Sara Benincasa is a comedian, writer and host of the podcast Sex and Other Human Activities. Her comedy has won praise from the Chicago Tribune, CNN, the Guardian and the New York Times, and has earned her an ECNY (Emerging Comedian of New York) Award and a Webby nomination. Her memoir, Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom (Morrow), is based on her solo show about panic attacks and agoraphobia. She speaks about mental health at colleges around the country.
On your nightstand now:
I've got a few, all in electronic form: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, because it's required reading among my tribe of comedian fellow-travelers; Cool, Calm, and Contentious by the divine Merrill Markoe, who is a comedy goddess; my friend Amanda Hocking's Virtue: A Fairy Tale; and Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse. The through-line here is "rampant unchecked bad-assery."
Favorite book when you were a child:
Without a doubt, it was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It probably saved me from a lifelong fear of New York. I grew up frightened of New York City because I had panic attacks in the tunnels and during Broadway shows--I think it was the lack of control over my surroundings. Plus, I was raised out in the country in Jersey and I felt suffocated by all the tall buildings on either side of each street in Manhattan. But From the Mixed-Up Files turned New York City into a magical wonderland and ensured I would forever love the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Your top five authors:
Oh, jeez. You're only letting me pick five? What sort of crazy mind games are you playing? WHAT'S YOUR ANGLE, SHELF AWARENESS? Okay, fine. I adore Neil Gaiman, who I once had the pleasure of interviewing in a bathtub (this momentous occasion in journalistic history is available for your viewing on YouTube). I am a big fan of Francesca Lia Block, who made this agoraphobic traveler fall in love with Los Angeles as a young woman. Frederick Reiken's The Lost Legends of New Jersey cemented him as a favorite for me; I'll read anything he writes. And Jon Kabat-Zinn's work helped save my life. I dig the Torah author known as the Elohist, or E, because he has a relatively abstract view of God when compared to the Jahwist, or J, who is totes into anthropomorphism, which is not my favorite flavor of god. I'm not Jewish or anything; I'm just a huge fan of their work. Especially their early stuff.
Book you've faked reading:
In order to impress a boy in high school, I pretended to read all of A Prayer for Owen Meany. I understand it's magical, life-changing, spiritual, quintessentially American and deeply moving. I still haven't read it. And now that guy from high school is married with a baby, a sweet apartment and a promising career in finance. I've had multiple nervous breakdowns and enjoy telling filthy jokes to crowds of strangers. Who won, huh? Who frigging won?! (Don't answer that, Shelf Awareness.)
Book you're an evangelist for:
Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living, which outlines the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. It's great, and it has CDs that go along with it! All books should have CDs that go along with them. Mine doesn't, but I highly suggest using Liz Phair's Whip-Smart or Exile in Guyville as your soundtrack to Agorafabulous!
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Jersey Shore star JWOWW's autobiography, which is at least as soul-stirring as Malcolm X's. And did he pay for his own fake boobs? I think not. Then JWOWW's photographer, Jan Cobb, also did my cover! Fate or happenstance? You decide, Shelf Awareness. You decide.
Book that changed your life:
Jon Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living taught me that it's possible to breathe your way through most of life's everyday difficulties. His book also introduced me to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a wonderful tool for anxious folks.
Favorite line from a book:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the combination best of times and worst of times." This is both a line from Dickens and a line from the song "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" by Brooklyn-based rap group Das Racist.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. Magical and adorable and addictively hopeful.
Why any human should plunk down cash money for your book:
Because it's funny and smart and real and not full of self-pity like so many crappy memoirs. It has bad words, strange characters and one very awkward sex scene. Who doesn't love very awkward sex scenes?