Samantha Irby is the opposite of a doomsday prepper. The hilarious and insightful essayist, who just released her latest book, “Wow, No Thank You.,” is instead a self-declared “prepper of things that don’t matter.” While her wife, Kirsten Jennings, spent years canning and pickling various items and buying beans, Irby stocked the couple’s Michigan home, which they share with Jennings’s two children, “full of many expensive candles and hand soaps.” So Irby was as surprised as anyone that one of her particular luxuries became a legitimate commodity in the fight against the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, covid-19.
“You know how the people you love don’t want to tell you you’re alarming them?” she says over the phone in late March. “I could sort of feel that when [my wife’s] like, ‘Oh another box of foaming cleanser? Great.’ But now that we have to wash our hands a hundred times a day, I look like a genius.”
She has upward of 30 bottles of Bath & Body Works foaming hand soap in her basement, and she’s debating whether to put in another order. “At the risk of truly sounding like a basic mall person from the ’90s,” she says, “the sort of pre-lathered lather of the foam is incredible. I don’t know who invented that, but give that person a Nobel Prize.”
Irby, who in addition to writing books is also the woman behind a well-known blog, might also deserve an award of some sort. Not just for stockpiling enough mall soap to ensure her hands stay clean through a global pandemic, but for her mix-tape-making skills, which get some recognition in “Wow, No Thank You.” Alongside essays about turning 40; moving from Chicago to a rural town; living with irritable bowel disease; becoming a stepparent; being haunted by a ghost cat; the tedious process of developing her first book for television; and myriad things that are better than sex (pretentiously carrying a NPR tote bag and cultivating a reliable pooping schedule, for starters), Irby writes about how mix tapes became the “love language of her youth.”
Even now, this is her go-to move, she says, “sneakily telling you that I love you without risking embarrassment.”
It’s also a hobby that is self-quarantine appropriate, which is why Irby felt compelled to make a playlist for the time in-between all those video calls. (“Everyone is telling on themselves with their Zooms. Like, okay, moneybags,” Irby jokes, referring to the decadence of others’ homes. “That is the think piece that I want to write: how seeing into other people’s apartments during Zoom calls filled me with horrific anxiety.”)
In an attempt to achieve a semblance of her pre-coronavirus life, Irby has turned to tried-and-true musical favorites like Fiona Apple, who, in her opinion, has “exactly zero bad songs.” She’s also been playing Beck’s new album, “Hyperspace,” produced with Pharrell; Waxahatchee’s country-tinged “Saint Cloud”; and R&B up-and-comer Orion Sun’s “Hold Space For Me.” What she won’t listen to, though, is R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” In fact, she hates that the wryly dystopian 1987 track has had a covid-19 resurgence and believes the band has two other tracks that make for better quarantine tunes. “I’m either dancing in a circle to ‘Stand,’” she says, “or I am weeping softly to ‘Everybody Hurts.’”
As of now, she is doing neither, opting instead for these six songs, which she believes make the perfect recipe for a pandemic playlist.
“Only upbeat stuff during the day,” Irby says, “a little sadness sprinkled in at night.”
The Austin singer-songwriter’s Valentine’s Day cover of this Ariana Grande track is a “straight-up neo-soulish pop R&B kind of vibe,” Irby says. “It’s about being a needy person, which I absolutely relate to.”
The Oakland rapper’s recent mix tape, “Got It Made,” has become an Irby favorite, but “this is the song I just keep coming back to. It’s so stupid and funny,” she says. “It just is a perfect balm for these weary times,” she adds.
“It is a bop,” Irby says of this track off Kevin Parker’s new album, “The Slow Rush.” “I love that fuzzy guitar sound. I love everything he does. He taps into so many different kinds of genres” and it “always sounds good.”
Irby has listened to Gomez’s new album, “Rare,” “backwards and forwards, up and down, and on shuffle. It’s so good.” This track is now her go-to for “when I’m trying to dance around the bathroom,” she says. “It’s something I can do a little shimmy to without breaking out into a full sweat.”
“I could not tell you who Trippie Redd is,” Irby admits, but she can tell you why she likes the Ohio rapper. “He has the style of singing that is popular now, it’s kind of like the Kid Cudi, Post Malone, whiny emo man singing. I’m really into that.”
In her new book, Irby writes about her admiration for the Dave Matthews Band. “I love him so much,” she says. “I know it makes me a clown, but I don’t care.” Her specific pick for our strange times, though, is this track from the 1999 album “Live at Luther College,” which celebrates Matthews’s falsetto. “It’s like a gentle howl,” she says. “When he does that it’s truly like, ‘Oh, I’m going to break down in sobs because it’s so beautiful.’”