These essays, for me, were a mixed bag–mostly excellent, occasionally uninspiring. I loved Irby’s unapologetic and no-bullshit attitude. I loved her directness, her dry wit, and her honesty. I loved the way she refused to glorify or romanticize her life and her experiences, while at the same time affirming that her life matters, that she is entitled to love, care about, and enjoy the things she wants to, no matter what the world thinks. She writes about so many different things, both serious and frivolous–being fat, growing up poor, traveling through the small town South as a queer black woman, TV (so much TV), depression and mental illness, her weirdo cat, her job at an animal hospital, dating catastrophes, living alone, the boring reality of falling in love, the internet at its best and worst. There is a whole lot packed into this collection, and while, overall, I found it both charming (in the best, saltiest, most crass way possible) and smart, I also found it boring, at times.
I picked up this book thinking it was going to be funny–and it was, but it didn’t make me laugh. I’m pretty sure that has to do with me and not the book, though. I appreciated the humor and the jokes. I loved how beautifully irreverent and affirming it was. But I never laughed out loud. I chuckled from time to time. I nodded in recognition, or because she articulated something so perfectly, or because of the way she illuminated some particular truth in such a lighthearted, humous way. But I didn’t ever laugh laugh. I guess it’s just not my kind of humor. It started to feel a little exhausting, a little repetitive after a while.
The ideas and the heart and the the thought behind the humor, though–those never felt repetitive. Once I readjusted my expectations around the book, and stopped expecting to laugh out loud constantly, like so many people had said I would, it really grew on me. Irby is a master at walking the line between not taking herself (or anything) too seriously, while also acknowledging the seriousness of issues of race, class, gender, sexuality. She’s got some stuff to say about being a black queer woman, and also about reality TV. The lighter essays never cheapen the more serious ones. She pokes fun at herself, but she also writes with a lot of vulnerability about her own life. I was continually impressed with how she wove so many threads together, even when I got a little bored.
Underneath all the humor and absurdity and funny stories and insight, there’s this thread running through the whole collection–that no human should have to prove anything to anyone in order to be treated with basic dignity and respect. I know it sounds obvious, but the way Irby approaches it is refreshing. She is so honest in these essays–about being unhappy, about being lonely, about a person’s right to love binge watching TV while eating (insert delicious junk food of your choice) and not feeling ashamed about it. She does not attempt to make her life neat or clean for the reader’s benefit. Being good, or living up to some set of societal standards–is not a prerequisite for a human’s right to live a life free of fear and judgment. She articulates this in a much funnier, smarter, more brash, and more interesting way than I am doing here. The point is: this book did not make me laugh out loud, but I truly enjoyed it nonetheless.
I cannot recommend the audio enough. Irby reads it herself and she is just fantastic.