Interview With an (Imaginary) Hostile Reader

How to be happier.
Dec. 1 2009 6:22 AM

Interview With an (Imaginary) Hostile Reader

I got a big kick out of an anecdote recounted in Tara Parker-Pope’s recent New York Times story about getting along with your relatives over the holidays. Two cousins were facing separate difficult family dinners, and in anticipation, they organized a game:

Each made bingo cards, but instead of numbers, the squares were filled in with some of the negative phrases they expected to hear during the meal, like "That outfit is interesting" or "Your children won’t sit still." As comments were made at the separate family celebrations, each woman would mark her card. "Whoever fills up a bingo row first," Betsy said, "sneaks off to call the other and say, 'Bingo!’ "
Advertisement

What a great idea! By making a joke of it (one of my own happiness-project resolutions), these women reframed a challenging situation. The person with the most annoying relatives wins ! The cousins could laugh at behavior that would ordinarily have driven them crazy.

When you realize that something is likely to make you unhappy, you can take steps to change your reaction—even if you can’t change the situation.

/blogs/happinessproject/2009/12/01/happiness_interview_with_an_imaginary_hostile_reader/jcr:content/body/slate_image

I did something similar myself. I’m extremely sensitive to any kind of criticism, and I dread hearing criticism of my book when it comes out in a few weeks (of course, being ignored would be worse … right?). Also, I think I can predict what some typical negative comments would be. But what could I do about that?

I decided to answer these imaginary critics myself. I wrote something called Interview With a Hostile Reader , in which I play both the part of the hostile reader who criticizes my book, and the part of myself, answering.

This exercise was hugely fun for me. I loved coming up with all the obvious hostile comments, and it was relief to get the chance to address them in a thoughtful, calm way. And it tickled me to think that if people do make these criticisms, if I do get a bad book review, I’ll be able to show a lack of originality—after all, I predicted and answered these criticisms, ahead of time! After all, it’s not that I didn’t foresee these criticisms of my book, but that I made these mindful, writerly choices nonetheless. For example, you can say it’s a cliché to write a "year of" book, but the fact is, it’s a very satisfying way to write and read a book. That’s why it’s a cliché! Zoikes, Thoreau did it!

Of course, I also remind myself to feel grateful, to enjoy the process , and all my other relevant happiness-project resolutions—but this particular exercise was particularly amusing, for some reason. It boosts my happiness right now and, I hope, in a possibly challenging future situation.

Now, I hesitated to post the link to the Interview With a Hostile Reader here, because if you read it, you’ll see the criticisms that a hostile reader or negative book reviewer might make. And maybe that will discourage you from wanting to read the book—which of course, I hope you’ll want to do. But oh well! I remember my First Commandment: Be Gretchen .

Have you found a way to make a joke of a difficult circumstance, or some other way to change your reaction to it? What worked for you?

 * I always find a lot of interesting posts to read over at LifeDev , "helping creative people create."

* If you'd like to read some some free sample chapters of The Happiness Project , you can now find them here . Enjoy! And if you like what you read so much that you'd like to order a copy, here's the order link .

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Frame Game
Sept. 15 2014 5:13 PM Hard Knocks I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 5:26 PM Robin Thicke’s Bizarre “Blurred Lines” Deposition Is Both Unflattering and Convenient
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.