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Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful

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Member Reviews

Sad and written with a strong voice. It is a good recommendation for people who want to read personal stories about living with a loved one with addiction.

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One of the most poignant, hilarious, tragic, and honest stories of grief I’ve encountered since Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s time to grab a copy and begin!

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The rare memoir that doesn't annoy me. Really though, this was quite wonderful (and horrible, see what I did there). It's obviously not FUN to read a book about grief, and about anger, but it's incredibly well done, so it ends up being a pleasure to read.

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Raw and heartbreaking, @wittelstephanie bares her soul to show the impact of the opiate epidemic. Grab some tissues and be ready for a tough, impactful read.

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Vampires can’t die unless their heart is stopped. But like, same with humans? just havin some fun with thought experiments, i dunno.
— Harris Wittels (@twittels) February 13, 2015

Harris Wittels was many things — an irreverent stand-up comedian, a writer on shows like Parks and Recreation and The Sarah Silverman Program, a beloved guest on comedy podcasts, a diehard Phish fan, and the inventor of the “humblebrag.” One of comedy’s rising stars, he was about to begin work on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None show for Netflix before he passed away from a drug overdose in 2015. He was 30-years-old.

Harris’ sister Stephanie Wittels Wachs pays tribute to the memory of her late brother with her new book, Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss (Sourcebooks), a raw look at how Wittels’ addiction affected his life, along with all of those who cared about him.

Written in a confessional tone and often addressed to Wittles directly, the book oscillates between time periods, set before and after Harris’ overdose. Growing up in a close-knit family, we follow Harris’ early love of comedy as it grows into a career, with his witty and often nonsensical point of view earning him some of the most prestigious comedy jobs in Hollywood. Constantly over-worked and over-stressed, a simple injury leaves Wittles addicted to prescription painkillers, which eventually spirals into full-on heroin addiction.

With the ever-growing opioid crisis, Wittles’ story is sadly far too common, but Wach is able to to bring the pain and loss of Wittles’ death to life with this heartbreaking book. There are the trips in and out of rehab, the constant promises of sobriety, the celebrity friends (Aziz Ansari pens a moving introduction to the book), but what really stands out about Wittles’ story is just how easy it can be for someone to slide completely into the clutches of addiction, even with the love and support of family and friends.

Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful is often uncomfortably raw. Much of the book feels like a diary entry written by someone still in the throes of grief (the book grew out of a piece Wachs wrote for Medium). It can be difficult to read the thoughts of someone still processing their pain and anger, but Wachs manages to balance that darkness with her own self-deprecating comments about her life and family. That balance is no simple feat — while Wittles was battling his demons, Wachs gave birth to a daughter with a hearing disability, which added a whole new level of stress and uncertainty to her life.

While much of Wach’s book is truly gut-wrenching, it’s hard not to crack up at the nuggets of Wittles’ jokes and anecdotes peppered throughout, from purposefully sabotaging meetings with high-ranking executives just to make his friends laugh, to claiming that every girl had, “at minimum,” a 20% crush on him.

Wach’s book is a moving tribute to her brother, a terrifying look at addiction, and most of all, a great encapsulation of Wittles’ hilarious and bizarre world view. He may be gone too soon, but Wittles has left behind a veritable gold-mine of comedic insanity that people will still be discovering and sharing years from now. Wachs’ book not only humanizes her brother, but should also offer some solace for others who have been affected by addiction.

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I’ve wanted to read this book since I heard it was being released. This is a book about grief, how people handle it, and arguably most importantly, the humor that can be found even in trauma. It is hilarious and devastating at the same time. Wachs’ writing is beautiful and so gracefully details her feelings, which apply to anyone who has lost someone close to them. Her story of triumph even in the face of an unexpected disaster is uplifting and heartwarming. Life is terrible and destructive and unimaginably bad sometimes, but even in that, we still have to find things to laugh at.

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Grief memoirs are a category I'm drawn to, and I picked this one up perhaps due to losing my own brother the same way. However, tremendous empathy for the people who tell their stories is easy and yet the actual writing is often hard to stomach because the writer is so bogged down in their loss. They're not able to zoom out and tell the larger story, and they haven't yet gained the perspective necessary that only time can give. This book is the exception.

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I found this so heartbreaking I lost a sibling myself and can’t even know how to start to give a heart felt review. I think the author is so brave to write this and expose all the mean thoughts and living thoughts that we feel about ourselves and the ‘others’ in this situation.
I have a feeling it gives hope more than draws tears.

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When comedian, writer, and actor Harris Wittels died of an overdose in 2015, the comedy world publicly mourned the loss of such a talented artist. For fans of his work on Parks and Recreation, The Sarah Silverman Show, and Comedy Bang! Bang!, it was a shocking blow. For his colleagues like Amy Poehler and Aziz Ansari, it was an unexpected tragedy. For his sister Stephanie Wittels Wachs, who writes about the heartbreaking experience of losing her brother in a poignant new memoir, Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful, it was like a bomb went off.

"When a bomb drops on your house, you literally cannot live there anymore, you can’t. There is no structure. It’s gone, what was there is no longer there," Wittels Wachs tells Bustle of her loss. "You have to rebuild, you don’t have a choice. That is what happened to me: I literally could not go back to the way I was, because I was different."

In her searing memoir, Wittels Wachs brings readers along with her on a harrowing journey through her brother's addiction, overdose, and the aftermath of his death. The narrative alternates between two timelines: before the tragedy, which includes the Watts's shared childhood, Harris's rise to fame, and his ongoing drug abuse, and after the tragedy, which traces the year after Harris's death and the ways in which his sister struggled to cope. In the latter parts, Wittels Wachs speaks directly to her brother.

"I wanted to talk to him. I just really wanted to talk to him, and I ended up using it as a writing style," Wittels Wachs says. "It was therapeutic, and I kind of hate that word in a lot of ways, but that is really what it was."

In the aftermath of her brother's death, writing became an unexpected outlet for Wittels Wachs. With encouragement from her husband, what started as little notes she typed on her phone while she let her newborn nap in the car morphed into a series of essays about her grief that eventually became Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful, the memoir Wittels Wachs never meant to write, and the one that practically saved her life.

"I found it to be a therapeutic exercise, and not much was at that point. I just felt like I wanted to die, I was truly in the most agonizing depths of depression, and nothing was making me okay. The only thing that made me feel — I’m not going to say better, but made me feel like I could continue, was to write it down," says Wittels Wachs. "So it became an act of preservation in a couple ways: self preservation, just making sure I was continuing to wake up everyday, and then it became this act of trying to record what was going on and remember why we had gotten there and process how it all happened."

Like so many other family members of addicts, Wittels Wachs was driven by an intense desire to understand what her family had been through, "I was on this detective mission to figure out what had happened, and to get it all down." With her memoir, it seems Wittels Wachs did just that. From the most hilarious details of Harris's career and the heartwarming birth of Wittel Wachs's daughter, to the earth-shattering moment she found out her baby had permanent hearing loss and the devastating call where she learned her brother was dead, Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful takes readers along for every moment of the author's heart-wrenching journey.

"It was such a crazy time: it was birth and death on top of each other," Wittels Wachs says. "When you have a baby, it is all this hope and promise and possibility, and then to have death so closely tied into this moment just made all of that more acute. I was just on the rollercoaster."

For Wittels Wachs, writing this memoir was cathartic and utterly necessary to her survival, but Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful isn't just for her. It's for families like the Wittels who are grieving from a drug-related loss, and for siblings like Wittels Wachs who struggling to cope with their loved one's addictions. It's also for those other people, like the trolls who claimed Harris deserved to die because he was a heroin user, who still don't see addiction as a disease, or addicts as people.

"An addict should not be villainized. It's like any other human struggle: it is a struggle. It is a really painful, painful struggle," Wittels Wachs says. With her story and Harris's narrative, she hopes people can start to truly understand that.

"It’s not a black and white issue. None of it happens the way you think it should happen. There are so many layers to it, to grief and to loss and to addiction and to families," says Wittels Wachs. "It is very complicated, and I just hope people can start to see those dimensions."

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Harris Wittels was a hilarious presence on Parks and Rec, and that's all I really knew about him going into this memoir. Coming out of it, I was heartbroken and furious about the circumstances that led to Wittels's death by heroin overdose.

His sister has written a remembrance of him that is touching, funny, and devastating. She explores the year prior to Harris's death when he was struggling with addiction, in and out of rehab, and trying to do better. She manages to encompass the hurt, sadness, anger, and confusion that such a death leaves in its wake without every descending into self-pity, alternating between her present grief and the frustrating past in which she tried to be both a confidante and a caretaker to her brother.

It's a tough read, but a really beautiful one. The circumstances that led to its creation are tragic, but this is an important book for anyone who has wondered how a person who seems so funny, so successful, and so "together" can fall into addiction and be permanently lost.

I received access to this title via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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It's always hard to lose a loved one but to lose one that is a celebrity is the worst. It's a shame that a family had to go through this. And one can feel those emotions through the pages of this book.

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Review I received a free copy from the publisher for an unbiased review. I've been looking forward to this book - as a Parks and Rec geek and a podcast consumer, it was easy to be a giant fan of Harris Wittels. He wrote some of my favorite P&R episodes, and was unflinchingly honest and funny (usually both) during all of his podcast appearances. In fact, my biggest reservation about this book was whether it could offer me any information I didn't already know. Certainly, while it provided some facts that were new to me, this book is far less a biography than a really honest portrayal of grief. The format works really well - alternating chapters between the time leading up to Harris's overdose and the days and weeks following his death. The author is terribly honest about her pain, but also doesn't hesitate to describe the ways her brother's drug use made him a difficult and mercurial personality. Moreover, it also reminds readers that opiate addiction can happen to anyone, and treatment and recovery is tremendously difficult. The writing is clear and honest, if not flawless. Recommended.

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Trigger warning: only read this book if you need a good cry. IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY. Stephanie's brother Harris Wittels, a writer for Parks and Rec, Master of None, and podcast star for the ages overdosed on heroin in 2015. This is an account of her life for the year after, written to Harris. It's raw, heartbreaking, but overarchingly hopeful. It's the grieving process put into words, and it's beautiful. As a fan of Harris, it was tough to read, but so enlightening. The public only saw a bit of the amazing talent he possessed. He will be greatly missed.

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I would not consider myself a "superfan" of the Earwolf community--I've listened to a few of the podcasts--but I know plenty of people who are such fans. I knew enough to be touched by Harris's comedy, and I thought this book was a brilliant homage to him. I hope it was as cathartic for the author to write as it will be for fans to read. Highly recommended, to anyone even remotely adjacent to the comedy community.

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Thanks so much to NetGalley, Source Books, and Stephanie Wittels Wachs for the opportunity to read this horrible and wonderful book - I literally sat and read it in one sitting.

This is the story of the Harris Wittels, a comedian who worked on such shows as Parks and Recreation. It's the story of his genius, of all who loved him, and his drug addiction and eventual overdose. Written by his sister, who got the call that he died 3 days before her wedding, she tells of the family struggles with addiction as well as Harris' personal one, as well as documenting the year after his death.

You don't hear much about sibling grief and this book expresses it wonderfully - the feeling that her original family has been quartered and will never be the same. It is brutally honest in the way that everyone dealt with both the addiction and the grief and the struggle to still have to get up in the morning, deal with babies and life.

Hopefully this book reaches the masses. While I may not personally have been familiar with Harris' work, his sister has written such a truthful, powerful book while somehow making you laugh out loud in places.

Definitely 5 glowing stars and many prayers go out to this family as well as so many others dealing with this issue. They could all relate and benefit from this book.

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This book reads so true to most people who have lost family members to the disease of addiction. The sense of helplessness when you can't make the person "all better", the anger you feel at them, the sense of hopelessness when they keep "slipping ", the fear for them and finally the horrible grief when the worst happens. This is a very moving and insightful memoir. And - unfortunately true to too many families.

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I vividly remember watching the last episode of Parks and Recreation and at the very end, there is a dedication to Harris Wittels. It was a black screen with white letters that said, “We Love You, Harris.” Such a simple nod and I remember wondering who Harris was at the time. I think my husband knew what had happened and told me and I remember thinking, how tragic.

So when I picked up Everything is Horrible and Wonderful, and I realized that this is the story of THAT Harris, it felt familiar to me. And that’s really how this entire book read. It read like Stephanie is my friend and that Harris was my friend and I laughed and cried along with them, and felt the searing loss of Harris. Because tragic things happen everyday, but I think that people as gifted and unique as Harris only come along once in a great while.

Tragicomic is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as, “manifesting both tragic and comic aspects.” And while there is nothing funny about Harris’ addiction and subsequent overdose, just hearing the stories of who he was and the jokes he made and what he wrote when he was alive breathed such a comic and lightheartedness into what would otherwise be a heavy and sad memoir.

And I love that because it rings so true. Because things are never just sad or just happy. Life is and can be a horrible and wonderful experience every day, every minute and every second. I can’t begin to understand the loss that Stephanie and Harris’ friends and family feel every day. But I do feel that this book was an amazing tribute to him and their relationship as brother and sister.

There’s one point in the book when Stephanie shares that for her mother, it was easier to have had a son die of a heroin overdose only because he was a successful and functioning addict. That made it less embarrassing or shameful than if he was much worse off. And there is a lot of truth in that. And it’s ugly and we don’t want to qualify things like that, but we do.

But that’s the truth in this book. That Harris was an amazing comedy writer, on the cusp of his career blowing up and he lost it all. To drugs. And it could really happen to anyone.

Thank you to Sourcebooks and Netgalley for an e-galley of Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful. It’s an amazing read and released February 26, so you can run right out and get your copy!

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Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs

More nonfiction, but this one memoir … a heartbreakingly funny but mostly tragic memoir that Wachs has bravely written about losing her younger brother from a heroin overdose.

As The Times (UK) stated, “sometimes it seems to be a story about two people, not one. The first was a stand-up comic, writer and actor with so much talent that by the time he was 30 he had not only helped to write two of American television’s biggest comedies, The Sarah Silverman Program and Parks and Recreation, he had coined a word that made it into Webster’s dictionary: “humblebrag”. The other character was a hopeless, duplicitous, secretive drug addict, a master of self-deception … . It was this Harris Wittels who died of a heroin overdose three years ago last month, two months before his 31st birthday.”

Wachs’ book alternates between two time periods. The first documents her brother’s struggle with addiction and starts on a day in March 2013, three days before her wedding, when Harris called her from Los Angeles to tell her that he was a drug addict, addicted to the painkiller Oxycontin. The second documents the first year after his death and starts on a day two years later, the day before her 34th birthday. She was changing her daughter Iris’s diaper when a detective called and told her that Harris had been found dead in his expensive LA home, a balloon, a spoon and a syringe next to him.”

From the blurb on Amazon: “A heartbreaking but hopeful memoir of addiction, grief, and family, Everything is Horrible and Wonderful will make you laugh, cry, and wonder if that possum on the fence is really your brother’s spirit animal.”

This book definitely made me laugh and I came darn close to crying. Wachs’s love for her brother shone through the pages but so did her anger … and then her grief. It’s a really good read, and a powerfully intimate account of addiction’s impact on an entire family.

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This book by Stephanie Wach was an especially moving, and wrenching read for me, as I feel I could have written a similar book 30 years ago about the sudden loss of my only brother who was 28. I too, was the mother of a toddler when I got the call that turned my life upside down forever. I related to many of the same feelings of wanting to know every reason for why things happened, being angry when seeing large happy families, and the difficulty of trying to hold family functions and holidays with such a huge hole in them going forward. Watching other family members battle the grief, guilt, and loss as you wither under your own grief. It’s sad that even with the programs and rehabs there are now that so many addicts are still lost.

There appear to be several rehab attempts by Stephanie’s brother, that he was aware of the problem and had tried to get help. Granted, in our situation, there’s no TV show involved or heroin, but a generational history of alcoholism. And rehab? Back when my brother died that wasn’t really something people did unless you were wealthy or the court sent you. There wasn’t really such a thing as interventions or the TV program you could contact back then and I always wondered years later when I watched if it could have made a difference for us. If only it had been around back when he was struggling as a young father of 3. It still brings tears to my eyes if I watch the show and there is a young father on with similar addiction issues. It breaks my heart all over again.

This was such a terrible loss for Stephanie and her family, and I know the devastation it spreads through generations after seeing the results of 50 years of alcohol addiction and death and grief in my own family. It took my grandfather who was living with us when I was around 7, my brother when I was 27, and my dad when I was 37. It just decimated an entire section of my immediate family, wiping out 3 generations. I’ve also seen the effects on my brother’s children and now grandchildren of them growing up without him and their grandfather in their lives. Addiction is addiction, and it ruins lives. The hurt is so widespread.

I hope this book helps the author and her family heal some and find a bit of peace.

An advance copy was provided by NetGalley, and author Stephanie Wittels Wach for my honest review.

Publication date is March 6, 2018.                Publisher - Sourcebooks

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It's hard to review a book that is memoir about loss, grief and a person going through one of the worst times in their life. Stephanie Wittels Wachs has generously shared her grief in the year after her brother Harris's death.

Harris Wittels was a comedy phenom. He had a hand in one of the funniest comedies in the last ten years, Parks and Rec. His twitter was just....a joy. One liners were his speciality. Harris struggled with drug addiction for a few years and tragically died.

This is a book about Stephanie and Harris. This is about moving on and drug addiction and acceptance and grief. This is inside of the pain of losing someone you've loved your entire life. It's an entire piece of your life and your heart that is going to be missing for the rest of your life.

Thank you to Stephanie for sharing this part of her life with everyone who reads this book.

Thanks also to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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