May Top Shelf: Not That Bad by Roxane Gay

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The first step in any change is knowing what needs to be changed. While this is usually a positive goal, taking that first step is not easy—especially when you’re dealing with painful events, and the knowing, believing, and being there for each other is of paramount importance. Still, I dreaded reading Not That Bad. When you hear the word ‘rape’ your guts tighten inside of you, and when you look at a book that says it is filled with essays about rape culture, excitement is certainly not the word that comes to mind. So, at first, I didn’t want to read this book. I didn’t want to put myself through the pain of reading distant horrors when I already know so many stories from people in my own life. I opened it up anyway, knowing the words would change me. Apprehensive and intimidated, I held the book close to me and accepted that this wouldn’t be quick or easy read—but a necessary one.

In Not That Bad, Roxane Gay has gathered a collection of essays from a wide variety of people: women and men, from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Each and every story is powerful and thought-provoking, leaving you shaken and processing the words you just read. The essayists even include celebrities, such as Gabrielle Union (of Bring It On fame) and Ally Sheedy (from The Breakfast Club). It is well done, but to really process it I had to take my time. Not That Bad is the type of book where I could only read an essay or two before putting it down and taking a break. Every uncomfortable moment is well worth it, though. Sitting there and reading may have been no outright movement towards addressing the problem, but I felt like I was more aware of what is constantly happening around us.

Ironically, as I was reading I kept telling myself that my own experiences were “not that bad.” The phrase kept running through my mind as I read the horrible encounters of women and men brave enough to tell their stories. Maybe it was the title at my fingertips or a consistent theme of the essays, but mostly I think that anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience tells themselves that it could have been worse and that it has been worse for others. Maybe that’s how we cope—by trying to convince ourselves that despite our suffering, life is worth continuing because having it worse is always a possibility.

I encourage everyone—whether they’ve been through trauma or not—to read this raw collection of essays to better understand that these things happen to everyone, of every gender, every day, all around us. To read and realize that none of us are truly alone. It is a scary world out there, and as awful as it is that rape, assault, and other trauma continues to happen, it’s reassuring to live in a time where this toxicity is starting to be openly discussed. Because, as we know, discussion is the first step towards healing and change.

—Lojo, Floor Manager

One thought on “May Top Shelf: Not That Bad by Roxane Gay

  1. that would honestly be a hard read for me – i think “uncomfortable” is an understanding, im here kinda wincing. it would trigger something for me for sure, but i do like reading people’s personal accounts, i can’t imagine how bad it could be. its like one of those books – i read “The Battle of the Somme” which is a bunch of journal entries from German Soldiers during that awful battle, and omg, some things were just horrifying. and those things stay with you too – i still can’t get some of the images out of my mind. ill def. put this on my list though.

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