Monday, August 15, 2011

Books Yay!: Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I've never really been a big Saturday Night Live fan.  I like the best of clips and such but for whatever reason, I've just never felt compelled to watch it every Saturday night.  I have the same relationship with standup comedy specials; when someone says "watch this, it's funny," I do, and it's always funny (assuming the recommender has good taste know who you are, people who tried forcing me to like Dane Cook), but I still click past those specials when I'm looking for something to watch.  However, despite my SNL apathy, I love Tina Fey, not only because of the brilliant Mean Girls but for her willingness to be outspoken about women and feminism in the media.  What I particularly like is that she is a very real manifestation of feminism at its core.  I often say to people who claim to not be feminist that feminism's essence is about women having social and political equality to direct their lives as they see fit, and anything else that a feminist claims it is about is laid over that foundation as a result of that feminist's desires.  Feminism is not a monolith.  Instead, it means that some women will choose to work construction and buzz their hair short and some women will choose to have dinner on the table by 5:30p in heels and pearls, but that society has pressured neither group into feeling they must do those things.  I appreciate that Tina Fey exemplifies this reality; she speaks openly about feeling pressures one way or the other, and talks about the existence of those pressures while also making choices for herself that line up with all kinds of different forces.  Having that conversation is important, and having an intelligent, well-spoken woman like Tina Fey to guide that conversation is a real asset.

Bossypants is a combination of memoir and general observations about life in comedy.  I appreciated that it didn't lean too heavily one way or the other.  It seems like many people feel like a memoir has to Say Something or have some kind of self-help-y underpinning to it, and that seems silly to me if the author isn't an actual self-help-dispensing person.  If some publisher thinks you're saleable, it's because people like you and want to know about you, and I don't think that necessarily means they want to know how you got to be you.  Tina Fey has written a kind of memoir of her young life and the progress of her comedy career, and the advice she does give is not about how to make it in comedy necessarily but how to apply the lessons that she gleaned from comedy in your life.  I particularly liked her descriptions of her youthful awkwardness, because for once - for once! - it was framed as "man, everyone is so awkward when they're kids," which is true, instead of that stilted "don't hate me because I'm beautiful" apology-cum-compliment-fishing way so many famous beauties tend to lean towards.  It might just be better writing, but it's nice that the " we're cool, right? I'm just like you!" tone is absent there.

I really enjoyed hearing a woman who I think most people see as very together and balanced as she Does It All explain that it is incredibly challenging to do It All, no matter how it comes off to observers.  She's not bemoaning the challenges of being a mom in a competitive and time-consuming field, but rather acknowledging that those challenges exist.  She is obviously happy with her choices even though they certainly contribute stress to her life, and I think that's a healthy thing to show people.  Not to return to the "other memoirists are doing it wrong" place, but I do think people often breeze over big and persistent challenges without admitting that they complicate and strain their lives, and that makes the reader feel inadequate, like they should somehow feel bad about feeling pressure from challenges in their life.  I don't think celebrities exist to make people feel good about themselves or anything, but I think that too much pretending success is just a walk in the park is what has given us a world where children say they want to be "a celebrity" when they grow up and where we have deranged programming like Jerseylicious.

This is a great read, and Fey's writerly voice is wonderful.  This would be a great pick for a short day trip, and I think it would also be a good audiobook to pick up.  It would be a good choice for young people, too.  Fey does a great job of stressing the value of continual striving and hard work, and she's so relateable.  I think it would really help a lot of kids realize that they can do what they want, but that the world is not just waiting outside their door to hand success over without a fight.  Pick up a copy!

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