I’ve been having a hard time focusing on my reading lately, mostly because my work life is taking a lot of my mental energy at the moment, and I don’t have as much to spare for sustained attention to anything much more taxing than reality TV. So I decided to try this collection of short essays and observations by Ariel Leve that had been sitting on my ereader for years. I’d only have to pay attention for a few pages at a time. And that worked pretty well, even though this isn’t one of the better essay collections I’ve ever read.
The title of the collection, It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me gives you some sense of the tone of the essays. Leve is not a happy person. Her unhappiness doesn’t have a clear source—she just comes across as kind of stuck and unable to find things to enjoy, and I imagine many of us have been there. I know I have. In the introduction, Leve writes:
There is no question I have more than “What’s new?” Except maybe “What’s up?” There is only one answer I will ever give to these questions. Nothing. Nothing is new and nothing is up. Especially since yesterday.
The rest of the collection mostly involves Leve describing all the ways in which she’s miserable. There were moments I could relate to, and a few things that I laughed at. But the tone gets sort of grating after a while, and I sometimes felt more sad for her than amused by her. And, given that the collection was written in 2010, some of her complaints feel trivial or out of touch. That’s hardly her fault though! And I’m sure many of us have found ourselves dragged down at times over relatively trivial problems. In a way, it was weirdly refreshing to find someone complaining about annoying social encounters and the like, rather than having a crisis about these times. Like a little vacation from the present.