Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson. Just look at that cover. How can you not want to find out more about a book with a cover like that? And yes, I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but in this particular case, the cover is an excellent representation of what’s inside.
So if you’re doing the 2016 Reading Challenge (and it’s not too late yet to join in — lots of fun and lots of people to cheer you on and read with you), Furiously Happy counts as “book with a main character with a mental illness,” so this is a very easy, very enjoyable way to fulfill that requirement. I read it in one day without even pushing hard, and you will just whiz through it yourself. And if you’re not doing the Reading Challenge, you still should read Furiously Happy and not be deterred at all by its being written by and about a person who struggles with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental and physical illnesses.
Why should you read it? Because it’s funny. The subtitle of the book is “A Funny Book about Horrible Things,” and that’s extremely accurate, though not all the things she writes about are horrible (some are just run of the mill life-can-be-difficult things).
It’s not just smile-wryly-at-life’s-peculiarities funny, either. It’s laugh-out-loud-so-much-people-stare-at-you-wherever-you’re reading kind of funny. It’s the kind of funny where you want to read the best lines aloud to whoever’s near you, only you can’t choose just one line or two lines or a dozen lines and half the time the real humor comes from context so you end up reading a whole page to someone else, and that someone else will probably end up either grabbing the book out of your hands or else insisting you stop reading so she or he can read it for her or himself.
The goofy looking raccoon on the cover is an actual thing. It’s a dead raccoon that has been stuffed, that the author named Rory and keeps in her home as (sort of) her emblem animal. She has been known to sneak up behind her husband when he is having important business conferences by Skype and slowly raise Rory behind him so the person on the other end of the conference call thinks Jenny’s husband is actually about to be attacked by a scary raccoon. She thinks it’s a good way to see who your real friends are. Her husband thinks he needs to lock her out of the room when he’s on Skype conference calls.
In the course of this book, Jenny discusses taking antipsychotic medications, what’s going on in her head when she’s talking to her therapist (I was reading this chapter while riding on Metro North and my seatmate, whom I’d never seen before, finally asked me what on earth I was reading that was so funny), a trip she and a good friend took to Australia, her thoughts on the helicopter-parenting phenomenon and why people really overschedule their children (her explanation is brilliant and funny and NOT the one you’re thinking of), and a number of other topics. Even her descriptions of her arguments with her husband (who must be a saint, judging by this book) are hysterically funny.
Amidst all this humor and this bizarre but entertaining stream of consciousness stuff, she manages to sneak in some deep and moving insights about what it’s like to have a mental illness, how hard it can be to live with depression and anxiety, and how important it is to recognize the strengths you gain from living with and surviving mental illnesses.
Jenny Lawson comes across as the kind of wild and quirky friend you definitely want with you in an adventure or even in a boring place. If you can’t actually spend time with her, do the next best thing: read Furiously Happy.