Misfits (a dual book review of Hyperbole and a Half & Let’s Pretend this Never Happened)

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An illustration from “The Alot”

A longtime family friend gave Thad and me a Barnes & Noble gift card when we got married, which we just got around to using at the beginning of the month. I used it to get a couple books I’d wanted for a while – namely, Hyberbole and a Half by Allie Brosh and Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess). As background, I’ve been a fan of Hyberbole and a Half the blog for several years, so naturally I was thrilled at the prospect of a book. I follow the Bloggess on twitter and don’t always read her blog, but had heard her book billed as containing funny insights into working in HR.

Hyberbole and a Half is made up of maybe 60% content from the eponymous blog but also includes new stories about Brosh’s intellectually challenged dogs, a goose attack (I’m glad to know I’m not the only one that finds geese somewhat terrifying), and getting lost in the woods. It also includes reader favorites like The God of Cake, This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult, and of course her two-part series about depression.

Obviously I was already a fan of Brosh’s writing and drawings, but sitting down and reading the stories together as opposed to individually on a blog really made it a cohesive and thematically-interesting book. It weaves back and forth between lighthearted and serious topics and between personal chapters and chapters that are more general observations. While Brosh’s honesty may make her sound like a bit of an odd person, I’m not sure if that’s accurate. I think her blog is so popular is because her honesty and her ability to make a comedic caricature of herself resonate with so many readers. There’s something very freeing about seeing someone openly admitting to having some of your own deepest darkest neuroses and making light of them instead of acting like they’re something to be ashamed by.

I’d say the book itself is worth buying, even if you can get a lot of the stories on the blog for free. It’s a colorful book that’s a great size and feel for reading and can be loaned out to all your friends and family to prove to them that you’re actually not that strange after all.

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened is Jenny Lawson’s memoir about her childhood in Texas, her relationship with her husband Victor, and other events that have happened to her later on in life. It’s a briskly written and unapologeticly garish narrative that you can’t help but enjoy and laugh out loud while reading. (Note: if you’re laughing about the author getting her arm stuck while artificially inseminating a cow and your husband asks what’s so funny, he may look at you like you’ve grown horns and roll away from you in bed when you answer.)

I found the childhood stories to be the funniest and most surprising, as Lawson paints a vivid picture of her taxidermy-loving father, her grandmother who might be able to make it rain, and the turkeys that followed her to school. The book’s narrative structure holds together best for the first half, but the following chapters are still enjoyable, although a bit more episodic. It’s not all fun and games and squirrel puppets though, as the book also tackles series topics like mental illness and miscarriage with a mix of dark humor but also a nonjudgmental and almost comforting tone. Besides the childhood stories, my favorite chapters were the one about her time working in HR (I would have loved another chapter or two on that), the wine tasting weekend, and the dialogue with Victor when she gets lost despite having a GPS. It’s another book I would definitely recommend, although I guess I should add a disclaimer that it’s not for the very easily offended.

I would actually recommend reading both these books at the same time, because they’re somewhat thematically similar. Both books features an intelligent and very funny protagonist who sets themselves up as a bit of a misfit, and draw upon their childhoods, experiences with mental illness, and love of animals to tell a compelling personal narrative.

I’ll close this review with a quote from Lawson’s conclusion to her book.

“Because I can finally see that all the terrible parts of my life, the embarrassing parts, the incidents I wanted to pretend never happened, and the things that make me “weird” and “different,” were actually the most important parts of my life. They were the parts that made me me…because you are defined, not by life’s imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. Because there is joy in embracing – rather than running screaming from – the utter absurdity of life.”

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2 thoughts on “Misfits (a dual book review of Hyperbole and a Half & Let’s Pretend this Never Happened)

  1. Cassandra Dasher says:

    I just read “Let’s Pretend this never Happened” too, and loved it! I didn’t know the creator of “Why I’ll never be an adult” had written a book; I shall have to check it out.
    Great reviews–thanks for sharing!

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