Published April 5, 2011
250 pages (mass market paperback)
I took a much longer holiday break from the blog than originally intended (sorry for that!) . . . and, now, my first post of the New Year is about a four-year-old book that everyone has already read. I apologize for this less-than-auspicious start to 2015.
Here is my (perhaps unsatisfactory) explanation for this behavior: I was in the Denver airport on Friday and had some time to kill. I noticed a teeny branch of one of my favorite independent bookstores (Tattered Cover) and wandered in. There on the first shelf was Bossypants, a book that multiple people told me I should read after I posted my review of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please last month. It has the look of a quick-reading book (at a scant 250 pages comprised of a bunch of short essays), so I figured I could whip through it during my flight home.
Plus, there was some bloggy forethought to my book choice. See, I knew that I’d be watching Tina Fey host the Golden Globes, and this seemed like an appropriate (and easy) tie-in to my blog post about Tina Fey’s book. When you’re rusty from not having written any blog posts for weeks and weeks, appropriate and easy are very appealing.
If you watched the opening monologue last night, then I’m sure you remember the moment when Tina and Amy highlighted Amal Alamuddin Clooney’s achievements to poke fun at the fact that George Clooney was receiving a lifetime achievement award (Tina: “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an advisor to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected for a three-person UN commission investigating rules of war violations in the Gaza Strip. So, tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award!” Amy: “Hollywood!”). And surely you remember their Bill Cosby jokes (Amy: “In Into the Woods, Cinderella runs from her prince, Rapunzel is thrown from a tower for her prince and Sleeping Beauty . . . just thought she was getting coffee with Bill Cosby.” Tina [impersonating Bill]: “You put the pills in the people!”). If you didn’t watch last night, here is the opening monologue:
And here, as promised, is the appropriate and easy tie-in to Bossypants: These jokes are representative of the voice that Tina uses in Bossypants. It’s an over-arching feminist, girl-power message sprinkled with a bit of shock-value humor.
The book is a collection of essays. As with collections of short stories, I have given this collection an overall rating above with thoughts and ratings on each individual essay below. I recognize that I am giving this book a much lower overall rating than many of my friends would give it. I encourage dissenters (like you, Hookehande) to weigh in about the book’s virtues in the comments below. In the meantime, here are the positives that I am willing to recognize:
- Not surprisingly, the book contains some really funny, quirky one-liners (about a disappointing New Year’s party she went to in high school: “There was an unclaimed dog turd in the hall outside the bathroom.”).
- It reads very, very quickly. The essays are short and (mostly) fast-paced.
- There are some fun and interesting details about the people who worked behind-the-scenes on 30 Rock (for example, who knew that Donald Glover—of Community fame—was one of 30 Rock’s original writers?).
Unfortunately, I don’t think the book is as hilarious as it endeavors to be. Part of that is due to the subject matter. There are a couple of very clear themes that the book tackles:
- Tina Fey is an everywoman. See how normal she is! See how relatable she is!
- Tina Fey is a feminist. Women are just as funny as men. And just as capable. But they aren’t treated that way. And that’s bullshit.
I have no bone to pick with #2 (aside from the fact that, when it is repeated over and over again, it can get a little preachy and repetitive). But I do take issue with #1. I have a problem with rich, famous people trying to convince me that they’re just like me. “But, Christi,” Tina Fey proclaims, “I used to be very, very skinny! I’ve had crappy jobs! I couldn’t figure out how to tell my full-time nanny not to cut my kid’s fingernails so short! The struggle is real for Tina Fey!”
No, Tina Fey. You worked at SNL for eight seasons. You created, wrote, and produced an award-winning sitcom that ran for seven seasons. You wrote and starred in Mean Girls. You’re a movie star. Not to mention, you’ve won eight Emmys and two Golden Globes. You, Tina Fey, are not just like me. You are not normal. You are not an everywoman. You are a superstar. Embrace it.
Here are my thoughts on the individual essays:
- “Introduction” (3/5): Exactly what it sounds like. But with some funny pictures.
- “Origin Story” (2.5/5): Tina Fey was an accident. Her parents were old. And, p.s., when she was a kid she got her face sliced by a stranger in an alley. If that sounds like a random conglomeration of facts, that’s because it is. This essay reads like someone saying, “I have ADHD, and I’m going to tell you a few random things about my childhood!”
- “Growing Up and Liking It” (2.5/5): Some more random facts about Tina’s younger years. She got her period. She got a “rad” white denim suit (no, John, she did not bleed on her white denim suit). She had her first gynecological appointment at a Planned Parenthood. The random facts are moderately related, but there is absolutely no attempt at smooth transitions. It’s just a hodge-podge.
- “All Girls Must Be Everything” (3.5/5): Phew! After a very slow start, Fey finally seems to hit her stride with this one. This is better written, more cohesive, and has some good one-liners. She talks about societal expectations regarding beauty. She explains why she calls blonde hair “yellow” when reading fairy tales to her daughter. She details the “healthy body parts for which [she] is grateful” (like her “Wide-set knockers that aren’t so big but can be hoisted up once or twice a year for parades”).
- “Delaware County Summer Showtime!” (3.5/5): Where Tina Fey talks about all the gay kids she hung out with in high school at the youth theater program in her hometown. No one is surprised. Full disclosure: this essay gets extra points for its reference to the hilariously awful “horror” movie Sleepaway Camp (“the one where the demonic little girl turns out to have a penis”).
- “That’s Don Fey” (3/5): Fey’s ode to her badass dad, which includes weird, overtly racial comments that only a super-liberal white person would use (in the vein of “I can say this, because I’m obviously not racist”). That said, the essay is funny, personal, short, and more focused than its predecessors.
- “Climbing Old Rag Mountain” (3.5/5): In the mid-nineties, Tina Fey was studying in the undergraduate theater department at UVA. As chance would have it, I was living in Charlottesville at the same time. Last year, my brother uncovered some programs from that time and discovered that we saw Tina Fey (in a hugely significant part) in at least one show there:
Anyway, this essay is about her time at UVA (but mostly about getting strung along, because she wasn’t one of the pretty, blonde, Southern girls at UVA), so I liked it.
- “Young Men’s Christian Association” (2.5/5): Where Tina Fey tries to convince us she’s just like us because she once had a shitty job.
- “The Windy City, Full of Meat” (4/5): Now we’re getting somewhere! Despite this essay’s preachy ending, this is a fun piece about her time at Second City. There’s also a smart and funny little sidebar where Tina Fey applies the rules of improv comedy to life in general.
- “My Honeymoon, or A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again Either” (3/5): This essay’s title is, of course, an homage to David Foster Wallace’s hilarious essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” (if you haven’t read it, you should. Here it is). Like DFW’s essay, this is about a very un-fun cruise. It’s not quite as funny as DFW’s piece, but, that said, near tragedy is always exciting, so this isn’t all bad.
- “The Secrets of Mommy’s Beauty” (4/5): Tina Fey’s “Twelve Tenets of Looking Amazing Forever.” This essay is very tongue-in-cheek and probably the funniest of the book.
- “Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny” (4/5): Self-explanatory. At this point in the book, she’s finally getting into a funny groove. There’s a Rachel Dratch namedrop moment that is surprisingly funny.
- “Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat” (2/5): You were never fat, Tina Fey. I can’t take this seriously.
- “A Childhood Dream, Realized” (3/5): We’re finally getting into the meat of Fey’s career—the years with which we are all familiar. This essay is mostly a very nice tribute to Lorne Michaels.
- “Peeing in Jars with Boys” (3/5): This is about her time as a writer on SNL, but it’s also about how women are just as funny as men (see the #2 over-arching theme above). For every preachy line, there’s a fun inside tidbit . . . so it balances out.
- “I Don’t Care If You Like It (One in a series of love letters to Amy Poehler)” (2.5/5): A short anecdote about a conversation she overheard between Amy Poehler and Jimmy Fallon, which is another essay about how women are funny and shouldn’t pander to men (“We don’t fucking care if you like it.”).
- “Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That” (3/5): Where Tina Fey convinces you how normal she is by talking about how awesome photo shoots are (and where she extolls the virtues of Photoshop).
- “Dear Internet” (1/5): Blech. Tina Fey answers some of her hate mail in a way that comes off as petty and unfunny. Don’t stoop to their level, Tina Fey!
- “30 Rock: An Experiment to Confuse Your Grandparents” (4/5): If you like 30 Rock, then this is a great essay. Fey talks about each of the writers, how they came to work at 30 Rock, and what their funniest contributions to the show were (with script excerpts). This essay and the next are worth the price of admission.
- “Sarah, Oprah, and Captain Hook” (4/5): This is the longest essay in the book, and it’s well worth the time. It’s mainly about one intense weekend in Tina Fey’s life. During this weekend she: 1) first did her hilarious impersonation of Sarah Palin on SNL (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here); 2) filmed the 30 Rock scene where Liz Lemon meets Oprah on the plane; and 3) threw her daughter’s third birthday party.
- “There’s a Drunk Midget in My House” (3.5/5): That drunk midget is her daughter. Duh. This is mostly about when her daughter was first born (and her struggles with breastfeeding). It’s honest and full of heart.
- “A Celebrity’s Guide to Celebrating the Birth of Jesus” (2.5/5): Where Tina Fey convinces you how normal she is by talking about how unglamorous her Christmas traditions are.
- “Juggle This” (2/5): Where Tina Fey convinces you how tough her life is dealing with her “babysitter” (because she’s not comfortable calling her nanny a nanny).
- “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” (4/5): Cute and sweet and funny and self-explanatory, despite the title’s odd use of pronoun.
- “What Turning Forty Means to Me” (2/5): Three sentences that want to be funnier than they actually are.
- “What Should I Do with My Last Five Minutes?” (4/5): A solid ending about her struggle to decide whether to have another kid.
- Amazon Best Book of the Month April 2011
- An Amazon Editors’ Pick for the Best Books of 2011
- Goodreads Choice for Best Humor (2011)
Who should read it: I recognize that almost everyone I know who would want to read this has already read it. If you haven’t read it, and you’re a fan of 30 Rock or Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, then pick it up for your next plane trip. It’s quick and kind of funny.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (a 2014 National Book Award Finalist; an Amazon Best Book of the Month for September 2014; an Indie Next List pick for September 2014; a LibraryReads List selection for September 2014)
- Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (the second book in the All Souls Trilogy and sequel to A Discovery of Witches; an Amazon Best Book of the Month for July 2012)