Meaty by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby first became popular when her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat, gained attention. She claims she originally started a blog because she was interested in a guy who was interested in writers. She said she was a writer (she wasn’t), and went home to start Bitches Gotta Eat so she wouldn’t be a liar. While things didn’t work out, a friend encouraged Irby to continue writing on her blog. Without marketing or trying to get attention, the blog blew up. I like that the blog has no caps and neon letters, giving it a specific tone through visuals, which is missing in the books. Click the link and see for yourself.

The essays on her blog turned into a book titled Meaty, which was published by the tiny press Curbside Splendor in 2013.

meaty old.jpg
Curbside Splendor’s Meaty in 2013

I’m familiar with Curbside’s work because I know the small-press scene, but most don’t. Irby claims the book wasn’t edited, and one essay abruptly stopped (the end got accidentally cut off!). After she published We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, her second collection of essays, with Vintage in 2017, they re-released Meaty after editing it and adding more material.

Based on the posts I read on Bitches Gotta Eat, I knew Irby was hilarious. Her new Meaty book starts out that way, too. It’s word gymnastics in some places, hilarious diction in others, and great imagery. She admits, “The pants I’m wearing right this second have a hole in le snatch.” She’s a fat woman, so she warns “. . .if I was ever to be rescued from a goddamned tower, Prince Charming better have done some motherfucking push-ups beforehand.” Although Irby is a black woman, she almost never writes about race. Well, except in one essay that has a letter to white people and a letter to black people. In a few sentences, she criticizes white institutions:

The only black vegans I can think of are the ones dodging the bags of donated oatmeal raining down on them from Red Cross helicopters, but I love that about you guys.

She does the same of the black community:

I love you because, in case you didn’t know, every third black person you meet is an unofficial scorekeeper in life’s never-ending game: “Are you black enough to be black?”

As you can see already, her vocab won’t make some readers happy. Sometimes, cursing really fits the horror of the situation, especially when Irby discusses her Crohn’s disease, which affects the entire digestive system and can kill you if your intestines get bad enough. How do you date and have Crohn’s? Well, Irby isn’t completely clear on that because, as she says, “I’m not sure if there is anything less beautiful than a woman with a jammed-up colon limping along ten feet behind you while shitting an adult diaper.” Dating often doesn’t work well for Irby. In fact, I’m not clear she wants to date long-term because many of her essays are about sexual situations that were embarrassing. As a result, some of the essays felt repetitive, which wore the humor thin.

It’s not all funny, though. Irby covers her childhood, about which I knew nothing. Irby was accidentally conceived when her mother was forty and her father fifty. Then, her father, an alcoholic, left. The result is Irby cares for her aging mother, like most of us will do/did in our forties, not while we are in high school. For years, Irby hid her mom’s deteriorating condition, which should have landed her in a nursing home. This involved dodging social services, teachers, and staying awake in school. When her mom inevitably dies, Irby is homeless at eighteen.

While I hear about “adulting” — and yes, being an adult is hard — I didn’t realize that when Irby writes that she can’t “adult,” she means she played the adult when she was a child and now has no foundation. She acknowledges psychological issues as a result, which one would expect.

Samantha Irby is hard on herself, especially her self-professed laziness and her body. In one essay, she describes the flaws of her body, starting with her right foot and ending with her face, in bulleted lists . . . for five pages. I couldn’t help but notice our flaws are similar, except she is so nasty to herself that I felt bad about myself. Our bodies are only awful when we claim they are. Instead of saying she has extra flesh on her neck because she’s fat, she calls it a “meatbeard.” Oy.

Samantha Irby
I’m including a photo of the author because she does write so much about her appearance. Photo by Eva Blue in Out magazine. Please read the article!

I do recommend this as a humor collection and for the more serious essays. But, I would recommend reading one essay per day, as if Samantha Irby were still posting on her blog. Know there is graphic language, and there’s a lot of man hating in this book when Irby describes her sexual experiences. Know it’s cruel to the writer, who comes from a scary beginning.

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32 comments

  1. What really got my attention here is that all of this started with a blog. That absolutely fascinates me, and I can see the connection between what you shared here and a blog. It also sounds like a very honest book that doesn’t spare its author. I like that, too.

    • I feel like she threw herself over a cliff onto a field of spikes, lol. Isn’t it amazing how some blogs zoom to the top and others remain stagnant? I really do think it has to do with when people started their blog. The older the blog, the more likely it is to be popular because no one had blogs when they started.

  2. It sounds like she should be doing stand up comedy, somewhere. Her kind of humour lends itself better to that placement, I would think, than as a blog, or even a book.

    • Possibly! Some funny people, and I would put Ellen DeGeneres in this category, are funnier when they have someone to react to. Samantha Irby seems like an extrovert based on how much she’s with other people in the essays that she could do stand-up anywhere.

  3. it’s very hard to make a successful book out of a blog (I know from when I did it myself) so well done to her for that. It sounds a bit too much for me but I appreciate her honesty, I suppose. I think your review is fab and very supportive while not glossing over the issues.

  4. I read the post you linked to and Irby is hilarious, though Too Much Information is an understatement! It may not follow any of the accepted rules but her prose flows beautifully, which may explain both her popularity as a blogger and the easy transition to print.

    • Yes! At one point in an essay, she mentions that she scored almost perfectly on the SATs, but then demeans her intelligence the whole book. I think her intelligence is what allows her to use language in a snappy funny way that hits me just right in the funny bone.

  5. Oh boy, lots of challenges with this book, I can see why it would piss off a lot of people. But! It sounds hilarious, and for that reason alone I would read it LOL. I’m just scrolling through her blog now and I can already tell its good. “Anybody still on facebook or nah?”

    bahahahaha

    • It is ridiculously funny. Her writing, especially in her blog, cheers me up 😊 The book is like the blog, but if you binge read, you start to feel like you’ve eaten way too many cookies, or something like that without a connection to sweetness, lol.

  6. Glad to read this review. I became curious about her after hearing her on Sam Sanders’s podcast a few weeks ago. She was a really good speaker, funny, but also really prickly – the porcupine on the newer cover really seems to fit her personality! She talked a bit about her mom and that situation – I don’t blame her a bit for still having to deal with the emotional fallout of that.

  7. Wow. This sounds like a powerfully honest book. What I really love about it is how it started as a blog for a date. But then I guess Irby discovered she really IS a writer! That feels so empowering.

    I also love those covers. That’s some great marketing there. I saw a hedgehog on the cover and though, “Ah, yes, must check this out.” I guess that’s what happens when you blog. You discover the power of cute animal photos.

  8. This is the first time I have heard of the author. I really need to give more non-fiction books a shot. I would definitely read an essay a day. I struggle with anthologies because I want to read more than one story, but they are always better consumed separately.

    • And each one is funny, so it’s like getting a daily dose of humor. You could even get an e-book version so you could read on your phone as you travel around each day and don’t need to carry multiple books.

  9. What an interesting blog. I followed your link and really enjoyed how it’s structured and those colours. And what a review, I really enjoyed reading it, thanks. 🙂

    I am not 100% sure if it’s my thing. I get quite disturbed when I read about writers judging themselves really harshly. Self-love and self-acceptance is something I am continuously working on and reading about the opposite can make me feel bad. It’s not a no, more of a maybe though. 🙂

  10. I clicked through to her blog and it’s very, very funny, but I do think that an entire book of it would be a bit too much for me! I don’t think I could read that much of the writer being cruel to herself, either – I understand where that comes from, but it’s so often painful to read.

    • I know the one essay in particular in which she breaks down flaws in her body was horrible to read, but in other places it was a mention, not a diatribe. Maybe keep reading the backlog on her blog to get more of a feel for her content.

  11. I’ve seen her books (and like the covers, because of the bright colours and cute animals), so it’s nice to read a review of one of them and find out who this author is. I went to her blog and really liked her honest and funny style of writing. However, I know that self deprecating humour makes me feel uncomfortable – I hate it when people are hard on themselves. Especially when I know them and how great they are in so many ways. My youngest brother is always putting himself down (in a joking manner), mostly about his size and his intelligence, and I hate it. He’s joking, but he must believe it on some level or he wouldn’t joke about it. Which makes me feel sad for him, and helpless because there’s not much I can do about the way he feels about himself. And he is SO smart!
    Why do your blog posts always have me spilling my guts?! 🙂

    • I learned a lot about your family when you interviewed your sister, so maybe you just want to share and have to find the right platform? 🙂 I’ve started watching Queer Eye on Netflix recently, and I’ve noticed that most of those people will joke about themselves, too. It’s not really the Fab Five telling them nice things that make the person change his/her mind, but actually seeing change happen in an actionable way. Like, “hey, if I try to wear this fit of shirt or can make a nice meal, I’m doing something!” It’s interesting to watch.

  12. You have an incredible way with words yourself, Melanie. I definitely just spent the majority of my free hour at work reading about Irby, reading her blog,etc. because you convinced me her story is compelling. And it is! And her writing is too! Brilliant.

    I love this sort of humor. Self-deprecating with self-awareness and love. Self-depreciation by itself is just depressing. That said, I’m sorry that Meaty began to make you feel bad about yourself. 😦 That’s no good at all. I can relate to that feeling. In fact, I once lost it on my best friend’s partner because Will was being an a-hole to Michael and I wouldn’t stand for it. Really, I saw a lot of me in Will and the way he was treating Michael made me feel bad about the way I had treated others. It was painful. But, this is how we learn… Hopefully, Irby’s other book won’t make you feel bad!

    Speaking of– I love these covers! They are so vibrant and fun. That alone makes me want to read them. Heck, own them! Then I can have pretty covers on my own shelf. 😀

  13. I feel like this would be a perfect audiobook to listen to… BUT only if it were in the author’s voice. This sounds like a hilarious collection of essays. I’ll have to see if my library has either of her collections. I will also look into her blog.

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