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Sleepwalk With Me and Other Painfully True Stories

I became a fan of Mike Birbiglia after hearing a handful of his stories on This American Life and The Moth. But before I could get around to checking out one of his albums or seeing one of his performances, Sleepwalk With Me was published, so I picked it up expecting great things. And in some ways, it is great. Just not quite as great as I expected.

In the AV Club interview that persuaded me to buy the book, I took notice when Birbiglia explained that his writing’s guiding principle is that it not be about him so much as it be about the audience. And indeed, having been born into a very Catholic family in a northeastern suburb in the late ’70s, much of this book is about me. But somehow I find the childhood anecdotes that make up its first half to be so familiar as to be uninteresting. Acting mostly as a character witness, they provide a good framework for what’s to come, but despite their relatability, they are generally inessential. It is with Birbiglia’s more unique adulthood experiences in the book’s second half that the pages really start turning. The titular story of his sleep disorder, a strong finish, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Birbiglia’s self-awareness, gift for mixing humor and candor, and total lack of cynicism make this an engaging read throughout; I just wish it was less uneven. It’s a good first book that I’m confident will lead to a great second one.