I was a huge fan of Hyperbole and A Half, the blog, back when the only internet connection I had was 40kbps dialup (on a good day), coming from a laptop with a duct taped case, flickering screen, two missing keys, and a USB dongle modem to replace the original which got...
I was a huge fan of Hyperbole and A Half, the blog, back when the only internet connection I had was 40kbps dialup (on a good day), coming from a laptop with a duct taped case, flickering screen, two missing keys, and a USB dongle modem to replace the original which got fried by lightning. Back then, I would wait a small eternity for each image to load and lean in, squinting at the dying screen, just to laugh at the entertaining and relatable content. Back then, I couldn''t afford the book, and as with most meme-like things it faded to the back of my mind leaving only the "ALL the things!" meme in its place.
At some point between then and now, my best friend related a story from this very book - one of her favourite books of all time - to me in order to explain that I wasn''t alone in how I handled my depression and how frustrating I found others'' responses to it. In the story, Allie (the author) explains that the empty lack of joy caused by depression is akin to having a dead fish. Everyone keeps telling her to just try not having dead fish or reassuring her that someday she''ll have not-dead fish, completely ignoring that she is upset that her fish are dead and refusing to acknowledge that they cannot just be magically resurrected. All she wants is for someone to just acknowledge that the fish are dead and understand that having dead fish sucks. That story resonated with me, and for roughly a year, I used the metaphor to let my friend know when I was feeling depressed but not looking for magic fixes - just comforting acknowledgment.
Eventually, it faded from mind, replaced by more modern references or direct honesty. Then Allie''s second book happened recently. I pre-ordered it on that very same best friend''s urging and absolutely loved the experience. Allie''s art is so charmingly expressive even in its simplicity and she writes about things which make me feel far less alone in how I experience the world.
I was excited to have everything I remembered loving about the blog in a modern book. When I related this to my friend, she bought me this book and I was overjoyed to have more of the same - I hadn''t even remembered this existed!
So, here I am, having just finished reading Hyperbole and A Half, the ebook rather than the blog, on a lovely flagship phone with a beautiful screen... in a format which makes me squint and lean in to read the pictures, on a mediocre wifi connection, through a router which was purchased to replace one that got fried by lightning.
Some things never change. Or perhaps, they shift a bit in ways which remain achingly familiar. The relatability of the fish story is one such thing... and the urge to meme "ALL the things!" once again is also quite strong.
That said, however, I wish I had read the books in order. This one is slightly dated in the language choices and in my opinion Allie has grown significantly as an author in her newer book, Solutions And Other Problems, which made it feel a bit like I was reading a regression in this order. The relatability and entertainment values are still very much there, but some stories drag too long and others are very clearly written from an early-2010s perspective.
For example, in a story about discovering that one of her dogs is developmentally challenged, Allie refers to the dog''s apparent lack of mental acuity by saying her dog might be r*t**ded [censored for Amazon; written fully in the book]. I couldn''t help but cringe at this, even though she was using the term in a literal, pseudo-medical sort of assessment and this was written before we as a society came to the conclusion that the word needs to be avoided for all its harmful associations. It only happens in a single chapter, after which she refers to this dog as "the simple dog," but even that feels a little unpleasant.
Everything else, however - even when the stories drag on longer than they should - is great. There are interesting, entertaining, heartbreaking, fascinating, relatable, and hilarious things in relatively proportionate doses. Allie''s narrative voice is as conversational and smooth as listening to a good friend talk to you at a social gathering, creating a sense of camaraderie despite the obvious barrier created by being total strangers. Even the stories about "the simple dog" and the other dog adopted to be her companion are fun, especially when the dynamic between them is explored.
As with the sequel book, I found the mental health issues extremely relatable. Much like Allie describes in this book, I also beat myself up internally every time life with depression makes simple tasks difficult... and then get even more demotivated by the self hatred, creating a perpetual cycle of uselessness. I imagine many people with clinical depression can relate.
Additionally, I enjoyed the bits about self image and having intrusive thoughts. Here, Allie explains how she struggles with self-loathing because she wants to do bad things (like kick sand at people or make fun of people) but chooses not to because she wants to be a better person. For her, it''s difficult to reconcile the realization that she has the potential to be a bad person with the effort she expends to make sure she''s not. It''s a refreshingly honest exploration of human nature, self image, and the existential crises caused by the places where those things don''t quite properly align. It''s also the source of my favourite quote in the book: "...so, you''d rather know the truth and be mad?" / "No. I want the truth to be different." That feels oddly timeless and appropriate to many situations, especially this year.
Overall, I think this book deserves 4.5 stars, but we''re still stuck in a world without half-star ratings on Amazon, so I''m going to round it down to properly indicate that I feel it''s not quite as good as the sequel which I gave five stars. I enjoyed it and I''m sad that it''s over because I want so much more from this author. The format and voice are so unique, I''m not sure I''ll be able to find anything else of the sort - at least not easily.
But, hey, at least I feel a little less alone in how I experience the world, now. And I both got some good laughs and a chance to enjoy my best friend''s favourite book. I''d say that''s very much a win.