On May 22, 2013 at 4 p.m., author Joe Riley will visit UCSB to read excerpts from his new book How Strange Is It To Be Anything At All at the Old Little Theatre at the College of Creative Studies.
How Strange Is It To Be Anything At All is a collection of short stories based on actual events in Riley’s life. The tales feature Riley’s experiences with heartbreak, drugs, alcohol and various other adventures.
Riley, who alludes to the fact that he is far from perfect, recounts his stories with the purpose of showing audience members the gritty side of a young man’s life, but he also continuously stresses the importance of appreciating life. His writing style allows a reader to journey alongside the author’s conscious as he discloses his experiences in a raw way.
Sometimes Riley is a no-BS social critic. He spends one chapter, “13 Ways of Identifying a (San Francisco) Hipster,” satirizing the common trends he notices within the group (although he admits he is one).
Other times, it seems that he is just ranting and rambling on until the very end of a story when he introduces a twist, which turns out to be a unique life lesson. The sections “Hate Everything” and “Dead?” make the reader feel so negative until the end, where they are finally filled with great optimism.
Then there are stories such as “San Francisco — An Autobiography,” where Riley takes the reader by the hand and allows him or her to enjoy all the little things in his life along with him.
Finally, there are the tragic breakups (“The Green-Eyed Monster of Happiness”), the awkward times (“Dirty Dishes”) and the holy-shit-that’s-crazy moments (too many to list). These are stories many of us can relate to, though we may not have really stopped to think about how they have impacted us like Riley has done in his book.
Riley spoke at the College of Creative Studies yesterday and read some stories from the collection. He revealed that he actually has a hard time connecting to most of the stories now, probably due to his age now (mid-twenties) versus when he wrote them (from age 17 to 22), but that “old guys” love them.
Despite this disconnect, Riley was engaging as a speaker. He spoke without pretense (and with appreciated self-deprecating humor) about why he started trying to get a book published (“to impress a girl”) and the challenges of editing, writing, publishing and life in general. His honest takes on his experiences growing up and trying to find his place in the world were refreshing, as were his admissions about his dissatisfaction with some of his own work.
The overall message I find in Riley’s work is that life can feel extremely troubling sometimes, but there is always something to love about it. Parallel to the theme of “life being a journey that is its own reward,” reading the book was a wild ride and a rewarding journey in itself.
A version of this article appeared on page 14 of May 23rd’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.