughts; please comment!