Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi
Simon & Schuster, 2013, 270 pages
Nonfiction Humor Essays
In an effort to make NaNoWriMo to go more smoothly this year, I’ve been trying to read exclusively collections of humorous essays by women. There are a ton of them out there, but they are not all stellar exemplars. Shut Up, You’re Welcome by Annie Choi isn’t, either, but it’s also not bad. Choi writes largely about her family, though also about friends and other personal adventures in her life. Unlike many similar collections, Choi’s book has the relatively unique perspective of growing up Korean American. This in itself isn’t completely unique. There are many Korean Americans living in the United States. However, Choi’s perspective as an author is unique — racism, intended or otherwise, is alive and well in all facets of life, publishing included. Many of the essay collections you’re likely to encounter are written by white women who grew up in middle class families, probably had a publishing internship, and now live in New York. Such is not the (complete) case for Choi, which makes this selection stand out from the others. Combined with Choi’s generally excellent sense of humor and balanced writing style, it makes Shut Up, You’re Welcome an enjoyable read.
After reading a few collections already, one of the things I most appreciated about Shut Up, You’re Welcome, was Choi’s sense of humor. All humor essayists have some sense of humor or they wouldn’t be writing what they do. Choi’s humor, however, generally refrains from much of the problematic “jokes” I’ve read in other books. It’s not completely free of issues, but is far better than some of the others. The Harm in Asking by Sara Barron, Is Everyone Hanging out without Me? by Mindy Kaling, and The Idiot Girl’s Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro (at least what I’ve read so far of that one) fares far worse with “humor” about rape, trans* people, eating disorders, self harm, and various other things that really should not be joked about, some while decrying cheap humor based on “roasting” individuals. Choi, for the most part, avoids this. This does not mean her book is any less funny. In fact, I think the lack of these “jokes” makes the book more hilarious because I’m not constantly stopping to think, “Woah, went too far there. Now I’m going to be uncomfortable for the next five paragraphs.” This also indicates to me that Choi is reaching for higher forms of humor that are not as easy to achieve, but more admirable both in content and effort.
Choi also strikes the delicate balance of making fun of her family and their particular ways without making them totally unlikable or crossing the line after which they’d no longer wish to speak with her. (At least that’s my guess; I don’t know Choi’s family personally.) You grow to love Choi’s family throughout the book and, by the end, they feel like a part of your family. Chances are, you’ll likely find at least one trait from each “character” that mirrors that of someone in your life.
The prose which makes up Choi’s essays is equally well-crafted. Creative nonfiction can be difficult to do well, as employing too much dialogue ensures a lack of realism while too little can make for boring chapters. Choi seems to rely on regular phrases and verbal quirks of the people around her, picking up on pieces that will make her “characters” memorable for the reader. Setting is done similarly well, as Choi gives enough detail to settle the reader into a scene without drowning them in so much that the action of the scene is lost. Essays are fairly good lengths for people who enjoy reading for half-hour increments or so. They’re kind of like the “pick your own size” paper towels. What I really love about Shut Up, You’re Welcome, however, is its gimmick. I love a good gimmick. For Choi, the gimmick is short letters between each essay. The letters serve two purposes: to provide a breather piece between longer pieces and to introduce the following piece in some way. Letters are addressed to anyone or anything, and Choi refuses to hold back on how she really feels.
❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤