Thursday, January 01, 2015

Review: Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh

it's the beard that does it
It feels a little silly that this review will take me almost as long to write (an hour or two, depending on my level of focus) as it took to read the book, but, you know, someone needs to tell you to go out and buy it.  It's not just that it's funny and insightful (it is), or that the author's primitively drawn dad is so darn compelling and handsome (he is!), or that you want to read the handful of strips of new content written just for the book (you do).  Do it because you'll feel better about finally sending a few nickels Ms. Brosh's way for the comics you enjoyed for free for years. Because, now that I made you think about it, your image of being a Good Person who cares about independent authors is finally coming into conflict with your cheapness and your glee about getting a quality freebie for this long.  Agonizing over whether to pay the writer will give you all the tools you need to love, hate, and become bemused with yourself, all at the same time, which is precisely the correct motivation for reading her strip in the first place.

Oh, and also there's general-purpose life stories and bits about dogs.  Here's a woman who knows how to tell you about the dysfunctional mind of a canine.  Another great reason.

Before buying the book, I hadn't checked the Hyperbole and a Half blog since she'd apparently left the game, ostensibly to assemble the book, but also with a cliffhanger about depression, which is a hell of a place to last see anyone.  (She followed it up two years later, and, reassuringly, there's an unrelated new-ish post up there as well.)  I don't share the manic, imaginative side of Brosh's temperament, which is why I will never create a comedy routine out of it all, but I get all too well the inward-looking side, where self-awareness comes perilously close to self-image, and as another person who perceives himself as just barely smart enough to detect my own delusion, irrationality, and inadequacy, I understand how it can get you down, and farther down.  (The bits about identity got to me most.  As for depression, I sometimes think the only thing that staves off the clinical version is my abject terror of getting trapped in there without the tools to get out.)  You, dear reader, probably know this balance pretty well yourself (introverts of the world, unite! think quietly about this by yourselves), and I commend Brosh for the ability to write poignant (and sometimes silly) jokes about the kinds of things that can go on in the deep places.

Although it's illustrated, the form is not really a comic, and although it's written, it's not really a book or an essay either.  I wish the thought were original with me, but I've read the form of Hyperbole and a Half described as the text equivalent of a standup routine.  To capture the timing of that delivery is very impressive, and it couldn't be done without using the pictures, without an intuition of how long it takes them to convey the content, and without reducing that content to some kind of essence.  They're crude, yeah, but they're brilliantly crude.

So buy it, or, if you're too cheap, go troll the blog.  Laugh mostly, and cry when you need to.


Aaron said...

Thanks for the review. I've heard of H and 1/2, but never really looked into it - there's so much going on on the Web that it's difficult to impossible to follow up on all of the things that people tell you to have a look at.

switters said...

Predictable link to Fresh Air interview

Anybody else fall in love with her almost immediately?

Keifus said...

Yeah, she does seem pretty great.

As for the interview, I admit that I'm relieved to find myself describing her work more or less as she intends to convey it.

Aaron: Hey, my pleasure, man.

Inkberrow said...

I'll put it down to sheer coincidence that the "compelling and handsome" father figure bears a striking resemblance to your profile pic, Keifus.

I look forward to coming across this book and picking it up. She's winsome and talented, and like my hand, her stuff is right up Vern's alley.

switters said...

I just wish I had her talent for working through her own struggles for our benefit, in every sense. Because it turns out she's quite a bit funnier than Kierkegaard or James. (At least intentionally.)

Keifus said...

Yeah, I agree with you. (Well, with the first sentence. Wasn't James Kierkegaard the guy who piloted the Enterprise?)