Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
There are times when you just have to stop caring what strangers may think about you. This week, as I was practically falling out of my seat from laughing so hard while reading Jenny Lawson’s FURIOUSLY HAPPY on a crowded downtown bus, was one of those times. Her chapter entitled “Stock Up on Snow Globes. The Zombie Apocalypse Is Coming” is possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever read, and I wasn’t about to put it down just because my fellow commuters might be questioning my sanity.
That, after all, isn’t what Lawson herself would do. Despite dealing with clinical depression, chronic anxiety disorder and autoimmune disease (among a number of other maladies), Lawson, as she explains in her opening chapter, makes the deliberate decision to embrace life in all its weirdness and wonder whenever she is physically, emotionally and mentally able to do so --- to be, as her title suggests, “furiously happy.”
"Lawson effectively blends serious topics with seriously hilarious writing to create a book that is doing important work but is so funny that it seems like play."
Much of her new book (a follow-up of sorts to her earlier title, LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED) recounts her escapades, her attempts to wrest joy and humor from life in her own inimitable way. Part of what she’s discovered is that the recipe for happiness is a uniquely personal one --- it can’t be measured by the world’s standards of happiness or success. So if what makes you happy is going to Australia and holding a koala while dressed as a koala, do it. And if you are amused by the notion of holding a mini-rodeo involving a taxidermy raccoon and your cats in the wee hours of the morning, do that, too.
Lawson, who is known online as “The Bloggess,” clearly excels at the sort of short- to medium-length pieces she’s compiled here, which sometimes recount her exploits or, as in the chapter I mentioned above, collect her observations on life (in this case, the phenomenon of air travel turning people into enormous jerks). A supporting character in all of this is her straight man husband, Victor, who seems both to keep Lawson’s zaniness (and, to a certain extent, her anxiety) in check with his matter-of-fact attitude and to have endless patience for her non sequiturs, impulsive ideas and practical jokes (such as putting a stuffed bear’s head in bed because it’s “juuust right”).
FURIOUSLY HAPPY is bound to make any reader smile or chuckle (or, if they’re like me, have tears running down their face in the middle of the morning commute). More importantly, though, her book (like her blog) offers readers who suffer from mental illness a chance to see how to live a good and even great life, an opportunity to see that there are other people in the world who share similar challenges and find their own messy and marvelous ways to get by. By drawing people in with humor, Lawson also has the opportunity to debunk many misconceptions about mental illness and the people who live with it, such as the idea that people who suffer from depression must be sad about something or the idea that people can just pray or exercise their way out of depressive episodes.
As the subtitle suggests, Lawson effectively blends serious topics with seriously hilarious writing to create a book that is doing important work but is so funny that it seems like play.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 7, 2015