Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories

Mike Birbiglia

Laugh at the Little Pains and Aches of Everyday Life

I have been a fan of Mike Birbiglia since listening to his piece about how running away sometimes works (included in this book) on This American Life. After that I downloaded both his comedy records, My Secret Public Journal and Two Drink Mike, and enjoyed them immensely. So I was clearly looking forward to his book, although with a certain sobriety to forestall disappointment. You see, the secret about Birbiglia is that his material isn’t what is funny: it’s his delivery. When you break down a lot of the anecdotes from My Secret Public Journal, there isn’t that much that is inherently funny there. What cracks you up is Birbiglia telling you about it.

So how did his stuff make the transition to the printed page? Quite well, I am happy to report. You get some of his old material, along with plenty of fresh stuff. Some of it is far more personal than anything he has ever done, except perhaps a piece (not present here) about a car crash he had some time ago. What surprised me was how different some of the stories sounded when reading them (as opposed to listening to them). A lot of the genuine pain that underlies these stories shines through a lot more poignantly. When you hear Birbiglia tell them as a stand-up or at a reading, he is laughing off the pain. When you read them, it is harder to giggle about stuff like a break-up or being rejected by girls. The sleepwalking anecdote that gives the book its title is a good case in point. Only after reading this do you realize that it isn’t simply a funny story to tell your friends but rather a serious, life-threatening illness.
I hope the book sells well but not too well. When Birbiglia becomes a big shot, he will lose the perspective he needs to continue chronicling the minor humiliations of everyday life.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

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