This Week's Review at Inklings

 Let’s Talk About Hard Things by Anna Sale

review by Tony Hoffart

Let’s Talk About Hard Things is a collection of stories and anecdotes that illustrate the challenges and benefits of making the effort to talk about difficult topics with those we love.  The author, Anna Sale pulls some of the stories from her podcast; Death Sex and Money.  She named the podcast after the things that affect all of us, but are difficult if not forbidden to be discussed in polite company.  The book is divided into five parts corresponding to the topics covered; Death, Sex, Money, Family and Identity.  

I found the topic of Death to be soothing in a way.  I’m the sort of person who gets awkward when trying to talk about death or soothe someone in mourning, and Sale confirms that this is normal.  The people who often think they are good at it can actually be the worst.  Being frank and honest in conversations about death should be your guiding star.  

The topic of Sex starts with the relatively benign aspects of sexual preferences and then shifts to an eye-opening account of extreme infidelity.  It’s hard to withhold judgement with some of the stories, but the perspective is that these things need to be discussed.  Sex is humanity at our most vulnerable, and thus conversations about it can be fraught.  

The topic of money is also about priorities.  Money defines us in ways we don’t like to admit.  Sale touches on the different ways people relate to money from a psychological standpoint. The accounts she provides show how a difference in priorities could make one person’s seemingly rational spending can be seen as a serious betrayal in their partner’s eyes.  I feel like money is the topic we all need to be better at talking about and this chapter has a lot of insight.

Family felt like more of a medium for hard conversations than a topic of them to me.  Family can be challenging to talk with candidly because they know us so well.  They know our hot buttons and might have created a few, and sometimes resist our attempts to change.  This chapter talks about letting go, about choosing when to stand our ground, and when to chill out on our own personal take letting our brethren have their own views.  Sometimes we can choose to be right, or choose to have peace.  We need to decide which path is correct for us.

Identity talks about politics and social issues.  Having lived through the past 5 years, I don’t imagine anyone reading this doesn’t understand how fraught these topics can be. The accounts in the book grapple with the question of how do we have a particular identity or view whilst maintaining relationships with people who don’t share that identity or sometimes openly disdain it.  The answer of course is you have to listen and decide if the relationship is more important than your respective identities.  There isn’t any magic to simply respecting another person’s viewpoint.

Ultimately, the book is just a sampling of just a few of the wonderful interviews Sale’s podcast covers.  And while I found it helpful and nuanced, it did in the end feel like a long-form flyer for the podcast, which to be fair I am definitely adding to my Spotify playlist.  It is a valuable book in it’s own right. If you want an enjoyable and helpful take on the topic, this book is a good one.  If you want a deeper dive, you may want to go straight for the podcast.