April 27, 2023


Thinking of You (but not in a weird creepy way). By Beth Evans. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

     A near-perfect gift book for people who live their lives virtually and believe that praise and reinforcement from total strangers are somehow more worthwhile than interactions with, you know, actual human beings IRL, Beth Evans’ Thinking of You is determinedly warm, upbeat, sweet, reaffirming and – if you are not in the target audience – totally obnoxious. Not that the book intends to be divisive – quite the opposite. In sections called “Everyday Struggles,” “Big Old Feelings,” “Go You!!!” and “Hard Things and Validation,” Evans has conical blobs repeatedly deliver versions of the statement that “even though we don’t know each other personally, I am cheering for you.” The final section is called “Uplifting Messages,” but that really could be the title of any of the sections – or of the book as a whole.

     The positive messaging itself is just fine, and is the sort of thing that uncounted numbers of affirmation books and affirmation posters and affirmation memes and affirmation everything elses have been offering for a very long time (since well before Instagram, where Evans lives, or at least where her characters and thoughts do). The difficulty – if it is a difficulty, which it will not be for the book’s target audience – is the extent of the personalization of the advice. “I do think you’re doing just fine, doing whatever it is that you do. You’re human, and you’re doing. There’s not much more you can ask of yourself.” So says Evans in one chapter introduction. On the facing page, her blob character is telling readers, “Everything is scary and terrible! You, however, are pretty darn awesome. Thanks for facing another day of this – you’re doing great.” Elsewhere, the character wears a crown emblazoned with the words, “One step at a time, you’re doing just fine,” and on still another page, is saying, “You shine brighter than you even know.” The message is delivered – hammered home, in fact – again and again. It is a worthwhile and positive message, and for someone with the right mindset, a helpful one. But the mindset required is that of a person who thinks well-intentioned platitudes about positivity really are personally valuable when delivered by complete strangers who are totally ignorant of the person’s everyday, real-world concerns and struggles.

     Evans’ point, of course, is that everyone has everyday, real-world issues to handle, and so everyone needs exactly the same sort of uplift delivered in exactly the same way – a one-size-fits-all approach to stress, emotional difficulty and mental health that is absurd on the face of it but that makes perfect sense to people who believe, at some level, that Evans is speaking directly to them even though she has never met them and never will.

     All this is a version of the displays in various corners of the Internet that prove that everybody else’s life is happier, more upbeat, more successful and more joy-filled than yours. Much-edited visuals (with much, much more of daily life omitted) convince some people that their own lives are trash by comparison and may not even be worth living. Hence the reports of suicides of people who come to believe that they will never measure up in any way to the mostly falsified displays of wonderfulness sent into the virtual world by perfect strangers.

     Evans’ Thinking of You is the other side of the same coin – the positive spin, if you will. And on a few pages, it actually uses the visual elements of blob display cleverly, as in its “Cycle” pages – with “The ‘I Spent Money’ Cycle” always coming back to “I need this impulse purchase or I will die,” and the “Cycle of Thoughts” revolving back to “Something NEW to be upset about.” And there are occasional flashes of genuine humor in the book, such as its very last page, “As long as I have a package to obsessively track, I can probably get through anything.” More mild amusement along the same line would have been a better leavening agent than yet another assertion along the lines of, “We don’t always know what the road we’re on will bring, but moving forward is a total achievement in itself – wherever you end up, you’ll do great.” Oh, really? Try that when standing two steps from a precipice and taking three steps forward.

     The point is that the relentlessly upbeat nature of Thinking of You is nice to have as a counterbalance to all the negative elements of everyday life today – lord knows there are plenty of those. But the constant repetition of essentially the same thoughts in essentially the same words soon becomes syrupy, even treacly. Seen one at a time on Instagram, sought out when someone who thinks Internet connections represent real friendships is feeling low, Evans’ blobs’ praise can provide a momentary “up” that can be most welcome during emotionally dark times. But these “perk up” pieces come and go in an Instagram instant, and a full book of them may not be more effective than occasional single ones, given how similar the material is, page after page. “I know you can do this,” writes Evans. “Your talent, humor, personality, kindness, and awareness of the world will take you places.” And that would be wonderful to hear from someone who actually knows your talent, humor, personality, kindness, and awareness of the world. From Evans, it is all just words. And drawings. At best, hopefulness. At worst, nonsense.

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