Quickly becoming one of my ‘must read everything authors’, Samantha Irby has released a new book of essays just in time for the start of my summer reading. Quietly Hostile looks like her other books; a bright cover with a random animal on the front, and it reads exactly like her other books too: hilarious. I’ve reviewed Meaty here and Wow, No Thank You here if you want to get a taste of her earlier collections, but honestly, just start with this one if she’s a ‘new to you’ author, you don’t have to read them in order.

Book Summary

A collection of non-fiction essays is the only kind of book that Irby has published, and quite honestly, I don’t know how well her fiction would go over now because she’s made such a name for herself with this writing style. There are 17 essays in this book covering a vast range of topics; the time she went into anaphylactic shock, her reasons for why she makes the best kind of party guest, things you should and shouldn’t say in front of teenagers, talking to her estranged brother after a few decades, the pilot episode of a television show about her life that never got picked up by a network, and general advice simply sprinkled throughout. And her words of wisdom are helpful to just about everyone, for instance one of the suggestions she gives is to just proclaim your love of something even if others criticize it; and screw those people who try to tear down what you like. She includes a lot of exclamation marks and capitalized words in her writing and it’s very conversational in tone, so no doubt the audiobook version of this is stellar too.

My Thoughts

One of her longest essays is a dissection of some Sex in the City episodes, and how she would have rewritten them. This is a topic close to her heart, because she actually worked as a writer on the Sex in the City reboot, Just Like That. Irby sits in a unique position; not really a celebrity, but known by many due to her bestselling books, she gets random messages from fans (and occasionally death threats because the internet is an awful place). When she announced she was working on the show, this prompted an impassioned reaction from SITC fans, and hundreds of strange messages sent directly to her. There are 30 pages of these episode dissections, so people who didn’t’ watch SITC would likely be bored by this essay, but although I hadn’t watched all the episodes, I still liked reading her analysis simply because it was funny. Irby really has a special talent of making almost anything hilarious.

She will often joke that she’s a gross and awkward human being; self-deprecating humour is a constant in her books. This is one of the reasons why I love her writing – it’s incredibly honest. Irby has a few health conditions which make it difficult for her to travel, which she details in an essay about going on a book tour. Are book tours glamorous? No! They are even harder for Irby because she has so many issues going to the bathroom, and not being around your home base is a nerve-wracking affair when you’ve got potty problems. Other neurotic issues she unpacks in this book include her own death:

“I think about dying all the time; I wonder when it’s gonna happen and what embarrassing thing I’ll be wearing when it does, and if anyone is gonna see me dying and think I look stupid. I started thinking about death so much that when the pandemic hit and every new report was like, ‘Bye, fat people!’ I added Kristen to my bank account, which is a thing I never thought I’d do because what if she decides to get cute?”

-p.189 of Quietly Hostile, “What If I Died Like Elvis?”, ARC edition

Kristen is Samantha’s wife, and they’ve been together for a significant period of time; Sam now has step kids and they were likely the inspiration for her essay “How to Look Cool in Front of Teens?”.

In her previous books, Irby has dealt with a range of serious issues through her lens as a black gay woman with health issues; racism, gay rights, even her family’s poverty. Despite the challenges in her life she remains an optimistic, entertaining, and relatable person. This is what I love most about her books; I can easily connect with what she’s describing along with the emotions she’s experiencing. Even if it’s something as mundane about when to halt a conversation with a coworker in the bathroom, I appreciate her perspective, especially because it always comes with a healthy dose of humour.

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