Author Interview: Samantha Irby

From Samantha Irby—beloved author of New York Times bestseller We Are Never Meeting in Real Life—comes Wow, No Thank You., a rip-roaring, edgy, and unabashedly raunchy new collection of hilarious essays. We spoke with author Samantha Irby about the inspiration for her latest essay collection, hearing her NPR voice, partnering with independent bookstores, and more.

Samantha Irby is the king of sparkling misanthropy and tender, loving dread.

Jia Tolentino, author of New York Times bestseller, Trick Mirror

Staring down the barrel of her fortieth year, Samantha Irby is confronting the ways her life has changed since the days she could work a full 11 hour shift on 4 hours of sleep, change her shoes and put mascara on in the back of a moving cab and go from drinks to dinner to the club without a second thought. Recently, things are more ‘Girls Gone Mild.’ In Wow, No Thank You, Irby discusses the actual nightmare of living in a rural idyll, weighs in on body negativity (loving yourself is a full-time job with shitty benefits) and poses the essential question: Sure sex is fun but have you ever googled a popular meme?

Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.

I was inspired by the money they were willing to pay me to write another book. I mean, I just recently learned how to pay taxes on freelance money—I got into a little bit of a scrum with the IRS that they handily won. They destroyed me.

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I don’t care, but I am not a person who’s inspired to do things. I’m like, if people want it, I’ll do it. So the last book did well, and my editor was like, Let’s do another book in a couple of years. And so I said, OK!

It’s just my dumb life crafted into bite-sized, hilarious pieces.

What’s something that might surprise listeners about your audiobook?

Well, my voice. I sound a little bit like a Valley girl being waterboarded. That is the feedback I get. I don’t know how people expect me to sound, even though I can’t stop talking about being from the Midwest. It’s never nasal Midwesterner that they’re anticipating. I don’t know if that’s racism or what, but they’re always so surprised.

Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about your narration?

I have heard clips of my audiobooks, but I’ve never listened to one in its entirety. The setup [to narrate an audiobook] that they put you in a padded closet where—at least for me—I sweat to death while crying. I’ve heard bits and pieces, and I am surprised that [my audiobooks] sound professional. As awkward as it is to hear yourself in general, it’s weird to hear the NPR smoothness of your own voice. I always expect that it’s going to sound like me on my own voicemail. Like, Hey this is Sam—don’t leave a message. But it sounds professional and nice, so that’s a surprise.

I would stick a knife in my ear if I had to listen to myself read the whole thing. It’s painful. And my sentences are too long, so I can hear when I’m gasping at the end of a run-on sentence.

I think they’re just long enough!

The director of the audiobook—she’s been the director of all three—would say, Use a comma! And I’m like, OK. All right. [The sentences] are funny on paper. It’s just when I get into the booth that I’m like, I should learn how to throw a semicolon in here so I can breathe.

Are you an audiobook listener?

Yes. I just listened to Michael Arceneaux’s I Don’t Want to Die Poor. I love him, and his voice is great. I also listened to Jenny Offill’s Weather, which just came out. Oh, and I listened to That’s Mental by Amanda Rosenberg, and she has a British accent, so it’s delightful to listen to her.

What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?

I have toured a couple of times, and we always partner with indie bookstores. The handselling is incredible. I mean, I’m eternally grateful to the relationships that I’ve built with indie booksellers. I’m from Chicago and there are a couple of stores there that have hosted and been so good to me, and have always had my dumb books sitting in a window or on a display. They’re incredible. Number one, Women and Children First. And The Book Cellar, which is the first place I knew of where you could go and drink a bottle of wine while reading your books. I also really love City Lights Books in Chicago. There are none there that I don’t love.

I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan now, and we are friends with the people who own the indie bookstore here, Bookbug. During the pandemic, they have really pulled through—well, I pulled through for them and they pulled through for me. They set up a page on their website where you could order a book, and I would sign it or write whatever you wanted in it, and they’d ship it to you. We’ve done like 1,900 books. It’s been pretty incredible. They leave cases of books on my steps with order forms, and then I fill them out, and they come pick them up. Amazon’s not doing that—you know what I mean? There’s no way to do that with a place that’s not local and serving the community.

Bookstores have always meant a lot to me. I’m a bookstore person. I have a house full of books. I just love them.

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