Personal essay collections are often hit-and-miss for me. So many elements must align: the writer’s voice and style, the topics of their essays, and what I take away from the book. Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be is a great example of an essay collection that I enjoyed reading a great deal, yet I’m not sure I emerged as transformed as I might expect. Which, honestly, is fine—not all reading has to be transformative! Sometimes it’s nice just to have fun.
Nichole Perkins shares her thoughts on childhood and adulthood and the ages in between, on growing up, on sex and dating and other such activities, and on how her existence as a Black woman from the southern United States intersects with all these experiences. Although all of the essays are tinged with humour, they also often tackle serious issues of sexism, racism, misogynoir, domestic abuse, etc.
Going to be honest: I had a hard time seeing myself in Perkins’s experiences—and no, it’s not because she’s Black. Rather, there are so many stories in here about sex! I find sex very fascinating in general, and I don’t mind reading about it, but there was something about the way Perkins writes about her sexual experiences that left me bemused. For example, the collection opens with “Fast,” in which Perkins describes the ways her body and behaviour were policed so that she wouldn’t be perceived as promiscuous, even in middle school. She includes an extremely graphic depiction of kissing boys on the playground at five years old. And I remember just reading this passage and being totally unable to relate to what she was describing—because I have never kissed anyone, aside from a quick peck on the check for a relative.
I want to be clear that this is not a criticism of Perkins or her writing but rather an observation I’m offering up about my reaction as I read. Even though her understanding of her sexuality is so incredibly different from my own, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading about her experiences.
Also, in a strange way, I feel like this book brought me closer to my bestie? She’s the one who lent it to me, and as I read it, all I could think was, “This is Rebecca. I am reading about Rebecca’s life.” Well, Rebecca also doesn’t have a lot in common with Perkins, but the way Perkins writes about her sexuality, the confidence and joy that she derives from it, fits Rebecca to a tee. So I am grateful to this book for making me feel almost like I’m talking to my friend on the phone, a long afternoon chat in which I get to listen to the latest in her love life.
That’s really what Sometimes I Trip On How Happy We Could Be feels like: extended, one-sided phone conversations. I always hate to use trite adjectives like “vulnerable” and “honest” when I revoir memoirs. They never really capture what’s going on between the covers. So instead let me describe this book as a careful consideration of love. Whether she’s talking about her sex life or her family, TV shows or her involvement in message boards … Perkins is really talking about love for oneself and love for one’s community. Hence the title, which invites us to meditate on the what-ifs of our lives (and the possibility that, just maybe, we could indeed be that happy, if only for a time).
Do I recommend it? Yes. Does that surprise you, given my ambivalence of spirit? This book perhaps isn’t for me as its ideal reader. I still liked it. I would read more of Perkins’s writing. That alone is enough for me to cast a recommendation out into the world, because some of you out there will love this book, and I hope it finds its way to you.