interior of book tower in Prague Municipal Library

Who Would Want to Hug a Porcupine?

Smith, Sean K. How to Hug a Porcupine: Easy Ways to Love the Difficult People in Your Life. MJF Books, 2009.

[An Installment of the “Read Me” Project.]

This book did not cost a lot, happily.[*]

If you’ve had enough therapy, or enough of the right kind of life experience, like working for more than a year in a large office, you’ve already learned everything this book has to teach you, or should have.

Cover How to Hug a Porcupine

Recognize the signs of defensiveness in others, learn how to listen past defensiveness and how to defuse it and how not to take it personally. Above all, learn how not to get defensive back. Remember that a lot of difficult people have a lot of their own difficulties. Porcupines are human, too.


  • the vivid and memorable “porcupine” metaphor for a person who gets prickly and potentially hazardous when on the defensive will probably come in handy, if not immediately, then down the road.
  • The text comes divided into bite-size chunks, that might make good morning meditations before walking into that large office, and that won’t take longer to read than you can get away with hiding in the bathroom during that challenging family get-together.
  • The text includes friendly, non-prickly epigrams, worth remembering.

One of the epigrams I particularly liked:

“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”

The text attributed it to Robert Heinlein, without an actual citation, although the miracle of the internet might fix that. And if I think about it for more than 15 seconds, I want to tinker with it: but not in a co-dependent way; and not happiness, necessarily, at least not in the short term, but maybe “well-being;” and so on. The tinkering wrecks it as an epigram.

But something in that sentiment rings true.

So if I felt that way about a porcupine, I might even want to have this little book around, to consult when I start to forget all that stuff I already know.

Which happens sometimes.

Especially around porcupines.

[*] No coincidence, that.

A tower of books with a almond- or vaginal-shaped opening

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