Samantha Irby came onto my radar in 2019 after a reading slump from that time I was burned out by my job in a VC startup. We are never meeting in real life, her previous set of essays published in 2017, was displayed prominently in a central London bookstore it was a) bright yellow, and b) covered in a picture of a hateful cat - so I started believing in destiny and bought the book, read the book, and adored it.
In 2020 I went through a reading slump because of burnout caused by being freelance but also by the extremely pressing apocalyptic vibes of the time (which have totally passed). This time, Irby let me know that she was publishing another set of works on Instagram (by public posts, not DMs) and rather than thinking about how I'm likely to deal with burnout in this cyclical manner until something changes, I bought the book, read the book, and felt a little bit better.
This is the second time Irby's books have been a tonic for worrying cases of Readers-Block - something I don't want to google because I'm really hoping I just made it up1. I read this book quickly because it is short, not because I am fast at reading - but I did read it quickly nevertheless, and I was sad it was over.
Despite the affection I feel towards this book and Irby's writing style, I have a hard time describing anything about her writing in a way that would make anybody actually want to read it. So if you think you're in the market for cathartic, nsfw, but still celebratory personal essays - then you should buy this book. If you can laugh at yourself and the way you're far less cooler than you want to be, but also low-key maybe resent yourself for it - then buy this book. It's good and it's funny and the days are long enough without having to read the contemporary literary city romance du jour just because everyone else is reading it and you don't want to.
Now please, let me try and explain the punchline to somebody else's joke. Irby will let you know, in pretty much these exact words, that she either is, or has been, a dirtbag with leaky bowels who thought for much of her life that she would die alone, played out by endless CSI re-runs that dance light across her decaying body in an tiny flat in Chicago. But she's funny with it, ya know?
For example, in we are never meeting in real life she writes in one essay about the time she had ate a bad hamburger before an interstate drive and had to squat out diarrhoea on the side of the standstill, snow-covered highway in front of strangers and also her college friends. And then in literally the next piece she writes about her dead father. In wow, no thank you Irby flits well between insecurities in her roles as a step mum, staff writer in Hollywood (lol what), Somewhat Famous Person, friend, and newly middle-aged woman. But she also speaks about how, obviously, she shouldn't get a dog, about how dirt-poor she was growing up, and generally what an all round gross kinda human she was and continues to be.
I like self-derogatory humour. Some people use it as a way to fish for complements, some people genuinely think they're hot trash, but other people, like Samantha Irby, can talk bad about themselves and somehow do it without damaging meanness and with surprising tenderness and patience. Wow, no thank you is a hopeful book, and it made me feel less alone and strange. Even though nothing I just wrote (not even that bit about shitting on the side of the highway) would lead you to think that.
At the same time, Irby doesn't smother you with "just be yourself 🦄🌈🌹" or hashtag-relatable content. I've never got the impression that Irby is saying something just to make you feel good or just to make herself feel bad - she's just... talking. But talking in a way where she can tweak, re-word, refine, and prune the anecdote so that when you finally sit down for coffee/cocktails with her, the stories are honed. Sometimes they ramble, but so do I.
I enjoyed wow, no thank you - obviously. It's not scribbled with notes in the margin and I'm not going to get it tattooed on by body, but it's dog-eared and battered from where I got half way through a chapter on a train or used it to grind along a kerbside (or however else it got so damaged). It's the kind of book you can easily resume and easily pause and therefore the kind of book that deserves to become a bit battered. I'd recommend it, yeah.
I just googled it and I'm definitely not the first person to be this clever which is not surprising but it is a shame.↩