Friday, January 28, 2011

Making Near-Death Experiences Funny

Book Reviewed: Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories, by Mike Birbiglia

Mike Birbiglia has been one of my favorite comedians since high school. At heart, he's an awkward nerd whose best jokes have an equal amount of sweet whimsey and weirdness. He's not a comic who works for everyone, but he's always been right up my alley. So when my friend Amy reviewed his new book over at her blog, I knew I had to follow suit.

As Amy mentioned in her review, much of the material in these personal essays has been explored before in Birbiglia's CDs and TV specials. If you think these stories were funny the first time, though, then they're still funny here. Birbiglia isn't the strongest writer in the world, and the structure of most of the essays seems a little messy and underdeveloped. But that didn't keep me from enjoying the book.

The book builds up to its last two essays, "Sleepwalk with Me" and "One More Thing," which have the distinction of being the best pieces in the whole book. They tell the tale of Birbiglia's struggles with a sleep problem called REM behavior disorder, which causes sufferers to have extremely vivid dreams that they then act out while unconscious. Before being officially diagnosed, Birbiglia spent years trying to ignore the problem. After crashing through a second-story hotel window during a dream and ending up in the hospital, he finally sought help. These two essays deal with this whole story in a funny, informed, and poignant way. The final scene of the book, where Birbiglia confesses to his crotchety father that he's had problems dealing with the disorder, manages to be honest, sweet, and hilarious all at once. This book was worth reading just to get to that well-done ending.

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