There are rules, I can only assume, for book blogging. I have to remind myself this isn’t a personal space. I’m not supposed to tell you that I’m more than a little burnt out, suffering from tremendous nose bleeds several times a day, and otherwise uninterested in social contact right now. Admitting that I spent half of last night awake in terror from a bad dream, alone and still unused to our new house, watching some really rotten anime kind of kills what very little gravitas I may possess, on a good day, and this is not a good day.
But Ariel Leve would support my telling you all of this. In fact, Ariel Leve, if she could be convinced to leave the house (and barring things like thousands of miles, last-minute notice, and reality) would happily come over and commiserate, even discussing what possible grave medical condition I probably have, given all these pesky nosebleeds. And I would welcome her, because she is, I knew from page one, what I call My People: suspicious, antisocial, neurotic to the nth degree. After all, the first chapter of her book of essays, It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me, is titled “Getting Through the Day.” It’s a wonder I didn’t break down crying the minute I saw this. (I could have run through the library screaming Simpatico!, smacking into toddlers screeching their own calls of recognition. But I digress.)
Yet there is a problem. Not several, just one. And that’s the fact that it’s a little difficult, nay, depressing, to see yourself so readily in someone else’s work. It’s not so bad when this happens with a novel. If it keeps you up at night you can tell yourself, well, at least it’s fiction, you nutter. But essays are harder to brush off. Chapters like “Personality Defects,” “Sweating the Small Stuff,” and “Not a Fan” - which seem funny if you are free of defects, know exactly how to roll with the punches, and generally like things and people and the outside world - hit a little too close to home if you aren’t and don’t.
I loved Leve for sentences like these, on page 47: “Research shows a person is likely to feel more alienated and alone when they witness others whose lives have worked out. Was I the subject for this research?”
Likewise for page 71: “Most stories about children are never as funny as parents think, and unless you too have a child, it becomes a one-sided conversation. There’s no way I can join in unless I try to remember what I was like when I was that age. But whenever I add, ‘I used to do the same thing,’ they look horrified. Because suddenly there’s the possibility their child will end up like me.”
Which was why I couldn’t finish it. Yup. I abandoned it a little over halfway through, on page 146, without really knowing I was doing it. I just put it down and started something else, telling myself I would come back to it in a few days. But when I went to pick it up again, I realized I didn’t want to. I had gotten tired of reading about how odd and solitary and compulsive I — I mean – Leve is.
Despite this, she is clearly a strong and funny essayist. This book is packed with some terrific observations about the post-millenium social world, from friendships and parties to facebook and yes, other people’s kids, and I would highly recommended it to fans of early David Rakoff, or anyone looking for a morose Sloane Crosley.
In the end, Leve is right: It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Ariel Leve. Or, you know, me.
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This book was published by Harper Perennial in 2009. For more information, visit the author’s website. If you’d like to purchase this book, why not support independent booksellers? Follow the link below, and happy reading.
FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a copy of the book I borrowed from the public library.