Let’s pretend this never happened by Jenny Lawson
I laughed ’til I cried when I read this book. I really did. I had to read it with a roll of toilet paper at hand. I read it on the train and tried to stop laughing because the other people were looking at me like I belonged in a hospital ward. I am afraid I shrieked with laughter in a most uncivilized way and ended up having to restrict myself to small doses of a couple of pages at a time because it was so deliciously hilarious and I did not want to go into meetings with my face all red and wrinkled and hiccupping like I was drunk. Why? When books have blurbs on the back like ”hysterically funny” or “snarky” or “witty” I tend to take it with a hefty dose of salt. My funny is just not other people’s funny. My sense of humour is rather dark and evil and often, like Queen Victoria was alleged to have said, I am not amused. So I had my doubts about this one. But it is actually laugh-out-loud-hilarious. Despite being – as the subtitle of her next memoir goes – a funny book about kinda horrible things like psychological problems. There are authors like Augusten Burroughs and Charles Bukowski, whose lives are/were one long mental aberration, and then there are the enfant terribles, like Jenny Diski, who spent time in an institution, and then there are the depressives, like Sylvia Plath, Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka.
And then there is Jenny Lawson, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, OCD, ADD, depression and an anxiety disorder, in which her parents and decidedly odd upbringing probably had some part. I believe all parents tell their kids lies (Father Christmas, Tooth Fairy, where babies come from, sitting on a cold cement stoop will give you hemorrhoids, everyone’s special, etc.) and mess with their heads. Lawson makes this funny, absurdly funny. Now, some readers will no doubt respond that I am uncaring and disrespectful for laughing at someone with serious problems, but Lawson is utterly irreverent about her own problems. She is an Equal Opportunity Offender when it comes to getting a laugh out of serious issues.
Make no mistake – she might probably be the most self-deprecating author in the world right now, but she is also very darn clever. She knows how to write, to reel you into her absurd world, how to spin you along, and how to stop when things get serious (not often, but where it matters.) Kudos, Ms. Lawson. You have graduated from the ranks of crazy bloggers to the pantheon of writers to watch. If this is all not real (mostly not true in other words) and it’s all just a marketing spiel, I’ll be mightily cheesed off. I like my authors to be genuinely nuts.
But nevertheless, reading her book was the loveliest, funniest few days I’ve spent in years. So I might forgive her.
In stead of feeling pity or some such lukewarm emotion about her truly absurd youth which she and her sister stoically survived, and the wide range of her physical and mental woes, I took gleeful pleasure in her hair-raising stories and could not resist a twinge of admiration for her. Take her taxidermist/bow-hunter father who tricked her with Stanley the Magical Talking Squirrel, and the stuffed mouse in the Shakespearian outfit, and the working cannon in their back yard and also a dead Franken-bear…and consider those the small weirdnesses. It was so nice to feel sane by comparison. Really, my eccentric life seemed comfortingly normal (do you and your mother communicate almost exclusively in literary quotations?! No? Well then you ain’t as odd as me.) The contents page alone will give you some idea of just how off the normalcy curve the subjects are – here are the first few chapter headings:
WHY, YES, THERE IS A METHOD TO MY MADNESS
- I Was a Three-Year-Old Arsonist
- My Childhood: David Copperfield Meets Guns & Ammo Magazine
- Stanley, the Magical Talking Squirrel
- Don’t Tell Your Parents
- Jenkins, You Motherfucker
- If You Need an Arm Condom, It might Be time to Reevaluate Some of Your life Choices
Close your ears, nice people
By the way, her language is filthy. I’ve never read the F-word as often in a memoir. But what really got to me was that the entire book seemed like a female Anthony Bourdain-like bizarre stream-of-consciousness river of words. (For instance, her husband Victor’s marriage proposal, which took “Six. Fucking. Hours.”) You can literally hear her mind going through its revolutions like a hamster crazily spinning in a wheel and then falling out, legs in the air.
The asides to and by her editor are highly entertaining and this person – whoever he or she is – is a hero of literature for helping to conjure a memoir out of ramblings and ravings. But damn funny ravings nevertheless. And those photos – to prove everything is “mostly true” – are hysterical because they actually do prove it.
The inner monologue will out
I suspect that the reason Lawson is so funny is because she’s no-holds-barred truthful and direct. Most of us have unspeakable thoughts running round our heads. We think it. We never ever say it. Lawson does. All the time, at the most inopportune moments. She just can’t leave an idea alone, such as “Jesus technically being a zombie” (he did rise from the dead) so she tries NOT to say what’s going on inside her head and then she does. “In a way it’s a gift being able to recognize your faults, but in real life I find myself saying terrible things to people, and the part of me that recognizes how inappropriate what I just said was screams at me, ‘No! We don’t talk about vibrators to clergymen!’ then I get distracted by all the screaming going on in my head, and I panic and here come all the credit card numbers again.” (p. 170) There are too many unmentionable rants to mention, but after a while, you actually begin to get it. Mmmm. Why not a zombie? Has to be true in some way. Google it. Oh – 12,900,000 results (0.48 seconds). Seems other people are also thinking about this.
Comfort to all the imposters
All my life I’ve sufferend from imposter syndrome. I pretend I know what I’m doing in my job, and hope like hell that no-one ever finds out I am making it all up as I go. Then, Voilà! Jenny Lawson enters, and she is just like a gazillion people with imposter syndrome, who are puzzled at the world, who survived wacky parents, who still find friends and love, and who can then say, in answer to the question, what do you do? “I write a blog about all the ways I mortify myself in public.” (p. 198.)
You know what “mortify” originally meant? To ‘put to death,’ ‘deaden,’ and ‘subdue by self-denial’, from Old French mortifier, from ecclesiastical Latin mortificare ‘kill, subdue,’ from mors, mort– ‘death.’ And a thousand little deaths she does indeed endure every time she opens her mouth in company and the wrong thing comes out.
I think I’ve found an author whom I will follow and give many likes. I might even buy her a small taxidermied animal dressed in an exotic costume, if I can find one. Many, many bloggers in this world are doodoo-heads. This one isn’t. Go to theblogess.com and find someone nuts –and astute – enough to make you grin.
PS: Are authors prone to nutsness?
A psychologist recently quoted some stats with the link between writers and mental problems. “Writers work six months to a year to finish a novel, a book of poetry, or screenplay. Sometimes longer. They may not see feedback for years. During this time, a lot of anxiety grows about whether they are even writing something worthwhile, let alone of social or artistic merit. In a recent study, professional writers were found to be 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the general population. Moreover, the same study found that authors had a “statistically significant increase” in anxiety disorders—38% to be exact. Rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide are also inordinately high among writers.”
I don’t know where he got the stats from (Trust Not Thy Source), or whether mental illness causes people to become authors or writing causes mental illness – but it sure is strange that so many authors and artists have bats in their belfries.
About the Author and the New York Times Best-Sellers List
Jenny Lawson is the author of the blog, www.theblogess.com. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, was released on April 17, 2012, and was, on May 6, 2012, the number one New York Times bestseller.
Not that I usually give much credence to books being on the New York Times Bestseller List. The list is not based on literary merit but on units sold. It is compiled by the editors of the newspaper’s “News Surveys” department, not by The New York Times Book Review department, where it is published. It is based on weekly sales reports obtained from “selected samples” of bookstores and wholesalers throughout the United States. The New York Times reported in 2013 that “we [generally do not] track the sales of classic literature”. Now you know. Frankly, I find some books on the “best-sellers” list too populist even for my decidedly catholic tastes.
But don’t be distracted by the fact that Lawson’s books made the list. It’s worth buying, as she does point out frequently in the book. Her second book, Furiously Happy, was released on September 22, 2015 and also sold well, backed by an extensive book tour by the now-famous Blogess.