BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

So tempting to quote Hamlet ...

One of the great advantages of the Dollar Store source for books is that it provides me with the opportunity to justify taking a chance on something which I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't buy at full price. Now, as regular readers of this space may realize, I will, from time to time, read some humorous books, so picking up Samantha Bee's I Know I Am, But What Are You? is not totally out of character, albeit representing a minority segment of my library, to be sure.

As is usually the case with dollar store acquisitions, I had only the briefest consideration about picking up the book … this is both a strength and a weakness, a strength in that it pushes me into reading things that had a fairly low probability of getting poured in my head if it wasn't sitting there for a buck, but a weakness in that I, generally speaking, will launch into the reading without much preconception of what I was getting into.

I'm not a huge fan of The Daily Show or the Colbert Report, but The Wife is, so I'm reasonably familiar with Samantha Bee as one of the characters from that particular universe. From this, I obviously surmised that the book would be a humorous take on something and most of the jacket copy referred to “essays”. What I wasn't expecting that the book is, or at least purports to be, an autobiography of sorts, tracking Ms. Bee's life history from early childhood through a reasonably recent period.

However, as I read through it, my credulity was more and more challenged. Either she has had a remarkably bizarre life, or this is wholly made up, perhaps peppered with actual events to give it a feel of plausibility. Of course, the same haziness is the stock-in-trade of the Stewart/Colbert media empire, with only the vaguest of lines separating what presents itself as news and outright broad buffoonery. While this certainly “works” in the realm of the mock-news comedy show (and in print with The Onion), it creates a uncomfortable zone here where one can't get one's bearings as far as how to process what's being detailed on the pages.

Much like the X-Files' Mulder, on some level “I want to believe” that the stories here are her reminiscences of a deeply strange upbringing, but it keeps pushing the envelope just far enough that the BS meter in the back of my head would be red-lining “nahhhhhh”. The most egregious section for this was her tale of her “criminal career” where she and her Croatian boyfriend would steal cars …
“We drove carefully, so as not to raise any red flags with the police, and took great road trips anywhere we wanted to go. Then, guided by inner voices that would tell us when the car was getting too dangerous to continue using, we would abandon it on a busy street and walk away. Of course, not before selling off any valuable parts, which he would do, and then I would rent a hotel room under an assumed name, and we would throw a big party.”
I mean, yeah, this was in Canada and twenty years or so back, but still, it sounds highly unlikely as an on-going plan. This comes in about half-way through the book. Of course, she describes her parents as pretty close to post-hippie counter-culturalists (she was largely raised in this by her grandmother), so if that part is really as it plays out here, maybe the rest just spins out, however improbably, from that. Much to her parents' horror, her grandparents managed to get her hooked on Jesus …
It wasn't easy being so Catholic around my parents. They were forcefully nonreligious, but they hadn't really been in the picture when my grandmother had done all the decision making about my education. If either of them had had their way, I would have gone to the Atheist School for the Children of Heretics and Pagans.
(Come to think of it – that sounds like where I'd have like to have sent my kids!).

Again, maybe it's just me, but I spent a lot of the reading of I Know I Am, But What Are You? trying to fit the stories in here into a plausible human existence. There are certainly hilarious bits, some of which “feel” realer than others (like when she was "headlining" a live Sailor Moon stage show in which she ended up meeting her husband), and I guess that pretty much is the recipe for this sort of humor, but the uncertainty kept reigning in whatever sympathetic rapport I might have been developing for the character.

Oh, by the way ... not that this is an issue for me, but there are also plenty of “blue” parts here, so be warned if you're of the easily mortified type.

Reading this was an enjoyable respite from my usual “serious nonfiction” fare, only tempered by the believability issue. As noted, it's floating around the dollar store channel at the moment, which would certainly be your best bet for grabbing a copy … but it's also still in print, with the on-line big boys having it for a whopping 60% off of cover, and the new/used vendors (predictably for something that's made its way to the dollar stores) are offering copies for as little as a penny (plus shipping). This certainly isn't an “immortal work of literature”, but it's a fun read, and if you're a fan of Samantha Bee from her cable “humor news” work, you should probably look into picking up a copy.

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Tags: book review
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