Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How to How-To: A Lesson from the School of Life, care of How to Stay Sane

If there's a fault I'll acknowledge about the way I evaluate books, it's this one: I can't stand a long tome. There are a select few lengthier titles whose wordiness is a virtue -- the appropriately short list is comprised of all the Harry Potters, anything by Charles Dickens, Proust's In Search of Lost Time series, and a few of the great Russian writers -- but otherwise, I am often wont to judge a huge volume. My rationale depends on the day and my mood, on a scale of one to Oscar the Grouch, but usually it's either my vehement belief that their editor didn't do his or her job (unfounded) or a suspicion that the writer loves to hear themselves talk (er, read their own words? Equally unfounded).

ISBN-10: 1250030633
ISBN-13: 9781250030634
Published: Picador, 12/24/2012
Pages: 192
Language: English
All of this is just to say that I love a good, short read. Concision is a virtue, particularly when it comes to a genre one might otherwise avoid. Fiction and literary memoir are my favorite categories, but recently I veered into the psychology section for a small, pocket-sized book called How to Stay Sane, part of the School of Life series championed by Alain de Botton (you might know his book The Architecture of Happiness). I opened it out of curiosity, and its combination of straightforwardness and brevity pulled me in further. I still had some misgivings after the fallout from reading a certain solve-your-twenty-something-crises title, and I was hesitant to get psychological again for fear of feeding my own neuroses. Still, Perry's style of writing was winsome from the beginning, and I gave it a shot.

So far, this little guide has been a refreshing exercise in how to advise, minus the preaching. I've never read an advice book in which the barrier between subject and author is so removed, but Perry is the first to admit to her own faults and bad habits. A psychologist with a sense of humor? A forthright example of how one fails, and then how one subsequently succeeds? It's all here, in a few well-chosen words that combine prose, exercises, references to other useful literature, and more.Heck, Perry even wrote a graphic novel (2010's Couch Fiction) to debunk certain myths about what it's like to see a psychologist, and I'm already chomping at the bit to read it. It's so lacking in judgment that I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and desperately hoping it won't.

Maybe the fact that I picked up this little blue-hued book was fateful. After all, if anyone needs to lighten up
on the judgments -- be they literary, self-directed, or otherwise -- it's probably yours truly. So far, I'm an eager student in Perry's latest School of Life master class.

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