Friday, January 1, 2021

Book Review: The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia

I was worried that having watched the Netflix special, the book would be ruined. In fact it was kind of the opposite as I think a couple of the jokes probably work better if you can hear Mike's voice, like calling his wife Jen, "Clo." And of course the toy-dropping scene is special to the documentary--you can't do that in a book. But like David Sedaris, Mike Birbiglia's funny voice is a little bit of the joke. And a lot is in his deadpan delivery. So if you can hear his voice in your head while reading, it's much funnier.

Basically, Mike never wanted to have a kid. Jen agreed. At first. Until she didn't anymore. But she promised it wouldn't change anything. 

Not only did Mike not want to have a kid, but he's also really unsure about passing along his genes since he's a lemon. He had cancer at 19. He has a terrifying sleepwalking disorder that has tried to kill him. Midway through this book he's diagnosed with diabetes. I think he does have a good point, here. Not to mention that their lifestyle with his job, being on the road over 200 days a year, isn't super conducive to child raising.

But they make it work! Sort of. Anyone who has ever felt like they were failing at parenting or doing it wrong should read this book. It's amazing how honest he is. He does truly love his daughter Oona (meaning "one"!) but for at least her first year, he doesn't even feel like he's part of the family anymore. I love his analogy that it's like he's the Vice-President, a purely ornamental post.

Sprinkled throughout are poems written by his wife, who apparently also had some mixed feelings at times (not reluctance about motherhood but other things). It's great to see other people being purely human and vulnerable. Even though I don't have any kids, I really identified with a lot of the issues of society telling us to be perfect, of families being weird and messed up, and of having honestly mixed feelings about a major decision. It's so rare to ever hear these admissions, and even rarer to have them presented in a funny way. I'm now going to see if I can figure out how to watch his move Sleepwalk With Me. His piece called that on This American Life is how I first discovered him and it was brilliant and unique. I want to begin this year (2021, writing this on 12/31) with a story of how all humans are weird, and yet things will work out, with laughs. That's generally Mike's whole humor theme.

I bought this book at Main Street Books, an independent bookstore in Davidson, North Carolina.

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