If You Read One Book This Month, Make It Here for It
R. Eric Thomas's personal essay collection is our favorite February 2020 release.
If you’re yearning for that laugh-out-loud on the subway, ‘damn-I-left-my-book-at-home’ kind of read, look no further than R. Eric Thomas’s Here for It.
Thomas, a columnist for Elle.com since 2016, has been a prominent voice in political and cultural humor for years, producing headlines like “Literally 10 Photos of Nancy Pelosi Ripping Paper” and “Important Political News: The Mayor of Minneapolis Is Hot.” And while Thomas’s personality is certainly on display in everything he writes, his essay collection offers a more intimate view of the writer.
He manages to draw on experiences that most people (read: me) would bury in the back of their consciousness — and Thomas doesn’t just explore these memories, he skewers them. That time he, and his admittedly white-sounding name, earned a reputation as a white nationalist? It’s in the book. The habitual Tuesday nights he spent staking out Columbia University’s Coming Out Group (while never setting foot inside a meeting)? It’s in the book.
He takes on more solemn topics as well: racism, homophobia, depression, suicide — all of which are handled with a care that may seem at odds with humor writing. Thomas is a master of tone, joking about the size of his prom date’s corsage (“[it] had its own gravitational pull”) just pages ahead of an emotional reflection on the very same friend’s death. He doesn’t use his wit to deflect from the pain of these experiences — he uses it to enhance them.
Perhaps the truest testament to Thomas’s power as an essayist is a closer look at his readers (including me!). Thomas is a gay black man from Baltimore who’s married to a Presbyterian pastor. I’m a straight, white, non-practicing Jewish woman from Oregon. Though, outwardly, Thomas and I have little in common (you know, aside from the whole “writing as a profession” ruse we’ve both fallen prey to), I found myself relating to almost every essay in Here for It. The feelings of otherness and insecurity that Thomas lays bare are universal. (I think — my apologies to anyone who’s ultra-secure and feels seen in every setting.)
And OK, at the very core of it, Thomas is just funny. His meditation on the Joan Didion-inspired farewell to N.Y.C. essay is pop culture poetry: “If you’re leaving New York, you shouldn’t be allowed to write a leaving-New York essay at all. You should have to make the ‘New York is over’ speech that Kristen Johnson delivers in Sex and the City before her character accidentally falls out of a window.”
David Sedaris and Gary Janetti are easy comparisons, but apt ones. Thomas has the same gifts for elevating the mundane and finding the humor in life’s hardships, and he executes both beautifully in this book of essays.
Here For It is available on Feb. 18.