There are lots of compelling reasons why I read, but certainly one of the primary ones is because it provides me with a way to view the world through other eyes, in the process helping me to better view it through my own.
I chose the autobiography Approval Junkie: My Heartfelt (and Occasionally Inappropriate) Quest to Please Just About Everyone, and Ultimately Myself, by Faith Salie (Crown Publishing Group, 2016) because I’m more than a bit of an “approval junkie” myself, and because I’m always looking for ways to deal with that sometimes distressing tendency. I have to be honest, though…I didn’t love this book. I can’t put my finger on why. The writing is excellent and sometimes hilarious. The story of Salie’s life is interesting enough, and there are intermittent bursts of genuinely helpful reflection, like her “Face for Radio” chapter. But more often I had a vague feeling throughout (alluded to in the subtitle) that I was just getting Too Much Information. It might be a generational thing, it might be a class thing, it might be a regional thing, it might be a famous person thing… I don’t know, but I found that much as I wanted to like the author, and much as I empathized with some of her heartbreak and longing (including the loss of a parent at a young age), I just didn’t connect with her experience of the world. So while it was amusing to read her refer to her ex-husband as her “wasband”, I cringed at some of the information she shared about their marriage, thinking “I wonder what his version of events is”. I imagine the name-dropping and casual mention of things like having the opportunity to make out with Matt Damon and turning it down might entertain some people, but it left me indifferent. I know from Salie’s epilogue that she finds lukewarm reviews like mine more upsetting than outright rejection, and for that I apologize. But since I picked up the book looking for ways to deal with my own sometimes debilitating need for approval, and since I found a somewhat self-absorbed heiress instead with whom I just couldn’t relate, I’ll just say that I was unable to make any connection with this book.
Which was not the case with the next novel I picked up, A Man Called Ove. Written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman (Simon & Schuster, 2012), this book was mentioned by a dear friend and her Swedish husband (thanks, Ulf!), and I absolutely loved it! The story starts with newly retired and decidedly curmudgeonly Ove right as he is contemplating suicide after the recent death of his beloved wife, only to have constant interruptions from new and old neighbors not only disrupt his plans, but ultimately prod him into finding fresh reasons to engage with the world. And while it doesn’t seem like the premise would be funny, this sweet novel is actually hilarious in places. It is also heartbreaking and thought-provoking…just what a good novel should be. One of the lessons I learned from my years of teaching was that the more challenging a person might be on the exterior, the more likely there is to be a back story deserving of your empathy, and this book challenges you to look at the grouchy people in your orbit a bit differently. The writing style has a deft wit to it as well as a quiet optimism, both traits that I’ve come to identify with the Swedes -okay, Swede- I know.
Also, the somewhat dilapidated cat Ove rescues and adopts is awesome!
FTC Disclaimer: I received Approval Junkie from Blogging for Books for this review.