Book Review: Everything is Harder Than Everyone by Jenny Valentish
Push yourself to the edge of the end.
Everything is more difficult than everyone: Why some of us take our bodies to extremes is a mad rush. Jenny Valentish is a compelling and invigorating writer who knows how to get to the heart of a problem. This is his second book, after the famous Substance woman, exploring her in and out of addiction, but this time she focused on physical endurance. She explores her own life, as well as the lives and experiences of her interviewees: MMA fighters, ballet dancers, porn stars, BDSM dominants and submissives, ultramarathon runners, and unarmed boxers.
With a Louis Theroux-style curiosity, non-judgment, and affection for those she interviews, Valentish explores why some people push themselves and their bodies harder than anyone else. (And yes, this title uses drums and guitars; All stronger than all the rest is an old Meat Loaf album.) After I finished writing Substance woman, Valentish needed a new project. She also needed a new purpose, as she explains in the last chapter of her new book. Like her interviewees – and herself after her big Muay Thai matches – the dopamine spike in success and overcoming obstacles left her floundering in its wake.
Valentish’s writing goes to the heart – and the guts and the head – of how childhood pain, trauma, abuse and loss of control can cause people to put their bodies to ultimate tests. . Everything is more difficult than everyone is at times breathtaking and full of excruciating detail, at times moving and full of insight. Throughout, Valentish brings us into her personal orbit as she embarks on the punishment of Muay Thai practices and matches, trading one addiction for another, charting her ups and downs. She puts her body in danger because, like many of her interviewees, she suffered trauma and abuse as a child. As strength and training coach Karen says, “I think we were born with persistence, but trauma highlights it.”
Listen: Taking art and life to the extreme with Jenny Valentish
For some, this book will spark recognition and perhaps inspiration. For others, it will be an eye opener as to what causes people to endure beyond what most consider safe or comfortable. For some, it will induce a strange gag reflex or clutch of pearls in response to stories such as the neuroscientist who discovered that it is easier to be a cannibal in the Melbourne suburbs than in Papua New Guinea. , or the designer who courted dopamine highs by hooking the flesh, or the Dominant who pushes people to their limits to “flirt with death to feel more alive.”
Through his honest and uncompromising writing, Valentish treats his interviewees with empathy, fairness and journalistic distance, while allowing us to step into their inner lives. Most are looking for something to make them feel, something to stop them feeling, something to validate or prove against them, or something to distract their attention from their psychological pain. Everything is more difficult than everyone don’t just explore what makes some people go above and beyond; it also sheds light on how trauma, loss, pain, abuse or inconsistent parenting continues to impact years later.
It’s not an easy race sometimes; it is a transformative book, both for the reader and for Valentish herself. “But pressure testing is also fortifying and character-shaping, and this paradox has been explored by almost everyone I interviewed for this book,” Valentish reveals on the last page of this gripping book.
4.5 stars: ★★★★ ☆
Everything is more difficult than everyone by Jenny Valentish
Black Books Inc.
Paperback 276 pages
RRP $ 32.99
Release Date: Jun 1, 2021