I half-heartedly complain about the fact that I rarely get to read what I want to, when I want to. When I’m balancing a full-time job with a contract reading gig for the CBC I need to prioritize what books I pick up, which usually means I’m reading the books that I’ve chosen for that month’s theme instead of just what appeals to me on my shelf. This past week I should have been reading another book for my CBC Father’s Day segment, but I was working my way through some particularly stressful things so I decided to treat myself to a book of funny essays by Samantha Irby instead. She’s an author that’s guaranteed to make me laugh out loud, and her first book Meaty did exactly that. I actually picked this book up at the Calgary Reads book sale, so I didn’t even owe a publisher a review of it – but I love this book and author so much, I can’t help but write a glowing analysis!
Irby is known for her ability to face even the grossest aspects of the human body, head on. She doesn’t shy away from any difficult topics in these essays, and many of them reference the fact that she has Crohn’s disease, which means she frequently has unexpected bouts of diarrhea that often result in her having to leave an event early, redirect a car trip, or simply mess her pants. For a single woman dating (and simply just trying to get through life) this disease has a debilitating affect on her, but luckily for us, she deals with it through humour. In addition to her making light of her health condition, she also writes about everyday topics like food, haircare, favourite television shows, etc. She also includes recipes that she likes, which are all very basic and easy to make because she works a lot and doesn’t have much time to make food. She writes about the time she attended a course for black women on how to date, the death of her mother who suffered from MS, why ‘moms’ typically like her and why she struggled to fit in at school with other kids. These all seem like random stories, and they are. We jump back and forth through time, and there isn’t an obvious grouping of themes, but the common thread is most definitely humour.
A few warnings for anyone considering picking this collection up (or any of Irby’s writing, for that matter); she uses alot of profanity, and the topic of pooping her pants comes up constantly, so I can see some labelling this book as a bit a crude, which is a fair assessment. But if you can tolerate these references and language, you will be rewarded by a conversational voice that rings clear in your head as you read it. I’ve never actually seen or met Irby, or even really heard her speak, but I can easily imagine her speaking these words – they read more like a stand-up comedy act. She frequently capitalizes words for emphasis, which I do as well when writing this blog, so in my view this only added to her likeable writing style. She is often self-deprecating, but unwaveringly so. She brags about her gross habits, but I find she’s funniest when writing about other people. In her essay ‘milk and oreos’ she writes a letter to white people in which she nails a certain kind of white person (me):
“Dear white people,
I love you because you fucking mean well. I should clarify and say that I am referring to white people who buy North Face jackets and take their babies to yoga class, NOT these fucking Newport-smoking teen moms named Destiny, spelled with nine e’s. Those kinds of white people are terrifying. I like farmers’ market white people, the ones who are always dressed like they just finished climbing K2 when all they’ve done all day is eat samples at Whole Foods.”-Meaty by Samantha Irby, p. 104
Irby’s perspectives on the differences between black and white people are (of course) usually funny, but also honest. With echoes of a memoir I read about a woman struggling to find her blackness, Irby admits that she often feels ‘not black enough’, pointing to reasons like the fact that she likes heavy metal music. Irby doesn’t fit in with many different stereotypes, and this is what makes her so likeable; she wears her quirks like a badge of honour, and her ability to be so unapologetic about her differences is what makes her writing and voice so appealing to me. She doesn’t fit any specific mold and she doesn’t care, so in many ways her writing is a radical act of confidence that I (and many other people) so desperately need in their lives.
Once I finished this book I realized that it was a comfort read for me. I knew Irby was a ‘come as you are’ kind of person because I had read her before, so I’m so glad I reached for her in times of stress because her non-judgmental writing was exactly what I needed. I’d love to hear what your comfort reads are in the comments!