Disclaimer before everyone jumps my shit: I actually enjoy the book so far. When you have a blog called Everything Sucks and every post has been titled “[Topic] Sucks” you need to keep with tradition. I’m sorry if it sounds kinda click baity, but it sounds a ton better than “12 Rules of Life is A Decent Book but Here are Some Complaints I Have About It.” Just for the giggles of it I made the corresponding banner so you can see what I’m talking about:
I think I might get shit on for writing this post. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has been so well-loved and well-received by nearly everyone that I myself just can’t get into. The only other book that comes close, I think, was the terrible Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiosiakawakaia, and I really don’t understand how I haven’t written a post about that awful fucking book yet. This puts me in a strange mindset: maybe the people that like this book — everyone that is — are wrong? Or maybe they all see the obvious wonder and greatness of this book and I’m the only idiot that doesn’t “get it.” I’m leaning towards the latter because why wouldn’t I? Seriously though, my supervisor has read the book and loved it. Her brother is currently reading the book and loves it. A few bloggers I follow have written about the book and they appeared to have also loved the book. Goodreads gives the book a 4 out of 5 which for Goodreads standards is amazing. Reviews on Amazon have also given the book a 4.6 out of 5, which, yeah, is really good. The consensus is that the book is good. And I don’t feel that way somehow.
I also want to say that I’m ignorant of any “controversy” that Peterson is apparently known for. I went into the book being a clean slate of opinions on Peterson himself, so this slightly grumpy post has nothing to do with me thinking he’s a bad person or being mad about whatever the hell it was that pissed people off. I don’t know about any of it.
Currently, I’m about
a quarter of the way halfway through the book. (This is considering that reading three six out of the twelve rules should be a quarter halfway at least. I don’t know how much Peterson decides to rant after the twelfth rule either. It could be a lot.) and while it is a bit early to start critiquing things I’ve noticed a pattern that has been driving me bonkers while reading. I think it’s his writing style. Or his tone. I don’t really know how to sum it up but the book makes me angry when I read it, and sometimes irrationally so.
The problem is not that I disagree with the rules, it’s that I don’t like how he goes about explaining the rules. The first six rules are rather straightforward and (you’d think) should require little in the way of explanation. Rule one is to stand up straight (basically). To have good posture. Rule two is to treat yourself like another person in terms of your self care. That one seemed like it needed a bit of explaining so okay, fine. Rule three is to only have friends that want the best for you. Sounds good to me. Four is about comparing yourself only to who you used to be and not to others. Great one! Rule five: don’t let your kids be jackasses. Yes, agreed. And rule six is
don’t shoot up schools/workplaces to only criticize others when your own affairs are in order. And with number six I could see some explaining being required.
The first thing I noted was that Peterson’s chapters are long. Not actually long but consistently longer than I think they need to be. He seems to explain his steps in such a vague and roundabout way that I’m continually wanting him to just wrap things up and move onto the next step. I’ll find myself thinking, “Okay, I get it! Wrap this shit up!” and upon realizing there are ten remaining pages to a chapter wondering why the hell he needs ten pages to make his point. This is made worse by the straightforwardness of most of the steps. I feel that four out of the six are relatively easy to grasp the logic behind so a quick summary should suffice. Nope. Peterson needs to take up thirty pages to make his point on nearly every rule.
Rule two was especially painful to slough through. Summing up his actual reasoning goes something like this: we care for others more than we care for ourselves. He starts off by saying that people frequently don’t take prescribed medicine but are more than happy to give medicine to their dogs or another person they care about. In short, take the care and love you have for others and apply it to yourself! Care about yourself as if you’re in charge of being a third person in charge of yourself! It makes sense and it’s a wonderful way of looking at life.
How does Peterson actually go about explaining this though? He basically uses the thought process from above, but the topic rambles on and on about order and chaos, somehow equating masculinity to order and femininity to chaos. He also gives like a play-by-play of the biblical “fall of man” story from Genesis and while it’s interesting to read even I’m not sure how it plays into caring for yourself despite having recently read the chapter. I can’t recall much of the rambling. I think Peterson was talking about our inherent hatred for ourselves or something. Who knows. It was struggling through this randomness that I found myself wanting him to just get to his point. Wishing for a clear, “This is my rule, and this is how I came upon my rule.”
You have to give Peterson credit for getting people, and myself, riled up though. Check out what I wrote at the end of chapter two; I let loose on the book and this is the first and only time I recall being so angry that I started writing a small essay in the book itself.
I get the impression that Peterson likes to hear himself talk or is very cocky about himself. Self-esteem is nice to have but it comes across in a negative way if you overdo it and this is the vibe I get from the book. It seems like he had an offer to write a book about his rules of life (which the
introduction conceitedly titled “Overture” describes) and just started packing it full of unnecessary worldview and philosophical things, sort of showing off how smart, wise, and talented he is or something. At best parts of the book like this seem unnecessary, at worst they come off as gratingly self-aggrandizing.
Once again to stress my conflictedness here: I like the twelve rules so far. Each rule that I’ve read through seems legit enough to adopt into my life. I haven’t came across a single rule where I’ve shaken my head and thought, “Nope. Peterson is full of shit. I’m not following that rule.” Everything makes sense. It’s just the writing and style of the book that pisses me off.
But I have to admit it’s nice to not enjoy a book as much as you’d think you’d enjoy it. Whenever I read self-help books I usually find myself agreeing with the author too much; after all, a published writer with a wildly successful book can’t be wrong, right? I’ve always been wary of this like it’s a sign that I’m too gullible with my reading or something. So it’s refreshing to actually disagree with someone for once and to be reminded that books are written by flawed and opinionated humans just like myself who could be wrong, or at the very least are someone I don’t have to automatically agree with. In this aspect 12 Rules is stupidly refreshing to read. It gets me thinking. It gets me saying to myself, “Huh? That’s fucking stupid.” It gets my blood boiling. It makes me write paragraph-long rants at the end of each chapter bitching about what Peterson has written. But somehow at the same time I mostly agree with the book. His twelve rules are something that I really think about adopting into my own life. The book is good, I just wish Peterson would keep his ranting a bit more on topic, or not come across as so confident that he appears overwhelmingly cocky and stuck on himself. But those are just like, my opinions, man.