Published by Simon and Schuster on 29th October 2013
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Non-Fiction
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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!
“I have a subconscious list of rules for how reality should work. I did not develop these rules on purpose, and most of them don’t make sense – which is disturbing when you consider that they are an attempt to govern the behavior of reality – but they exist, and they play a large role in determining how I react to the things that happen to me. Large enough that a majority of the feelings I feel are simply a reaction to reality not complying with my arbitrary set of rules.”
Humor is an extraordinarily personal thing, so I do not find it particularly surprising that Allie Brosh’s combination comic and memoir was not quite as funny to me as it apparently has been for other readers.
That being said, Hyperbole and a Half is undoubtedly worth experiencing. An already short length combined with a heavy reliance on simple illustrations makes for a very quick and undemanding read, and Brosh utilizes every page to its maximum potential, telling an eclectic batch of stories that are frequently heavy in subject matter despite their lighthearted presentation.
What really makes the book work is its sheer variety. From absurd childhood memories to avian confrontations, from depression to the inner workings of self-conceptualization, Brosh never allows herself to settle into a particular niche (as many comedians are like to do) and subsequently does her best to ensure that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
How hard are you like to laugh as you go? How frequently will you do so? Will you chuckle frequently? Smile once or twice? Outright guffaw with gusto every other page? It will undoubtedly differ from one reader to the next, and I believe the crucial deciding factor here is how relatable you find the author’s recollections, which range from rather specific events to broader humanistic tendencies. The more that one can recognize oneself in the words, the funnier they are like to be. As such, your mileage so far as laughs go is going to vary, but that does not mean even those parts that you do not immediately click with are wasted.
Brosh’s stories are told in such a way that ensures that one can find something personal within them, regardless of their details. So, while you may have never had to chase waterfowl through your home or live with the most unintelligent of pets, chances are that you have had moments with others or yourself that touch upon the more generalized ideologies that Brosh juggles with, whether it be an emotion (fear, anxiety) or an experience (moving, parental relationships). And though you may not connect with these moments to a degree that makes you find them outright funny, one can still find enjoyment in the circumstances.
“Being a good person is a very important part of my identity, but being a genuinely good person is time-consuming and complicated. You don’t have to be a good person to feel like a good person, though. There’s a loophole I found where I don’t do good, helpful things, but I keep myself in a perpetual state of thinking I might.”
Because Brosh, as has already been mentioned, is rather eclectic with her subject matter, chances are there will be at least one section that will really rings true for you. These moments are what truly make Hyperbole and a Half worthwhile, because these moments are nothing short of hysterical. The accuracy with which Brosh is able to describe one’s personal ideologies and behaviors at times is outright unsettling, but it is this uncanny understanding that makes her so funny. She taps into trends and commonalities that may very well be almost universal, yet are never really spoken of, and so her willingness to explore these topics is both surprising and refreshing. She does this with a lightness of touch and sense of wit that makes the laughs seem effortless, but undoubtedly earned. And while her artistic abilities may not be particularly impressive, it is because of her utilization of crude stick figures and messy lines that her writing is so frequently comical and easy to dive into. It feels normal. It speaks of the everyday and commonplace, of you and I.
And despite its being meant primarily for humor, this book does contain a depth and brevity that makes it all the more notable. Brosh’s talks of her battle with depression and experience with uncertain identity are presented in a manner that keeps the pace brisk and the tone accessible, but also makes for thought-provoking consideration. Her willingness to talk about these topics is crucial, I think, because it opens doors in an undemanding and gradual way for the frank discussion and better understanding of issues (particularly those involving mental illness) that are frequently misunderstood and mistreated. For a “funny” book with only a few hundred pages replete with garish panels of confused dogs and hyperactive children, Hyperbole‘s being able to include this sort of content in such an approachable and casual manner is impressive, and makes me respect Brosh’s talents all the more.
Though at first glance an unassuming and simple little work, Allie Brosh’s contribution to the literary world of laughs and general silliness is a remarkably intelligent and considerate piece, combining careful commentary with a playfulness and likability that always ensures a sense of fun is to be found. It is short, yet memorable. Funny, yet challenging. What more could one need from something with such a delightfully ridiculous cover?