Fourth Estate/Billy Ferguson

“Little Weirds” by Jenny Slate


During the monotony of everyday life in COVID-19’s new normal, I’ve started to drift further and further away from my usual love of nonfiction literature. Before 2020, I almost exclusively read nonfiction, especially preferring collections of essays such as Gay Talese’s “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold and Other Essays,” or Joan Dideon’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” 

When lockdown began last March, I wanted to remove myself as far from reality as possible, yet my love for nonfiction remained. Then, enter Jenny Slate’s “Little Weirds.” I heard a friend once describe Slate’s comedy as “magical realism,” and I can’t think of anything better.

This collection of short stories is honest, surreal and funny in the most pointed of ways. Slate engages with different inanimate objects in each story, and writes so vividly about the most basic of things: a hotdog in an airport, seashells in your shower, the way that wildness can be holy. 

Slate writes her short stories or poems or essays (it’s hard to nail down into one, specific genre) in a whimsical style. Each chapter is no longer than three pages, though she continuously keeps the reader engaged as if it were a novel. 

In 2019, I dragged two good friends of mine into Washington to see Slate give a book talk at George Washington University. During the talk, she described her journey of finding love and losing it, rediscovering her own independence after divorce and maintaining her individuality as she navigates the Hollywood scene. At the end, she explained that all she ever really wanted was to produce a type of comedy that doesn’t lose any of her own brand of sweetness, and that’s exactly what “Little Weirds” does. 

The title was on the nose, but continuously fitting. She constantly suggests unorthodox advice to the reader. “Put a shell in your shower. Get a whole plant in there. Put a geranium in your kitchen. Stand in your space and howl out,” she writes. While all this seemed odd to me at first glance, I realized that the stories are all about self-help — which, as a writer and a comic, is Slate’s underlying ethos. 

The advice that Slate so cleverly concealed within each anecdote seemed to give me permission to find my own vulnerability. She wanted to allow the reader the opportunity to get to know themselves better. On surface level, it seemed more likeable than odd. Upon further reflection, it made me realize that people who wear their hearts so securely on their sleeves are a strange occurrence today. It made me feel warm and secure during one of the most insecure moments of my life. Months later, I find myself picking it up again to relive that feeling. 

By the end of the book, I felt less alone. During times like these, what greater feeling is there?