Wednesday, November 22, 2017

You're Not That Great: (but neither is anyone else) by Elan Gale

I snagged a copy of this ARC because the title made me laugh and I loved the paradox of the snappy, sarcastic title against the baby pink cover. "Mean" can sometimes be funny, as evidenced by the movie Mean Girls, and sometimes we all need a reality check. I was expecting something tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, witty. Your best-frenemy-for-ever as she channels her inner-Dorothy Parker while sipping on mimosas at your favorite cafe.

Instead I got... something else.

First, I understand why people are not totally on board with "positivity." It gets a bum-rap in the media, and its advocates are portrayed as irresponsible hippies or culturally appropriating phonies with no drive, who spend all their time smoking pot or meditating. This is NOT an accurate representation, however, and while this book appears to have been created to take cheap shots at self-help books like The Secret, and pop psychology books like Flow, it operates on the assumption that "happy" people are delusional people who aren't grounded in reality.

YOU'RE NOT THAT GREAT is bitter and misanthropic. It encourages unhappiness, seems to suggest that you should wallow in it, and angst, hate, despise, sulk, and seethe freely. There were some passages I agreed with - the part about accepting the anxiety of your future and using that anxiety to propel yourself into action when it comes to accomplishing as much as you can before your own inevitable demise, for example. Death is uncomfortable but it happens to us all, and in a way, it's the driving force behind creativity and insight, because if we lived forever, we might all just become a bunch of dull, indolent vampires passing the days away in an endless malaise.

The part about the author's mother getting cancer and her recovery was also quite touching, and portrayed - bitingly real - insights about the pain of recovery and how much of it relies on luck as much as fortitude, and how difficult it is to be brave in suffering. Although that was the point of no return for me as well - when I realized that I wasn't getting Dorothy Parker so much as Ernest Hemingway.

And you know, I get it. I used to side-eye happy people too. I thought they were a bunch of fake, cultish people eating up their own lies like it was the most delicious thing they had ever tasted. And to some extent, Elan Gale has a point: being mindlessly, foolishly happy isn't a good way to live your life. That was one of the cautionary aspects of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; unhappiness keeps society from stagnating; it can trigger change; it keeps pleasure from becoming a dull, drugged haze. But true positivity isn't about that - it's about learning to accept yourself, flaws and all, minimizing stress, and embarking upon the endless, and yes, sometimes futile, struggle of self-betterment.

I couldn't really get on board with this book. But maybe darker souls than I will find it funny.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

1 out of 5 stars

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