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Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O'Gorman

Buy Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O'Gorman at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Charlie Pullen
Reviewed by Charlie Pullen
Summary: A slim and original meditation on a feeling that everyone experiences. Borrowing from academic histories and confessional memoirs, Worrying makes for an unconventional read, and is well worth choosing over the more traditional 'self-help' titles.
Buy? Yes. Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1441151292

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Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History begins with a familiar scene for anyone who experiences that persistent feeling of fretful panic: lying awake in the early hours, unable to switch off, thoughts turning over in your head. If this common situation hits home, This book, its author Francis O'Gorman writes, is for you.

Subtitled as a 'Literary and Cultural History', O'Gorman seeks to trace and explore the origins of worrying, a concept he reveals to arise in the nineteenth century, and which becomes particularly potent around the First World War. On this journey he tackles philosophical questions, literary representations, linguistic developments, and political issues to build up the first, in his words, serious discussion of worrying.

Neither O'Gorman nor I, however, quite know what this book is. Indeed, the repeated attempts to pinpoint what Worrying might actually be – or, more often, what it is not – become the book's nervous refrain. He begins by explaining that Worrying struggles to fit into any normal genre: it's not just a history, it's more than a work of literary criticism, it's not quite autobiographical, and it's definitely no self-help book. That said, Worrying emerges as a kind of fusion dish with all these elements working well together.

It is not strictly an academic study, certainly no stuffy monograph, but O'Gorman's background as a literary critic at the University of Leeds is a visible influence on Worrying. It's a book with a bibliography, an index, and footnotes lining the bottom of pages. And it is replete with literary quotations and allusions, from Shakespeare to Hardy and George Eliot to T.S. Eliot; O'Gorman furnishes Worrying with a series of short close-readings, which are substantial enough to be interesting but not so much that they slow down the pace of this slim book. Worrying, therefore, should interest students and scholars of English and history, particularly those working on modernism and psychology, but not exclusively.

Worrying is also an intriguing dissection of a feeling that affects so many people, but never seems to be given any serious attention in either fiction or nonfiction. Worrying, O'Gorman admits, can seem a very indulgent feeling, which means a book about worrying can run the risk of being similarly egotistical, not least because he weaves a large amount of autobiographical material into the more detached historical writing. His insights are fascinating, though. I might even challenge his title by asking that he change it to Worrying: A Literary, Cultural and Personal History, for the moments that verge on memoir are just as interesting as the others.

He dedicates a fair amount of time illustrating and critiquing the rise of self-help and therapy books, and I would say that Worrying might best be thought of as an alternative to such texts that often seem patronising, disappointing, and, as he argues, politically problematic. It is worth reading for many reasons, but surely because it treats worrying as a complex issue, that is to say, as a feeling which might have a lot of good stuff to be said about it. Worrying works because it's not all doom and gloom, it avoids self-pity, and manages to have both an intellectual and personal discussion of an emotional issue from various and surprising angles.

For a similar style of book take a look at On Kindness by Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor, while other readers may be drawn to My Age of Anxiety by Scott Strossel for an account of anxiety.

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Buy Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O'Gorman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Worrying: A Literary and Cultural History by Francis O'Gorman at Amazon.com.


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