Monday, November 23, 2015

F*ck You, Read Me!

Usually if I review a book on my blog, it's a children's or YA book, but I couldn't help myself. This book just begs you to talk about it. I don't remember exactly how I learned of this book, but I immediately put it on inter-library loan request. Obviously, we weren't going to purchase a copy for the middle school library.

I had to wait a couple weeks for it come in- apparently it's getting pretty popular. So popular in fact, that it's now on the NY Times Bestseller list. It is quite an attention getter, with its blindingly bright cover and the almost-offensive title; that little asterisk has a pretty important job, standing in for the letter we all know it's representing. It's like a self-help guide written by Goodfellas.

But once you get past the ostentatious covering, is there anything of substance in the book?

The chapters have subtitles that are in line with the book's main message, such as F*ck Self-Esteem. The authors, Michael I Bennett and Sarah Bennett,  write that self-esteem has taken on an unquestionable infallibility in the all-mighty church of The Meaning of Life. We seem to think that it's the answer for everything; if a kid's not trying as hard as he should in school, he's got poor self-esteem. If that guy you meet at a party is having difficulty making eye contact with you, or anyone, he's suffering from poor self-esteem. If that woman responds to your compliment with "oh, no, not really.  .  ." it's because she has poor self-esteem. It's become a key to our collective happiness in this society to make sure that everyone always feels good about themselves, but is it working?

If a kid receives a participation trophy instead of a First Place trophy, is his fragile self-esteem really being salvaged? Maybe. Maybe not.

The authors' approach in each chapter is pretty straight forward; they present three scenarios which all center around the same issue. After a brief explanation and discussion, they present the parts which cannot be controlled by an individual, and then go on to point out the aspects which can ultimately be controlled by a person.

My personal favorite chapter is the one titled Stop F*cking Up. I laugh to myself whenever I think about it because in the school I work at, we are encouraged to work and teach the Growth Mindset. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it's a philosophy that preaches the basic principles of  resilience and dedication. Being good at something, or being very intelligent doesn't guarantee success when undertaking a project, and it's okay to fail at something as long as you try again.

I don't laugh to myself because I don't agree- I always tell the students I encounter that not being good at something is not the end of the world. But almost all of the adults I know hold ourselves to a much higher standard. I'm not sure when this happens- maybe it's around the same time we decide we don't like the current music on the radio, and we add the classic rock and contemporary stations on our car presets. If I don't do well on something I don't care about, it's not too difficult to get over it. But if I enjoy doing something, or if I think my success is important, my  internal monologue doesn't reassure me with expressions like "challenges make my brain grow", it screams "STOP F*CKING UP!"

Most of their advice to readers is pretty easy to understand and digest. Following through and trying the methods may require some shifting in your thinking. It does get trite at some points, at one point advising readers to just "forget" feelings of shame. Right, like someone could just "forget" someone holding a gun to their head, holding them hostage. 

It's a fun read, even if you're not in the market for any psychological advice. The wry humor contained throughout the text might even get a smirk out of you.

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