So I’ve recently read Binge, Tyler Oakley’s autobiography and here’s what I thought:
In case you don’t know Tyler Oakley is a Youtube Star/ LGBT activist/ occasional TV personality and he has recently written a book called Binge. I will say off the bat that I don’t think a book can be deemed as bad based purely on subject matter but if you are under the impression that because it’s an autobiography by an under-30 it’s immediately not worth reading then this probably isn’t the review for you.
So I’ll start with the positives, which, unfortunately, is going to be a reasonably short section. The book is actually written by Oakley. That is a big plus for me. So many books that Youtubers produce are clearly and obviously ghost-written. With Binge though I have no doubt in my mind that Tyler Oakley wrote it. No ghost writer would write some of the things that he has and that’s because ghost writers tend to be able to write both well and generically. One thing that Oakley does have is his own writing style, that style might be completely self-obsessed but at least it’s his own.
So before I go on to the rest of my review I do want to say that this isn’t going to be a personal attack on Mr Oakley, I’m sure he is a very nice person in reality, his book just doesn’t show that.
The first thing you notice is the pictures, there are at least 20 pages taken up by small photos centred in the middle of an otherwise empty page or blank pages with small stylistic designs on them tending to be just before the start of a new chapter. I originally just thought this was a formatting thing but it quickly became clear that the formatting in terms of chapter changeover was totally inconsistent with some having a spare blank page and some not as well as 6 totally blank pages at the end seemingly just there to make up the numbers. The formatting isn’t Oakley’s fault, it’s the publishers, however it does highlight that there really isn’t enough content to fill a whole book here.
So now we get onto the writing and the problems here are numerous. Firstly, I have never read a book before by someone with such a total lack of self-awareness. Through a lot of the chapters there seems to be no understanding whatsoever of any of the situations he is in and how his behaviour is either completely awful or remarkably, unapologetically rude. An example of this would be in the second chapter where upon going to a girls birthday party and discovering he and one of his friends were the only ones there instead of showing any empathy or an attempt at consolation for the girl he recounts how he really wanted to leave and seems to have no awareness at all in his writing that this wasn’t a reasonable or pretty much normal thing to do. Oakley writes as if the reader will understand and be on his side in every situation he’s in but through his explanation of his actions makes himself totally unrelatable or frankly understandable. He also seems to have no awareness of what is remotely interesting about his stories. In the chapter in which he discusses interviewing Michelle Obama a large portion of the writing is completely based on finding a basket to replace a hat that was creased.
Following on from this, there is a section near the end of the book in which he discusses once finding a corpse on a beach. Unbelievably though, rather than discuss in any way anything he felt about the corpse or death or anything that would seem an obvious choice he frames this all in the context of ‘why he doesn’t like going to the beach’. He then goes on to talk about going home with a guy he met that night which is just one of many insane topic changes dotted throughout the book. Another classic problem continuously repeated is skimming over details that are far more interesting than what he is currently talking about. The most obvious example I would give would be while talking about the quirks his Mum has he passively mentions that she was previously in jail for an unknown reason. This is not nearly the worst part though.
His anecdote about his Google interview is both so brazen in it’s exaggeration and so self-aggrandising that for me it is totally unfathomable why he put it in. Just to put this into context he really claims someone said to him “When everyone at Google wanted to hire you, I was the one guy who said absolutely not. You were too creative, and as much as you were the perfect fit for Google, Google wasn’t the perfect fit for you.”, because that definitely happened.
The worst the book has to offer though is the 6 page chapter about shit. That is referring to literal faeces. He really (REALLY) spends 6 whole pages talking about shit. I’m not sure if that chapter is meant to be a quirky joke but it becomes more vomit-inducing than anything else and there appears to just be no story there anyway, it’s not some hilarious anecdote that is being framed around shit. It is just a 6 page chapter about shit.
There are occasions when the book gets near to insightful, especially when talking about his relationships, how he dealt with widespread internet hate and his sense of identity in the final chapter, seeing himself as split between ‘@tyleroakley’ and Mathew (his real name). However, these are few and far between and Binge is 90% weak innuendos and monotonous references to his obsession with sex whilst not actually managing to have any clear message or vision.