This is a memoir-in-essays sort of situation that mostly flew under the radar when it was released, at least as far as I could tell. I just didn’t see many reviews of it. Though I must have seen at least one, because it somehow got added to my TBR, though in a backburner sort of way. And then, once it got onto a front-burner (again, don’t ask me how/what prompted that), my library didn’t have a copy! But I was able to find it in the larger county library e-audiobook database and added myself onto the holds list there. And goodness did that turn out to be a major blessing in disguise because this is one of the best author-narrated audiobook memoirs that I have ever read (up there with Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody).
“Love is a library. And nothing is as full with possibility as a library.”
“I don’t know how to break it to you all, but life is a mixed bag.”
This collection was the most wonderful mix of memoir, social commentary, and humor. It’s similar to Samantha Irby’s writing, if I had to give a comparison (I’ve only read we are never meeting in real life so far…but her other collections are definitely on my TBR), but with Thomas’ own wonderful flair. I honestly don’t do a lot or internet article reading or trend-following, it’s just not my thing, so I honestly hadn’t heard of Thomas or read any of his other work (freelance or through Elle.com) prior to this memoir. That’s probably my loss, since I was really into the vibe from this collection. Anyways, Thomas touches on his childhood and family, his personal racial awareness/identity and the changes it undergoes as he grows up, his time in college (and dropping out and what happened after that), work life, a bit of dating, how he met his now-husband and some major moments like meeting the family and getting married, as well as his coming out (mainly to himself, and learning to accept and be who he is). A final, major theme, one that was woven throughout the collection in a variety of ways and is clearly central to his life and experiences is an exploration of the intersections of race, sexuality and church/faith.
Well, like I said, I listened to the audiobook and Thomas’ narration is, quite simply, top shelf entertainment. His timing and delivery or his own words is the perfect combination of comedy and personal investment and I loved every second listening to him. Also, his style of smart-sarcastic humor is one that I just really enjoy in general, so that was awesome. But at the same time, I appreciated the depth of his overarching theme, exploring the contradictions throughout his life, all the ways that he has been “other,” and the constant wondering whether the future is worth all the effort of compromising those experiences and parts of himself. I feel like essay-style memoirs commonly struggle with this kind of arc, but Thomas nails it here.
On that note, I have to say that the theme of coming to terms with your faith and [insert anything that is at odds with that] is not a theme I am generally into. It’s not something I personally struggle with, so sometimes the minutiae in the negotiation gets to be too theoretical/distant for me. But the way Thomas approaches it is both accessible and relatable. The discussions he sprinkles in about the compromises of church and sexuality kept my attention in a way they usually don’t and I really respected the widening of the definition(s) of worship that he explores, especially his commentary about the fact that, for true belief, there is a level of doubt that is necessary. In addition, the sections about his family, especially in regards to his parents, just made me feel warm and fuzzy, in both the serious and the humorous ways they’re represented. The Dinner Guests chapter was particularly, wonderfully gently, heartwarming.
Another thing Thomas covers that really spoke to me was the part of the Introduction where he writes about how a person can declare their worthiness to the world, but that doesn’t mean they believe in themselves. What a concept. I feel that deeply. And in a general sense, his musings about feeling like an imposter are also very recognizable. I laughed so hard at the way he describes his views on dystopian life because I am 100% with him on “Team Die Early.” And finally, oh my goodness what a crescendo that last chapter was – I cannot imagine a better ending. It left me with that amazing emotionally full-up feeling. (And I mean the last, titular, essay…not the Epilogue, which I liked as far as theme-arc and final message, truly, but not as much in execution.)
Overall, this was truly a hilarious and comprehensively insightful memoir about Thomas’ personal “coming to terms” with his own self and complex identities, within the context of a complex and not always pretty/accepting nation. Critical and hopeful in equal measure, with the delightful delivery of attitude and laughter.