Saturday, December 1, 2012
Book Review: Bossypants
I recently reactivated my Audible membership. I've mentioned before how I enjoy audio books and since I have time to listen to them at work, I've mostly burned through my meager collection already. So I re-enrolled to see what I could get. For my first month, I picked up Sarah Vowell's Unfamiliar Fishes. She reads her own works and I love her voice. I think I like Assassination Vacation and Partly Cloudy Patriot a bit more, but it was an engaging book about a subject about which I knew nothing. (The history of the encroachment of American civilization in to Hawaii and the consequent fall of the Hawaiian monarchy, up to its transformation into an American territory.)
Something Audible recommended was Tina Fey's Bossypants, and I thought that looked neat, so I bought it with my credit and started listening. I like Tina Fey's work a lot. She's a funny writer and a great performer with excellent comic timing. I still think that's true. However, after completing the book, I like her a lot less as a person.
Joe Matt writes a semi autobiographical comic book. Another artist who became his friend after reading the comic said that at first when reading the comic, he figured that Joe was exaggerating his foibles for comic effect. After they started hanging out for a while, he now thinks, if anything, Joe is being too kind to himself.
And while watching Tina Fey on 30 Rock, I understood that she was not in fact Liz Lemon, and but as she was playing a woman in a position very similar to one she once held, that she was drawing on her real world traits and experiences, but exaggerating them.
Do you see where this is going?
As said above, I like listening to Sarah Vowell, and also David Sedaris. (What can I say? I have a soft spot for public radio personalities with funny voices.) They have a certain quality to their writings. Self-deprecating isn't quite the right word, and neither is humble. I think it's the awareness that all people are fundamentally ridiculous and they are no exception. Tina Fey's writing doesn't have that quality. At several points, she uses her book to take pot shots at people who were mean to her. She saw this guy Tom something on Cable TV and she can't remember his name, but she can remember in perfect detail everything he said? Seems legit.
Gosh, Oprah Winfrey tells her that she looks tried?
Also, there's persistent undercurrent of nastiness to the whole thing. We get a lengthy chapter on her dad, who's totally not racist you guys. We get an account of how she undermines a woman whom she works with in order to get a better job.
Wikipedia says she was nominated for a Grammy for the audio version of the book, but I can't see how. Despite liking her less as a person, I do think she's a great comedy writer and a great performer. But the reading of the book is not good. She seems unfamiliar with her own writing and her reading results in a very uneven delivery. Also, they cut her off too soon. At the end of certain sentences, they end as soon as she she finishes speaking, often clipping off the very end of a word. It doesn't ruin the book, but it makes it seem like a very amateurish production. If I had to guess, they probably did it under tight time constraints.
There are some very, very funny parts in it. The Mother's Prayer For Its Daughter was insightful and deeply funny. The Introduction was nice too, though the memoir segments were boring. I really liked it when she talked about improv, though. It's the only time in the book where she seems to show genuine enthusiasm for her subject, but she clearly has a passion for it, and I always enjoy it when people share what they love.
She's touted as a latter day Gloria Steinem but when her advice on How to get ahead in Show Business as a Woman amounts to Step 1: Find a powerful man to mentor you. Step 2: Profit! then I think her reputation has been exaggerated.
I'm afraid she's going to turn out to be a latter day Dennis Miller, because, though she's been elevated to the status of a progressive icon, her positions seem poorly articulated and brittle, and it feels like they're ready to shatter at any moment.
Posted by Josh Wanisko at 5:27 AM