Saturday, 23 July 2011

Book review: tina fey's bossypants

Saturday 23 July 2011
(Updated Wednesday 4 January 2011)

After a semester studying abroad, I recently spent forty-six hours straight languishing in Heathrow Airport, a fact to which I'm sure any of my Facebook friends will attest, due to the incessant status-update plangencies that would have been plaguing their feeds. Awaiting the time of my appointed, triumphant (or, rather, bedraggled and slightly malodorous) return to Sydney for such an expanse of time demanded considerable intellectual sustenance, but with internet access costing ten pence per minute and my AustralianUK adapter for prolonged use of phone, laptop or iPod out of commission, I was obliged to purchase more books from the limited selection of an airport-sized WHSmith.

Evidently my subconscious thought I was in need of cheering up because the two books I selected were Terry Pratchett's 679th Discworld installment, I Shall Wear Midnight, and Tina Fey's autobiography Bossypants. I think it must've been how hot she looks on the cover that made me choose to read Fey's book first:

Yowza! (A quote from Don Fey, Tina Fey's father, on the back cover under the heading 'advance praise for Bossypants' reads 'I hope that's not really the cover. That's really going to hurt sales.'

There's a certain puerile pleasure that comes with finishing a book in a single day, a psychological relic, perhaps, of a time when the measure of your coolness was how quickly you'd read the latest Harry Potter. In the case of Bossypants, however, I can't help but feel that it wasn't my reading prowess that accomplished the feat (especially since I'm not actually that fast a reader at all), but a certain ... 'thinness' in the book itself. At 277 pages, it felt a bit slapped together and brief, especially towards the end when Fey begins recounting individual scenes from 30 Rock and reproduces the entire transcript from her notorious Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton Saturday Night Live skit, not that I didn't enjoy reading both of those. 'I could go on,' says Fey at one point, after having listed three or four lines-worth of luminaries to have emerged from an improv company she belonged to, 'but my editor told me that was a cheap way to flesh out the book' (81).

Reading it, though, you understand why Bossypants isn't a seven-tortuous-years-in-the-making magnum opus. You wonder, in fact, how she managed it at all, in spite of her insistence that the stress levels of her writing job are comically minimal (on a graph comparing them with those of miners, Chilean miners, and active military servicemen) and her hatred of being asked 'how she juggles it all'. I'm not sure about dismissing the difficulties of her working life by comparing them with the stress experienced by soldiers – it's not all about stress; it's about how much time you have in the day, which seems very little in Fey's case. The airiness of the book isn't necessarily a bad thing, anyway. It just makes it one of those 'light reads' you're always hearing about.

Besides, I don't think Fey has to try that hard to be funny. It felt effortless. Reading the book, I found myself lying on the floor of the Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 seating area pissing myself every couple of minutes, much to the annoyance of everyone trying to sleep around me, I'm sure. The funniest parts for me were those where she created an irregular mental image, such as in one of her tips for 'me time' activities when you have a baby: 'Say you're going to look for the diaper crème, then go into your child's room and just stand there ...' (243) or when she recounts receiving a Modess 'my first period' kit from her mother: 'I shoved the box in my closet, where it haunted me daily ... Everytime I reached into my closet to grab a Sunday school dress or my colonial-lady Halloween costume that I sometimes relaxed in after school—"Modesssss," it hissed at me. '"Modesssss is coming for you" (13–14). Or else it was the times she just slipped a joke in there with you barely realising until it hit you: 'Of course I know now that no one can "steal" boyfriends against their will, not even Angelina Jolie itself', or 'I'll bet Margaret Thatcher would say the same if she were alive today.* [And then, in a footnote] *Apparently Margaret Thatcher is alive and says of course she would have told the nanny about the problem and she thinks I am a complete chickenshit' (257).

It was lucky for all of this hilarity, because if you'd asked me if I wanted to read a book whose subject matter dealt predominantly with the female experience of puberty, beauty and appearance issues, feminism, motherhood, and photoshoots, you can guess what my answer would've been. YES PLEASE! But yeah, couldn't quite escape the fact that the book was marketed to women, which I didn't know when I bought it. 'It's not quite as quease-making as when you lose your tampon string,' she says of putting in contact lenses, 'but equally as queasish as a self–breast exam. If you are male, I would liken it to touching your own eyeball, and thank you for buying this book.'

But the book did irritate me every now and then. I got over the self-deprecating ugly jokes after a while. I mean, she's effing gorgeous, with a MILF rating off the charts, so what's she talking about!? I don't necessarily think it's fake humility, I just found it excessive. Maybe Australians have a more refined sensibility to self-deprecating humour, since it's like, our thing.

And all that talk of the facial scar! She kept on going on about it and I was like, huh? What is she talking about? I've literally never noticed it. In fact, I still can't find it anywhere on her face. Maybe it's makeup, or airbrushing, or distraction by her general hotness, or the fact that I've apotheosised her to the extent that I can no longer detect any form of imperfection in her person, I don't know. Actually, you know what it probably is? My habit of not paying attention to/retaining information about things I don't care about. Maybe if I watched Mean Girls again, I'd see it and be like, 'Ohhhh yeahhhh!' Any excuse to watch Mean Girls again ...

'Ugh, my facial scar is huge.'

Also, I think her editor was a bit overzealous on the quotation marks, there. It could've just been that they were all double quotation marks, but they really stood out to me, often as not really being necessary. It kind of made it feel like an awkward email from your best friend's mum, who's enthusiastic about the internet but hasn't quite mastered the conventions of e-communication yet and says things like, 'I heard from "our little girl" that you guys all had fun at the races last weekend! :D Did you make any "big wins"???!!! :oP'

And I'll admit, I was also a little disappointed with the number of mentions of God. You let me down, Tina. But my God-mention tolerance level is significantly lower than the average person's. It's not like she was preachy, or anything. I just expected such an obviously liberal, talented, intelligent woman to be ... irreligious.

Those small and few (is there an antonym for 'multifarious'? There should be ...) reservations aside, Bossypants was a hilarious "light read", as they say!!! :o) !!!?!

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