Book Review : Brian Alan Ellis - Sad Laughter: A Totally Unessential and Demotivational Guide to Reading, Writing and Publishing (2018)
Listening to a dance remix of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” > reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road again (or ever).
Ask anybody who’s been around the publishing business for long enough and they’ll tell you two things: 1) it’s frustrating and unfair and 2) it’s full of desperate loons. Although the former point is universally agreed upon, the second is still cause for debate and ALL CAPS SCREAMING MATCHES on social media. Because unless you’ve achieved a Dennis Lehane level of success, the desperate loon is most likely you. So, it’s important to have a sense of humor about yourself and your aspirations if you want to survive out there.
Florida-based author Brian Alan Ellis’ new collection of tweet-length aphorisms Sad Laughter: A Totally Unessential and Demotivational Guide to Reading, Writing and Publishing illustrates this ordeal every writer eventually faces and tells whoever wants to read it that they shouldn’t take themselves so fucking seriously.
Sad Laughter is essentially 150 pages worth of funny aphorisms about publishing and the bizarre online culture it created. It reads like a 99 cents jokes book your father once bought to read on the toilet. It doesn’t have a beginning or an end. It’s once of these pick-up-and-read books where you can read one, two or a hundred aphorisms every sitting. I don’t believe it makes a greater point than it claims to either: it’s meant to confront writers and creative types of all sorts to their self-seriousness and their own insignificance. Because it takes a sturdy ego to write fiction, but having an ego and having breakthrough talent are two things.
LiveJournal probably doesn’t get enough credit for its development of terrible writers.
So, is Sad Laughter nihilistic? Perhaps a little bit, but so is a business where achieving financial stability is a unhealthy fantasy, like porn or sirens in sailors tales. It’ll anger those who are still querying agents with starry eyes and prompt them to call Brian Alan Ellis a loser and a negative person, but it’ll also endow those who have given up with nod their heads and leave reviews that say portentous, unoriginal things like: “Ellis tells is like it is”. Those who are writing for the pleasure of it (read: for the right reasons) will be mildly amused and resume working on their manuscript. Perhaps Sad Laughter is a little nihilistic indeed, but it’s also solipsistic enough to be harmless.
Speaking of solipsism, Sad Laughter is not only a deconstruction of unhealthy online creative communities. It’s also a systematic rejection of conventional culture. Of the “books you should read” and other narrow-minded ideas of what should define cultured people. Ellis particularly loves to make fun of Jack Kerouac and the Beats generation, comparing their work to Nickelodeon cartoons and Willie Nelson songs. He advocates for rock n’ roll, pro wrestling and movies in the 5$ DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Cultural mementos that shaped who he is. Brian Alan Ellis rejects the classic idea of “what a writer should be” and that makes him a more pertinent writer than you or me.
Miller High Life > Arthur Miller
I’ve enjoyed reading Sad Laughter because it was easy and entertaining without being hollow. Sure, it was confronting and sometimes outright brutal. But none of these aphorisms are more than two sentences long, so it’s hard to dwell and get angry at anything. It doesn’t offer any comfort or solutions against the hardships of publishing, but it’s honest and funny, more often than not. A good way of knowing whether or not you’re one of these desperate loons writing a novel in his basement is to read Sad Laughter and have a healthy sense of humor about it. Because there’s a good chance that if you’ve read this, you’ve chosen a miserable way to life your life.