Sally Flint

Book Review of Mark Manson’s 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ‘F*ck’

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Mark Manson - What's the fuss about?

When I start any book review, such as this one on The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck I am usually very mindful that the author has spent days, weeks, months, or even years working on their text. Criticism hurts and it is good to be kind when possible. Admittedly this can lead to fairly bland reviews when a book is just mediocre! Even though the likelihood of the writer ever reading my comments about their work are pretty slim, I try to honestly evaluate a book whilst erring on the positive. (A bit like assessing a kid’s work!) I definitely avoid stating anything personally negative about the writer themselves.
 
With my review of ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’by Mark Manson, I couldn’t do this. It was impossible to separate the author from the writing.  Although I don’t think Mark Manson, would  ‘give a f*ck’ it still feels harsh to share anything negative about the text.
 
I read ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck on a long ‘long haul flight from Bangkok to UK. I didn’t’ have a lot to do or read so pretty much completed the book in one sitting. Despite this my first impressions were not good!
 
What with its click bait title, its references to Jennifer Aniston as part of its overall ‘laddish’ tone, Manson almost alienated me before I had hardly started reading. I disliked and disbelieved in the ‘we’re all mates together’ tone of the first few chapters immensely; the authorial voice sounded arrogant and self-absorbed. I was utterly unconvinced by what I think was an attempt to be self-deprecating and thought the author came over as being somewhere between a complete sleazebag and a stereotypical ‘rich kid’. His own sense of entitlement made me feel he was the least equipped person on the planet to write about, as he does, the sense of entitlement others feel. 

Mark Manson's twitter photo taken from https://images.app.goo.gl/r8GNip828TwVkXea6

Jump to two hours into the flight and I was fully immersed in the writing and prepared to engage in some intellectual thought about Mark Manson’s commentary. By the end of the text I was completely won over.  I was prepared to dig deep and reflect on the validity of his arguments. Manson’s use of analogy and example were pretty convincing and served as a good tool against which to pin personal reflection. I am sure as Mark Manson progressed through the book he became kinder and wiser.
 
Manson makes a point of distancing himself from other writers in the self-help’ genre by casting aside the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as an end goal. He stresses the difference between short and long term fulfilment and personal choice is a recurring theme. Manson demonstrates that whilst we can’t always, or even often, control what life throws at us we can control how we respond to it.

Although, I’m not great at evaluating non-fiction text and can lose my way a bit, I think what Mark Manson is getting at is that we shouldn’t strive to be extraordinary. By accepting our ordinariness we can then learn what to ‘give a f*ck about’. (Call me old fashioned but I tended to replace ‘value’ and ‘care’ for the phrase ‘give a f*ck’.) As in other ‘self-help’ or other popularized ‘pseudo-psychology’ studies the message isn’t rocket science, but rather is a reminder to reflect upon what is driving our lives. In brief Manson is telling us to accept that we are not perfect but to get our priorities right.

The structure of the book isn’t as tight is it might be. For example the book takes an odd twist towards the end when Manson re-centres his arguments on the type of legacy we wish to leave behind. This underpins his whole argument but it needs pursuing in more depth as it feels like it is almost thrown in as an after thought.
 
Overall, despite some repetition and contradiction the book was definitely worth reading. As I’ve said whilst I appreciate what Manson is trying to do I don’t personally like his style of appealing to the reader by throwing in coarse jokes. It feels like he is trying to hard to not sound preachy so is overcompensating with his self presentment as an ‘edgy, boy come good’ type. Judging by his sales though my view is not a commonly held one. Best of luck to him. His Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and his sequel text Everything is F*cked – a Book about Hope, will certainly be bringing in the pennies, but I don’t suppose he’ll care!

Book Club Questions for the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F

  • In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck Manson suggests that we stop sweating and over-caring about all the small stuff. What things do you need to stop in worrying about so much, in order to give attention to what really matters in life?
  • In the book Manson is quite critical of the constant pursuit of positivity in modern self-help books. He is scornful of ‘progress prizes’ and the building up of kids egos to feel special when they are ordinary. What is your opinion about this?
  • Manson tells us we should know and accept our limitations. Should we?
  • Manson shares with the reader of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F a personal account about the death of his friend Josh. This left him profoundly depressed and reaching for alcohol for some months. He also describes a readers’ anger at his statement that we are responsible for how we respond to tragedy. Are we responsible?
  • Do you agree with Mansons’ definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ values’ “Good = reality based, socially constructive, immediate and controllable. Bad = superstitious, socially destructive, not immediate or controllable'” on page 86 of the Harper Collins 2016 paperback edition of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F?
  • on page 164 Manson explores how rejection makes your life better? Do you think you have to be rejected to appreciate being accepted?

Discussion Questions on the Subtle Art of not giving a F

Discussion Questions if you haven’t read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F
 
If you were to write a ‘self help’ book what would your key message be?

  • Do you find reading self-help books useful? Why or why not? If you do find them useful here are several other recommendations about handling depression compiled by the organisation Choosing Therapy. 
  • Manson chose not to get a regular paid job after university and instead chose to fulfil his dream of blogging and travelling. He didn’t have a lot of money for several years. Is this something that you would ever consider doing?
  • Manson uses a lot of analogies and stories to prove his points eg he shares a story of how a King gives his son everything he could desire and protects him from the world’s wrong-doings, but it doesn’t have the desired effect of making him happy and safe. Do you have any stories in your culture that you can share which teach a strong moral point.
  • Manson reflects how our fear of death unconsciously drives what we do? Does it? What kind of legacy would you like to leave?  
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