Does Feeling Uncomfortable Make You A Better Reader?

The book Mean by Myriam Gurba is a very raw, real, and funny coming of age story. She uses humor in ways that some people may find uncomfortable and unnecessary, but she is just trying to make light of a situation that was traumatic. I find that the humor helps me not only understand the book, but it helps me to stay engaged and want to keep reading. She has a tendency to make things uncomfortable. I think that is a quality that most books don’t have.

In the blog Off the Beaten Shelf by Mandy Shunnarah she talks about why reading books that make you uncomfortable make you a better reader and person. She gives a lot of great reasons and explanations, but one part of her blog that really stuck out to me was when she said “If we’re not uncomfortable when we learn about injustice, we probably don’t feel called to do anything about it. If we’re not uncomfortable, it’s really easy to look the other way and pretend not to see how society forces people to suffer simply for being who they are and inhabiting the skin they were born in.” I thought this was a really great way to put it. Gurba makes us feel uncomfortable in all the right ways. We are reading about things that we don’t necessarily want to talk about, but we are being exposed to things that matter. Gurba can make us feel uncomfortable about what she is writing about but somehow she makes it funny. Even things that aren’t supposed to be remotely funny. That’s what catches my attention the most. Gurba throws in little comments to bring back your attention all throughout this book. On page 108 she is describing her walk to her mothers work. She says “I crossed the street and sniffed at honeysuckle climbing the fence around the plant nursery. I headed past some weird brown building I assumed offered social services to women- I don’t know why, but the building just gave off an abortion vibe. I crossed the railroad tracks cutting down the middle of the street. An old-timey Coca-Cola bottling plant loomed noirishly behind me.” In this short paragraph she is casually talking about her walk home and then out of nowhere she mentions how the building she is passing gives off abortion vibes. Even though abortion is a tough subject, I found that comical and it pulled me back into the book.

The way Gurba uses her humor and uncomfortableness in this book is what makes it so fun to read. I do often feel uncomfortable while I am reading, but I should feel that way. Most of the topics Gurba is talking about are things that we should not feel okay talking about. That’s why her humor makes it easier to read.

  1. Does Gurba’s uncomfortableness make the book easier to read/understand? Does it make you a better reader or person?
  2. Are you okay with the things that Gurba is talking about and they way she uses humor to lighten the mood?

7 thoughts on “Does Feeling Uncomfortable Make You A Better Reader?”

  1. Hi Katherine, I really liked reading your blog post, these are some ideas that I myself have been thinking a lot about while reading the book. I agree with you that the humor used in this book not only makes it a more interesting read but it also makes it easier to stay engaged with the book. Throughout the book there are some instances where she makes the situation being talked about uncomfortable but I think she does this in a very effective way. In every instance that she uses this it pulls the reader into the book more. Like “wait, what did I just read”. The author not only makes things uncomfortable to pull in the reader but also in a way to address issues that are usually not easily talked about. In my opinion she makes us uncomfortable in a very welcoming way because she is also making jokes and using humor out of these situation that you typically wouldn’t find funny. I think the main reason on why it makes us uncomfortable is not only because the way that these situations are not something we like to openly talk about but also because of the way she uses humor to talk about them. One specific time I felt “uncomfortable” was on page 119 Gurba says “He lifted my shirt. Fingers were in me, his breath and his mouth were on me, and the rest of the details belonged to me. The only other detail Ill give is one that seared me with humiliation. “Oh my god, I thought, horrified. Im wearing my period underwear.” This is one instance where Gurba is talking about a serious situation (rape) and uses humor to lighten the story in someway.

  2. Hey Katherine, I really liked your blog post! Mean was really jarring when I first started reading it. Getting into the rape section really made me uncomfortable. The use of quotes such as “I’ve never grabbed a strange woman, pulled down her underpants, shoved my face into her pussy, and inhaled.” from page 109. It’s not something you want to hear about but it’s true and ignoring it doesn’t help the issue. It reminds me of when we read The Kite Runner in 11th grade. That story also has a really graphic rape scene which invokes the same feelings of uncomfortableness. Yet as you say, we need to talk about these issues in order to work towards ways to end them.

  3. Hey Katherine, I think your blogpost was really well thought out and effective. Mean, as well as many of the other books that we have read in this class, are books that are meant to make you feel uncomfortable. I agree with your quote from the Off the Beaten Shelf article, “If we’re not uncomfortable when we learn about injustice, we probably don’t feel called to do anything about it. If we’re not uncomfortable, it’s really easy to look the other way and pretend not to see how society forces people to suffer simply for being who they are and inhabiting the skin they were born in.” I think if you aren’t uncomfortable while reading some of Gurba encounters in Mean, then you wouldn’t feel uncomfortable if you were a part of, or witnessed a similar situation in real life. Gurba often uses humor to make uncomfortable situations less uncomfortable for the reader. I feel that if it weren’t for her dark sense of humor, the book would be depressing, and almost considered a tragedy based on all of the accounts of injustice, sexual assault, and in general horrible things that take place.

  4. Hi Katherine! Great job with your blog post. I really enjoyed reading it. When I first started reading Mean I was shocked. I didn’t know how to take the stories until Gurba started to add her dark humor to the text. I am so glad Gurba is talking about these dark topics because it is educating people who haven’t been in these tough situations. I appreciate the dark humor because if she can “joke” about the horrible events that have happened to her then it’s lightening the mood and still educating people. It is also allowing others, who have been in these situations, to not look at the situation as their fault or to make it scaring to them.

  5. Hey, Katherine! Great blog post! I enjoyed reading it and agree with you on many of the ideas that you brought up. I’ve always heard the saying “laugh in the most uncomfortable situations”, and for a while, before I understood what the quote really meant, I thought it was rude. That is until I was face to face with a super uncomfortable situation, and found myself laughing, because I did not know what else to do. Gurba also uses this type of humor, in the face of discomfort, but also when just mentioning otherwise hard to discuss topics, such as abuse, rape, racism, etc. On page 109 Gurba states, “I want to be a likable female narrator. But I also enjoy being mean. I always get crushes on people who are mean to me. I’m mean, but not so mean that I’ve ever raped anybody”. The entire quote is easy to connect to, the discussion about enjoying being mean (in certain circumstances, as much as we do not want to admit it to ourselves, we have all been mean just for the fun of it at one point in time, whether we mean it or not). I have heard many people say that they are attracted to the assholes and jerks, and it is part of our culture to joke about how the nice guy is always friendzoned. However, Gurba pushes the envelope by mentioning rape being a special type of mean. I think by pushing that envelope helps readers adjust and grow, learn new things from different authors. If everything were easy to read, it would be boring.

  6. Hi Katherine, great blog post! I think it’s a very accurate commentary on how Mean uses discomfort, especially when it comes to jokes. Something I’ve noticed is that most of the jokes Myriam Gurba has in Mean are most uncomfortable when they are personal and unrelatable. The reader feels uncomfortable laughing about something they cannot relate to, especially serious topics like sexual assault. I think the experience of a person reading this who shares certain identities and experiences with Gurba would be wildly different than that of someone who cannot relate to anything in this book, intentionally so. The jokes can either land as very uncomfortable learning moments, or something genuinely relatable that you’d joke about yourself. Like when Gurba writes about wearing her period underwear (119), and then writes “Girls know what I’m talking about.” She’s both appealing to others who really don’t know her experience, but can relate to a tangential one (here, being a woman and having the threat of being victimized hanging over you is masked with the seemingly ‘relatable’ moment of wearing your period underwear), and those who can’t relate at all, and asking them to try and learn from it.

  7. Kat,
    Great post! I think the uncomfortableness that Gurba reveals makes the book more interesting to read. It sheds a new light on topics that are not generally discussed. I like to believe that it makes me a better reader because I am being immersed in topics that I generally wouldn’t read. It opens up the readers to a topic that it hard to discuss and discusses it in a new way.

    I still am unsure of how I feel about the humor in her story. I enjoy it at points and let out some laughs, and at other points I don’t find myself laughing because the topics are controversial. Lightening the mood with humor does make the story slightly easier to read and understand. For example Gurba says, “I knew they were right- you don’t go to school to watch cartoons, even if those concerns keep you from getting molested (28).” While reading this, it seems that Gurba is making a joke, but I cannot find myself laughing because the topic is so serious. Therefore, I haven’t decided if I enjoy the humor yet or not.


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