Let your freak flag fly. There is pride in being a weirdo, in not fitting in with the rest of the pack—along with isolation, loneliness and myriad other emotions, both good and bad. In Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Inside World, Olga Khazan explores what it means to be weird and how being different can be both a hindrance and a superpower. Though we are often taught to celebrate what makes us unique, “being the only one of your kind is doable, but wearying.”
The book is filled with stories of various “weirdos,” from doctors with dwarfism to politically conservative psychologists, among others. It’s difficult to imagine that there are any people who don’t feel weird at some point during their lives, but Weird delves into the complications of consistently being an outsider. Khazan goes to great lengths to look at multiple types of outsider stories, since so many people feel different for such a wide variety of reasons, and they all respond to it in their own ways.
This book isn’t just a lighthearted, anecdotal tale of how it’s OK to be an outsider. Instead, Khazan outlines the fascinating, often heartbreaking reality of how difficult it can be for people who don’t fit in—for example, the loneliness of leaving behind your Amish community to break into the modern world, or the cruelty of a painful medical condition that threatens both your life and your son’s. She interweaves these stories with tales of her own isolated childhood in Texas, where her Russian heritage often made her feel unable to click with the people around her.
There is no clear answer for how to be successfully weird. The people Khazan interviews all take wildly different paths—a conservative who moves from California to Texas to finally fit in, or one missionary’s attempt to stay with a church he has growing concerns about. Some people choose to embrace communities of like-mindedness, and some choose to remain different, and all these pathways come with new complications and considerations.
There is nothing simple about being an outsider. Khazan celebrates the power of the weird banning together, such as when people who are unique offer a boost of creativity or the minority voice challenges the status quo. But she celebrates these benefits without glazing over the hardships of being an outsider—the ways loneliness and isolation can have serious mental health effects, or the gritty hardships of finding partners, work, friends or places where you can be yourself. The people Khazan interviews are fascinating, and she does a magnificent job of bringing their stories to light with both gentleness and honesty while reminding the reader that no one is ever alone in feeling weird.