About a third of the way through Ariel Leve's essay collection It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me, I still couldn't decide if I was liking it or not. At first I thought it was a little, well, a little too over-the-top "woe is me." (I just couldn't get myself to feel too bad for a woman who splits her time between New York City and London, and who is making a living as a writer.)
But somewhere in the middle of her essays she started to charm me. Leve is a journalist and writes for The Sunday Times Magazine, The Guardian, and other publications, so I'm not sure if these are pieces from a column or what; here, they're organized into thematic sections like "Getting through the Day," "Personality Defects," "Health Concerns," and "Not a Fan." They're deceptively easy--she'll take you along on a perfectly valid rant for a couple of pages, and then she'll throw in a last zinger of a paragraph that just wins you over. By the time I was done with the book I was sorry it was over.
I didn't have bookmarks handy where I was reading this one (an aside, for no reason: would it ever be acceptable to have a bookshelf in the bathroom? Or does that strike people as unhygienic?), so I'm just flipping through now and will share a couple of her asides--a lot of which made me feel very close to her. Consider:
On the week between Christmas and New Year's: "No-one expects any work to get done, the streets are empty, the pressure is off. Changing out of my pyjamas feels like an accomplishment." (p. 101.)
On going out: "Getting older has rewards. Behaviour that was once unacceptable is becoming what's expected. For instance, when I was twenty-five and wanted to stay home on a Saturday night, everyone thought I was a loser. My friends would nag me to join them: 'C'mon, you're young. Live it up!' I tried to explain I was barely interested in living. What makes them think I'd be interested in living it up?" (p. 107.)
Here's the truest thing I've read in a long time: "People say you live and learn, but sometimes that's not the case. Sometimes you just live. And keep going. Or what you do learn you forget." (p. 159.)
And here was something on low-maintenance and high-maintenance women that someone should have shared with Mr. CR before we got hitched: "A low-maintenance groomer with a high-maintenance personality is not considered a catch." (p. 252.)
I could go on, but you get my point. Actually, the back-cover* copy of this one gives a good clue to its contents. Does this make you laugh (after inwardly cringing, because it's what you do to?): "If someone tells her everything will be okay, she asks: How do you know?'" It made me laugh. That's what I ALWAYS think first when someone tells me everything will be okay.
*Speaking of the cover, you can't tell in the horrible graphic I've used, but in the stock photo on the cover of this one the person covering their head with a pillow is wearing a ring on their left ring finger, which bothered me, as Leve is clearly not married. Yes, I am demanding about my book covers. Find a different stock photo!