Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
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!