Book Review: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Book cover

After all, the most interesting of us have been broken and mended and broken again.

Jenny Lawson struggles with depression and mental illness. That is front and center in her author bio on the back flap of Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. It’s also the topic of most of the essays in this collection. You don’t have to share her issues to enjoy her writings, but it sure helps. Her devotion to neurosis is humorously handled, similar to a character like George Costanza on the TV show Seinfeld.

Pretend you’re good at it.

This collection of essays is much more focused on her mental illness than her autobiography, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, was. Almost to the point you feel like she thinks about it too much. But then again that’s part of her mental illness. There are 43 essays included in this 325 page book. That breaks down to about 7 pages per essay. Some are short and almost nonsensical. Others dig deeper and get to some core issues about living with mental illness. There are several conversations with her beleaguered husband Victor. There are a few transcriptions of her internal conversations with her shrink. There’s still some taxidermy references but it’s mostly about the ecstatic racoon on the cover. (That racoon is just so damn happy! But apparently he does freak out other people. My wife made me take the jacket off the book, only to discover there’s an embossed version of him on the actual cover of the book.)

You learn it’s okay to prefer your personal idea of heaven.

One of the best essays is “We’re Better Than Galileo. Because He’s Dead.” It starts with a story about avoiding a knock at the door that I totally relate with. Jenny then provides the insight

It means I’m successful in recognizing what the good things in life are for me… So if you spent an hour playing the-floor-is-made-of-lava with your kid then you’re better off than the girl who travelled all the way to Sri Lanka. Plus, you didn’t get cholera. Probably. Depends, I guess.

It’s writing like this that make it a pleasure to read Lawson’s books. She lives within her mental illness but can expand her experience to near universal revelations. There’s no single solution for life that works for everyone, except for realizing that there’s no single solution for life (take that, catch-22!).

Another spectacular piece is “That Baby Was Delicious” about raising kids nowadays. I agree with its contents so much that it’s ridiculous. I won’t go off on one of my parenting rants (there’s other reviews for that). But it’s always nice to have some affirmation that letting kids be kids is OK with someone else. And the story behind the essay’s title is hilarious and perceptive, the common theme to Jenny’s writing.

Don’t compare your insides with someone else’s outsides.

My own personal writing style seemingly lines up with Jenny’s. Wild tangents. Too many parenthetical asides. Humorous takes on serious subjects. Every writer has influences, and it’s a challenge not to simply simulate those influences. But Jenny’s writing style is so natural, so conversational, so loose, it’s easy to emulate without duplicating it. Obviously her blog writing origins make her less literary-based. But with blogs and other personal and Internet writing outpacing literary novels it’s not so bad to be good at such compositions. It’s freeing this type of human awareness is written in a “common” manner rather than locked behind the verbiage and jargon of academia.

Don’t make the same mistakes that everyone else makes. Make wonderful mistakes. Make the kind of mistakes that make people so shocked that they have no other choice but to be a little impressed.

There are currently 441 quotes from Furiously Happy on Goodreads. War and Peace has 529 but has roughly 1,000 more pages. Infinite Jest has 561 quotes but has roughly 700 more pages. Why am I citing statistics as inane as Goodreads quote counts? Because it shows how relatable this book is to its readers. Practically the entire book is quoted. Jenny Lawson’s books attract a very devout audience. Her tribe, as she calls them (better than Spider Jerusalem’s “New Scum”).

I feel sorry for tribes that used to be cannibals but then stopped when the Christians came and inevitably ruined everything, because it would suck to be nostalgic for the comfort food of your childhood but then never have it again because now it’s suddenly not cool to eat your dead uncle.

I may not be an official member of Jenny’s tribe since I don’t have a diagnosed mental illness, but I’m sure they’d be willing to accept me and all my own idiosyncrasies.

So get out there and live your life furiously happy!

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Travis Hudson
Chief Editorial Officer at Rampant Discourse
Software developer by day. Member of the literati by night. Full time father of one son and one daughter. Music enthusiast. Comic book defender. Cultural deconstructionist. Aspirant philosopher. Zen but not Zen.

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