Wow, No Thank You
I first heard of Wow, No Thank You right after it came out in March 2020, when some of my friends talked about ordering it from our local feminist bookstore, Women and Children First. They raved about how funny Samantha Irby is, and how fun it was to read a book by someone with such deep Chicago roots. Wow, No Thank You is Irby’s most recent book, and since it was the first one I had heard of, I ended up reading it first. Since these books are collected essays, the order you choose to read them in doesn’t really matter and you won’t miss anything from reading them in a different order than what they were published in – but I found that reading them out of chronological order was actually really interesting, and gave a cool perspective on the author’s personal, professional, and artistic development.
Although I didn’t know it at first, Wow, No Thank You finds the author at by far the most stable moment of any of her books: she is married, a homeowner, and writes for television shows! While she references some of the harder moments of her life – being homeless at a young age, her parents’ deaths, working at a paycheck-to-paycheck job – she doesn’t dig into these topics as deeply as in her earlier work, and when they are mentioned it is generally with dark levity and emotional distance.
I loved reading about familiar Chicago institutions and her relatable and hilarious reactions to the vagaries of everyday life. Irby’s life and experiences are extremely different from mine, so it can be shocking to have her describe my own feelings so accurately – for example “My head hurts, so I either have a brain tumor or I haven’t had enough caffeine today.” I also really enjoyed the chapter where she discusses her pathway from being a blogger to being a published author to writing for television. A success story that doesn’t include “my parents/romantic partner/the lottery paid for all of my living expenses for years and years while I did nothing but pursue my Art single-mindedly” is delightful to hear.
Meaty was Irby’s first book, originally published in 2013 by an indie publisher and then republished in 2018 after We Are Never Meeting in Real Life (her second book) was a hit.
It was fascinating to read Meaty right after Wow, No Thank You. Irby hasn’t yet “hit it big” when she’s writing Meaty – she’s still actively working at her day job at an animal hospital in Evanston, and while her blog is successful, she obviously has no way of knowing that this book is going to change her life. It was particularly fun to read this while the chapter about her career in Wow, No Thank You was still fresh in my mind, since she discusses the process of writing and publishing Meaty.
Irby’s writing style is a bit less polished here, although still sharp and hilarious. The subject matter can be much more raw as well – Irby writes in depth about her childhood, having to care for her sick mother from a young age, and ultimately her crushing grief at her mother’s death. It can give you emotional whiplash, to go from cracking up at jokes about bodily functions to sobbing in the bathtub while reading Irby’s heart wrenching description of her mother’s final moments – but that’s life, I suppose.
We are Never Meeting in Real Life
Again, it has been really interesting to read the books in this order – Irby’s most recent book, which was quite lighthearted and polished, then her more raw first book, and now We are Never Meeting in Real Life, which falls somewhere in the middle. There was once again a story that broke my heart, while several others made me laugh out loud.
I especially enjoyed her description of the dude-bros she was friends with during her stint in college – it struck a true note from my own experience of how living in a dorm can make you form strange friendships. Folks you would never make friends with normally, but who somehow end up playing a wonderful role in your life – even if in Irby’s case, that role is coaching her through having diarrhea on the side of a busy highway. It was also really fun to read about her early relationship and fears of commitment with her future wife, who I had read more about in Wow, No Thank You. Irby’s writing is so personal that it feels almost like getting to celebrate with a friend that her relationship seems to be working out so well!
Throughout all three books, it’s also been delightful to read about all of the familiar Chicago and Evanston locations that Irby references. Irby lived around the same neighborhoods that I did at around the same time, so it’s fun to imagine that we may have both been on the same purple line train at the same time, or that she may have swung by the Starbucks on Main Street while I was working as a barista there. Chicago doesn’t always get as much admiration as other big cities, so I get extra excited whenever someone writes about it with such love.
Other aspects of these books that I enjoyed but haven’t touched on yet: Irby’s frank discussions of living with Crohn’s disease, her skewering of diet culture and anti-fatness, how much she loves her cats even when they’re mean to her, how she writes about living with mental illness. It’s honestly unbelievable how much Samantha Irby manages to tackle in these books, while also managing to strike a miraculous balance between being hilarious, vulnerable, irreverent, and heartfelt.