A “messy” review for “messy” books
They are not similar necessarily. One is a memoir the other is a novel from life, so one can say it is semi autobiographical? Nonfiction mixed with fiction? Anyways. The protagonist in both are female but from different age groups. The first is in her 30s and the latter in her 20s. They both received very mixed reviews and with both I found myself unable to stop reading the bad reviews because they perplexed me so much. I couldn’t see what those people said they saw in either books. Both had a complaint of being messy and of their revelations not being big enough. Both of these books came to me at the right time, as life has it sometimes, and both sent me spiraling into my work. A big way I decide what book I think is deserving of 5 stars are the ones that leave me filled with inspiration and make me dive into my own work at full speed. Or if I find myself still thinking about bits of the book weeks, months, years, after I’ve finished it.
The Rules Do Not Apply is about a woman who loses her baby in a miscarriage. Its about redefining what marriage, being a woman, a writer means to her. How she doesn’t have to follow any rules in life, despite popular belief. Doesn’t have to do the find a husband, settle down, have kids, give up job bullshit that is forced down our throats. She realizes the future is something she can make look however she wants, so she does it on her own timeline and comes into a series of misfortunes. Its about life and the choices we make.
If it was messy it was because what was happening in her life was messy. Grossly messy, painfully messy. And what’s wrong with messy anyway? Isn’t that a more direct reflection of our lives anyway? With the popularity of this book due to it being featured on an celebrity’s book club I understand how hype was created. And naturally with hype brings people who are quick to try to tear down the hype. Who judge it now by new standards. Competing. Judging harshly and meticulously what you wouldn’t normally do. Forgetting this is one persons story, account, of what happened to her life. I saw the reviews in the middle of the book and got angry, I quickly closed out and didn’t want to read any of it didn’t want it to sway my reading in any way because I was so thoroughly enjoying it I couldn’t put it down, I kept thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it and it was the only thing inspiring me to write.
Truthfully, I too didn’t want to read it or like it. I saw the cover and heard someone say something about it and thought it would be soft, or too surface level, too girly, or too trendy. I thought it wouldn’t challenge me enough. I was snobby in my reasoning. It’s popularity made me also question its ability to be a strong piece of work. I saw it at half price books a few times and let it go without buying it. I would pick it up each time and look through it, and I would always put it back thinking it was probably a dumb girls self help book. Finally I got it the other day. There was a sale or maybe it was because I had seen it too many times to just not go ahead and get it. And I’m glad I did. I devoured it in 2 days – less than 24hrs actually. I was glued to the pages. She made me think more than I thought I would, she made me look at my life and those around me. She made me look at her life and the things that happened and made me realize that I too was like her. We are less in control of our lives than we realize, than we hope for or plan for. It’s not that it was so much challenging, academically or socially or culturally or psychologically. I don’t even know if I would say it was “challenging”. But it was challenging because it got me to think about my own life. To really dissect it into pieces and look at the messy truth of it, not the perfect façade of it that we display on instagram or wherever. Not the edited version but the true version. It challenged me in that it got me to look at the dark corners of my life that I had been neglecting to clean, hoping they would clean themselves, but finding they didn’t and in fact were covered in layers of dust and dirt clogging me altogether. It was beautiful and true, for her. Her writing was wonderful and stirred something in me, leaving me thinking in the moments in between my reading and making me stop to write for hours because I just couldn’t stop, I had to.
Reading the reviews people were saying “I get that life was messy but I didn’t want to read it” I guess some people turn to books to find something tidy and put together because they aren’t or their life isn’t, or life isn’t period. But Ariel said in her book that she was a journalist first and the only way she knew how to write was to write what she saw, what was in front of her, what happened. I respect that and I love that. I want nothing but the spitting, messy image of what her reality was like. Because then I am closer to being in her shoes, feeling what she felt, than if it were perfectly and neatly tucked all into place. They said she was too whiny and too self absorbed and selfish. “Why didn’t she do this if only she did that.” And to those I have nothing to say. It’s an account of her perspective on things as they are happening. How can someone say they would have been perfectly perfect in that situation? No one is and no one will be. things happen in the moment, things you say or think and do and sometimes it takes longer than others to realize it. I still think this was an honest account from Ariel. I think she knew how she was depicting herself. I think that was the point. I think the point was why does she have to feel and see and think and do as everyone else? Why turn it into something larger than her life? Was that not enough?
To those who have never gone through any of what she has I wonder if it is easier to judge on the other side of things? And to those that have with the same response, there is no pleasing. There is nothing I despise more than people who idealize perfect. Who look down on things they think are not. It’s subjective and it’s false and it’s untrue. It’s a unicorn. It doesn’t exist.
I also wonder if it had gotten less hype would the criticism have been so great?
How Should A Person Be? is about a young woman who is trying to find out how one should be…. An artist, or a woman, or a friend, or someone successful, or a human being in general. Its about her friendship with Margaux and the fears of putting out bad or ugly work, those words being metaphors. Its about what she thought adulthood would be like, or life, thought that there would only be brilliant beautiful life in all things and that if there isn’t it’s because it isn’t meant to be, only to realize by the therapist who plants the seed that life is in suffering too, and the bad and ugly things. Life is in and around everything, and we cannot avoid suffering. It can teach us things, and sometimes even give us wisdom far more important than only happiness and sunshine can bring. These books were monumental to me. They both represented me, my own thoughts and feelings and emotions. They represented my fears too. They were the link that I needed to figure out certain mysteries about myself.
Similar things were said about How Should A Person Be? They called it vapid, and said they were shocked she found these “revelations” big enough to put them in a book. I read some of these while I was reading the book and I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I continued to read with a lookout for things vapid and for revelations that were not big enough, but I couldn’t find them. What I saw instead was a pretty relatable account of a 20something year old who is trying to figure out how to be an artist, a woman, a friend, a successful person, a human being. All questions I have, and that I know many people have. I believe she used a lot of metaphors. She used the word ugly a lot but I did not take it as vapid, like one reviewer said, claiming that “I feel it may reveal… too much about how shallow, self-obsessed, pathetic, and insecure most women are. Especially pretty ones.” She went on to say it was easy to swallow without filling her up.
It was easy to swallow, but why should that make it mean any less? How should that fill you up any less? I suppose for me, it hit me more directly. I resonated with the main character. I found myself in those same positions before, maybe in my more early 20s but I could still respect it. I resonated with trying to make perfect things, or things worthy of and being too afraid to fail at it to even finish the project or give it a proper go. I resonated with the painters in the book, specifically Margaux who taught us the lines are almost nonexistent and blurred in what is ugly and what is beautiful in art, and perhaps in life too. It was rich and funny and made me want to work right away.
They both had similar complaints, too vain, too self obsessed, too this too that. And most by women. They said things about the style of writing how it was not enough for them because it was a new style of writing. Because neither of these writers followed the rules they were so used to seeing. I love rule breakers. I think everyone should strive to be more like them. They express to me, true freedom and courage. They have the strength to break from the status quo, and show us something different, show us what can be done when we don’t follow the rules. They show us rules are meant to be broken, challenged. Why should we follow one mans rules anyway for how a book should be written? How can there be rules on how to express oneself? How to tell ones story?