Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

broshhyperboleandhalf

How do you successfully translate a blog into a book? The current model, as seen in My Year of Flops and Hyperbole and a Half, is to collect the best of the original posts and add some exclusive original material. As a method of enticing fans to purchase something they can essentially get for free (although one hopes they’d want to support their favorite creators regardless), it’s not a bad way of doing things. However, this doesn’t deal with the inherent difference between a book and a blog—a book is, more or less, fixed, while a blog is a living, breathing thing. As this profile of Homestar Runner points out, just because it hasn’t updated in years doesn’t mean that it won’t, and my favorite part of catching up on old-school Saturday Night Live with The A.V. Club is reading the comments, something you will never see collected. But perhaps this can’t be dealt with; it’s just the nature of the medium, of putting moving blog to fixed page.

Instead, the success of a blog-to-book translation lies with the selection of material, especially because the online reader can curate for themselves. You can’t include everything and you can’t satisfy what everybody thinks is the best, so it’s a matter of trying to shape the raw material into a more cohesive narrative. Luckily, Hyperbole and a Half has always been upfront about its three narrative threads—Allie Brosh’s childhood, slice of life absurdity, and her own struggles with depression—and the collection spends equal time with each. So as an example of the brave new medium of blog-to-book, Hyperbole and a Half goes off without a hitch, no matter how much I wished they’d included “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas,” one of the greatest Christmas stories I have ever read.

As a former terrible child myself, I’ve always found Brosh’s tales of her childhood both hysterical and hauntingly familiar. This collection opens with a new extended letter to her child self at different ages, despairing over their various fixations (“Please stop eating face cream,” she begs her two-year-old self), but the best piece is one from the site: “The God of Cake,” wherein child Allie eats an entire cake to spite her mother. Her comedic timing is all the more impressive because she’s working in two mediums at once—they’re illustrated prose pieces with willfully rudimentary art. There’s something weirdly charming about her realistic dogs and her amphibious people.

Her slice of life material is just as good. I was laughing out loud in the break room over my dinner as I read “Dinosaur (The Goose Story)”, a simple story about how Brosh and her boyfriend deal with a goose getting into her home. It’s so well-paced and funny that I found myself muttering “That goose!” while going about my business at work, laughing to myself. (The only other thing that really does is that is “Ten Things I Hate About Commandments,” the very memory of which has sometimes left me giggling helplessly.) And any of her stories about her dogs—the simple dog who thinks in shapes and the helper dog who hates all other canines—are golden. “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts About Moving” is full of sweetly funny canine ennui as the dogs react to moving in their own ways.

But Brosh’s brutal honesty about her struggles with depression, her “flawed coping mechanisms” (as she calls them in the book’s subtitles), and her desire to be a good person who does good things naturally is what makes her a memoirist worth following. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, as Brosh discovers in “Identity Part 2,” let alone air that honesty in public. It’s a very specific form of bravery unique to memoirists and other writers who mine their personal demons for material in willfully transparent ways. Brosh’s two-part essay on depression (“Adventures in Depression Part 1” and “Depression Part 2”) was her return to blogging after a long hiatus in fine form. It really helped me understand depression. New to this collection, however, is Brosh’s struggles with her identity: how she wants to be someone heroic, but finds her impulses (“Who wants to throw sand at children?” she asks herself) and her desire for recognition undermining her efforts: “I don’t just want to do the right thing. I want to WANT to do the right thing” (342). The closer to the bone she gets, the easier it is to identify with her—at least for me. Ever since she returned from hiatus, Brosh’s material has been slowly moving towards a more personal, thoughtful place. I’ll be watching her blog with an eye for that in the future.

Bottom line: As a blog-to-book adaptation, Hyperbole and a Half nails the three narrative threads of Allie Brosh’s blog/comic—being a terrible child, slice of life humor, and her own struggles with depression and identity. While the blog is superior, this book is a fine introduction for those who haven’t encounter Brosh’s particular brand of memoir before.

This book was made available to me for publicity purposes.

Hyperbole and a Half will be released on the 29th—tomorrow!

13 thoughts on “Review: Hyperbole and a Half

  1. Hahaha, I am giggling to myself just thinking about the year Kenny Loggins ruined Christmas. I feel like I’m looking into my future — I can absolutely see myself and my family teasing future next-generation children in exactly this manner.

  2. “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts about Moving” is one of my favorites, as well as the one about being an adult. I will definitely get the book at some point – thanks for reminding me it’s been released!

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  4. I’ve been seeing HaaH meme a little too often lately, to the point where it irritates me. I know I’m alone in this, and I tried to think about what’s missing for me. her blog reads to me like an cross between Calvin and Hobbes and mommy-blogging, teacher blogging (amalah comes to mind). I like a funny mommy blogger, and I loved the outrageous bad-kid things Calvin would do, so why don’t I love the mash-up? First, Calvin needs a Hobbes, sorry. Second, mommy bloggers get to post stories about their 3-year-old’s antics as long as they post pictures of the adorable ones. Kids get away with murder because they’re so cute. Allie’s pix of a tube with weird facial expressions misses this point. Third, the mommy’s are actually feeding, clothing, entertaining, and giving up their careers for this kid. I’m of the latch-key generation, where I got into all kinds of trouble that my parents never knew about, so I forgive these helicopter parents who need to squeeze every drop of joy they can out of the Little Snowflake’s terrible two’s. But a 25 year old who’s obsessing about her childhood milestones is just sad. I know she wants her blog to read like stand-up comedy; if she was aiming for Seinfeld, hey I didn’t like him either.

    • Comedy is inherently subjective, so there’s plenty of room to disagree on whether or not Brosh is funny. I personally find her hilarious, but you obviously don’t. Taste is an incredibly diverse and personal thing!

      But I have to take issue with the idea that Allie Brosh hasn’t “earned” the right to blog about her childhood because she’s not actively contributing to the wellbeing of a cute child. Her stories about her childhood are not about child Allie being an adorable, precocious little stinker. They’re about looking back at your child self and being horrified by its greed, selfishness, and pretentiousness. After all, no matter how cute children are, they’re still learning morals and ethics.

      I relate because I, too, was an awful child. I’ve long felt extraordinarily awkward about it. Other people seem to have cute stories about being scared of their first haircut; I’ve got blindly rampaging through my brother’s beloved comics and throwing cats into pools. (No cats were harmed, thank God. But seriously, who does that?) I felt, for a very long time, that I couldn’t talk about it. But repression isn’t healthy for anyone, and being honest about what I once was helps me to be a better person now. In Brosh, I recognize myself, which makes the comedy work for me.

      She’s not obsessing over her childhood milestones (in fact, she rarely focuses on traditional milestones, like her first lost tooth), but examining her past to figure out what was going on there to better understand herself as an adult. Exploring identity is a major theme for Brosh as a writer. If you don’t care for it or the way she goes about it, that’s perfectly fine! But Brosh is wholly entitled to do so in her work. She does not need to earn the right to do so.

  5. hmm, I see these as milestones exactly like lost tooth. isn’t there one about post dentist visit? And the one where she goes on a college track visit and gets into a fight on the bus? The point is she isnt some outrageous awful kid, she’s just… a kid, like most kids. The Halloween costume, yup more kids than not have refused to stop wearing a superhero/ dinosaur/ princess costume because they thought it would make them into that. Maybe its hard for me to sympathize with her (or you) when I know kids whose youth was actually troubling, like hurting animals and doing illegal things to other kids and eventually drugs etc. Horrified? By eating too much cake? That’s not at all sarcastic?

    • I must vehemently disagree that just because some people have different troubles in their youth means that Brosh can’t examine her own youth in her writing because she hasn’t suffered “actual” trouble, which you define as animal abuse, illegal activity, and drug use. Part of the reason Brosh is dissecting these episodes is to understand why they bother her when pretending to be a dinosaur for a week might not even be memorable to someone else. She’s also attempting to make connections to her own current state as an adult. If it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not your cup of tea, but she certainly doesn’t have to earn the right to explore these things in her art and feel the way she does about them.

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