Welcome to the December pick for the Fields & Fantasies book club! Each month or so, in collaboration with my wonderful co-host Diana of Strahbary’s Fields, we’ll pick one book to read and discuss. Today, we’re looking at Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh:
This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative–like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it–but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*
*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!
My two cents:
How do I even begin to describe a book like Hyperbole and a Half? Besides saying that I found myself bursting into uncontrollable giggles while reading — and you can ask my family: I’m not usually the uncontrollable giggles type.
So — Allie Brosh is well-known for her web comic/blog (also called Hyperbole and a Half). I’d never read anything by her prior to reading this book. But I understand she has quite a following, and I can see why.
Unflinchingly honest, the author splits this book between odd childhood behavior, her two dogs (the “simple” dog and the “helper” dog), and her own struggle with depression. I’ll admit it straight out — the dog stories are the ones that really cracked me up. How to even describe the glory of her test of the simple dog’s IQ? Or the helper dog’s hatred of the fact that other dogs exist anywhere at all? And then there’s the story of the mad goose that came into her house one night, like some evil spirit out of a horror movie.
If you were sitting quietly on your couch, waiting for your girlfriend to come back inside so you could finish watching your movie, and while you were waiting, someone called you up and said “I’ll give you a million dollars if you can guess what’s going to happen next,” you absolutely would not guess “I am going to be brutally and unexpectedly attacked by a goose in my own home.” Even if you had a hundred guesses, you would not guess that.
I absolutely loved the first piece in the book, about finding a letter from herself at age 10, written to her adult self. I won’t even try to describe it — but let’s just say that by page 2, my first laughing fit had kicked in.
And then there’s the cake story from when she was three years old:
I had tasted cake and there was no going back. My tiny body had morphed into a writhing mass of pure tenacity encased in a layer of desperation. I would eat all of the cake or I would evaporate from the sheer power of my desire to eat it.
Seriously, read the cake story. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed until I cried…
Her ruminations on depression are eye-opening and informative — and somehow manage to convey all the depths of nothingness inherent in depression while still being human and even humorous. A friend who has struggled on and off with depression for years informs me that this book is one of the few she’s read where she really could see herself on the page.
Likewise, I loved the author’s honesty in a section in which she delves into identity and believing herself to be a good person –without actually having to back it up most of the time:
I like to believe that I would behave heroically in a disaster situation. I like to think this because it makes me feel good about myself. Conveniently, it is very unlikely that I will ever actually have to do anything to prove it. As long as I never encounter a disaster situation, I can keep believing I’m a hero indefinitely.
She ‘fesses up to the fact that she likes to be proud of herself for being a good person, but suspects that without seeking that internal approval for her own good deeds, she might actually be a horrible person.
I don’t just want to do the right thing. I want to WANT to do the right thing. This might seem like a noble goal to strive for, but I don’t actually care about adhering to morality. It’s more that being aware of not wanting to do the right thing ruins my ability to enjoy doing the right thing after I’m forced into doing it through shame.
Hyperbole and a Half is a very quick read. The primitive, brightly-colored drawing are hilarious, and the interplay between words and pictures is perfect.
Not many books can make you burst into giggles and at the same time force you to examine your inner self and take a hard look at your actions and motivations. Reading Hyperbole and a Half is a surprisingly thought-provoking and moving experience for something that’s just so damned funny.
And just to show that intelligent people can disagree, I’ll point out that while I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, Diana gave it only 2 stars — and doesn’t seem to have liked it at all. I’ll add the link to Diana’s review once it’s up!
Title: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
Publication date: 2013
Length: 369 pages
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