We’re living in the era of the female celebrity memoir. Everyone from Amy Poehler to Lena Dunham to Amanda Palmer has written one, usually with a message about saying yes to opportunities. Now, it’s Felicia Day’s turn, with You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) (Touchstone; $25.99).
Day, who appears at multiple book events in the Bay Area this month, is internet famous. While many might not know her work, she’s popular online for her roles in Joss Whedon projects like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and for creating the web series The Guild.
In her memoir, Day uses the same nervous, funny voice used in her online videos. One second she’s on the verge of a freakout, the next she’s doing cartwheels on the page with all-caps and exclamation points. The book is peppered with Photoshopped images and humorous insights into her childhood: “Growing up without being judged by other kids allowed me to be okay with liking things no one else liked," she writes. "How else could a twelve-year-old girl be so well versed in dragon lore and film noir?”
But Day isn’t weird so much as interesting. A home-schooled Southerner who moved around a lot, she describes a laissez-faire childhood that included computer games, fantasy books, and visiting Civil War memorial sites. (“It’s super fun to roll down a grassy hill where thousands of Confederate bodies are buried,” she writes.) She's also smart, almost preciously so; upon learning she had to pass her SATs to get into college, she completed 100 practice tests over five days and got an almost perfect score. She enrolled in college at age 16 with a double major in math and violin, and graduated as valedictorian.
Not that Day wants you to know these things. Her accomplishments are buried underneath self-deprecating humor that seems almost pathological. Here’s how she tells you about her musical skills: “Surprisingly, people didn’t invite the sixteen-year-old violin prodigy to keggers.” Hang on, she was a violin prodigy? Talk about burying the lede.
To hear Day tell it, she spent her entire acting career doing commercials and playing bit parts as a secretary. There’s little mention of her work in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. If you want insider Joss Whedon information, you’re out of luck here (though Whedon does write a flattering forward for the book).
What Day does go into detail about is her addiction to the video game World of Warcraft. At the height of her addiction, Day played the game to the determent of everything else. “I stopped going to acting classes. I stopped performing improv. Or doing plays. Or socializing with real-life human beings.” As is often the case with this book, Day glosses over the effect this addiction had on her life and career, or what it meant to her on a deeper level. But she does open up about how it led to her making The Guild. She takes the reader through the initial idea for the series, her struggles writing it, making and promoting the first video, and how all that DIY grit led to her carving out a more satisfying career for herself.
The book ends with a chapter on GamerGate, the ongoing controversy about video-game reviewing that's led to several women being attacked online. Day was one of them, and the situation sounds terrifying. It started when one of her musical videos elicited a “tidal wave of bile.” There were “hundreds and hundreds of comments, the depravity of which even jaded little me had never seen.” When she posted an essay about the situation, trolls reacted by putting her address online. Soon people were sitting in cars outside her house. There were weird phone calls. She received certified letters that said, “I know where you live.” She worried someone would hurt her dog. “I will never feel 100-percent safe in my own home again,” she writes, pinpointing the real-life cost of misogynistic internet bullying.
GamerGate made Day worry about the state of the internet. Instead of a place where people can be themselves and connect with others, she’s concerned the internet “was really a place where people could steep themselves in their own worldview until they became willfully blind to everything else.”
It’s a chilling point. Too often people seem to forget that when they’re arguing online, there’s another human on the other end of the computer connection. You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) reminds us that even internet celebrities have feelings too.