Bossypants

BossypantsBeing told that something is the most hilarious book ever is a sure-fire way to make it not. Hence the reason I’ve until now missed the Bossypants boat. (Well, that and because the freakish, hair man arms adorning the cover. Shudder.)

I figured recently that enough time had passed for me to not have unreasonable expectations of Tina Fey’s memoir—Fey is, after all, a woman so incisively intelligent I could watch YouTube videos of her smacking down ‘legitimate rape’ all day.

I’ll not deny that I found the first half of Bossypants, which charts her growing up, a little slower than the half that covers the most recent (AKA 30 Rock and Sarah Palin) stuff, but that’s possibly because I’m simply more interested in the latter. Regardless, the book’s printed testament to Fey’s unbridled brilliance. And to her breathtaking, fist pump-inspiring honesty and humility.

Fey’s coined the term ‘Blorft’, or ‘Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum’, a term I hadn’t until today been able to voice but with which I well familiar. I now determined to use it (and attribute it, of course) widely.

Fey also openly admits to her mixed emotions and indecision about having a second child and the difficulties and guilt she faced not mastering breast feeding. How many writers do you know would offer this footnote, which at once raises fraught, worthy issues while also adding a self-deprecating, I-know-this-is-a-first-world-problem twist:

I know it’s bullshit that I say ‘babysitter’ instead of nanny. What I have is a full-time nanny, and I should be roundly punished for trying to make it seem like the teenager next door comes over one night a week. But I don’t like the word ‘nanny’. It gives me class anxiety and race anxiety. And that I why I will henceforth refer to our nanny as our Coordinator of Toddlery.

The work that catapulted Fey to worldwide fame and into our consciousnesses is undoubtedly her Saturday Night Live Sarah Palin, a woman I consider to be an abomination but that Fey is in her book surprisingly kind to. Fey also wrote some of these massively watched, massively lauded SNL skits. My favourite is:

Gwen Ifil
Governor Palin, would you extend same-sex rights to the entire country?

Gov. Sarah Palin
You know, I would be afraid of where that would lead. I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers.

One of the others she didn’t write but delivered with genius panache includes:

Tina
What’s the difference … 

Amy
Lipstick.

Tina
between a hockey mom … 

Amy
Lipstick.

Tina
and a pitbull?                                               

Amy
Lipstick.

Tina
(BEAT)
Lipstick.

More than being a fantastic writer (as if that weren’t enviably enough), Fey’s also supportive of and generous to other writers, one of whom wrote this 30 Rock gem I’ve been espousing all day:

Liz
Oh, thank God. It was terrible. I went to her apartment. I don’t think she has a toilet. I saw my future, Jack.

Jack pours Liz a drink and hands it to her.

Jack
Never go with a hippie to a second location.

I could continue listing examples and espousing love for Fey’s work. Really, though, any reviews I could offer of the book have been more than amply and more articulately covered by the testimonies on the first page (literally the first page!). The Observer wrote:

There are some hugely funny bits, and some inspiring bits, and some nerdishly interesting bits, and some bits that read like essays in The New Yorker. There’s lots to enjoy, particularly if you are as I am, a Tina Fey fan girl.

The Evening Standard said:

It is Fey’s gift to be clever and human at once. Bossypants manages to be self-deprecating without being winsome […] Everything she has done has been on equal terms, but without ever turning her back on what it means to be a woman. How do I love Tina Fey. Let me count the ways …

So let’s say that I won’t do what someone did to me and tell you that Bossypants is the funniest book ever. It’s not. But it is really very good. I will say, though, that Fey’s book’s more than funny. It’s smart, it’s sassy, it’s startling, and it’s, as the Big Issue review said: ‘at once surprisingly deep and deliberately light’. I recommend you read it.

Race (And Read) Of A Lifetime

Race of a LifetimeI’d normally say that a reader’s awareness of how clever writers are and how many eloquent, too-clever words they use is a sign of the writers trying too hard and of their pomposity. But nothing’s further from that truth with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House. In fact, the only reason I noticed their extensive and impressive vocabulary was because it was so simply used, and so many less-common, but no-less-beautiful words were slotted in so effortlessly and eloquently into the pages of this 430-ish page book.

I found myself dog-earing pages and making mental notes to find a way to use such words. Of course, they all escape me now, but having read this mighty book, I’m all too conscious of my apparently limited writing and speaking vocabulary.

The writers employing such words are of the accomplished New York magazine and Time, respectively, with such other publication notches to their names as the New Yorker, the Economist, Wired, and ABC News. I know that years of writing for these esteemed publications has honed their craft and extended their knowledge, with words gathering to them like magnets over time. But it’s also their turn of phrase—simple, direct, active, keenly observed that makes the words, grouped together, so powerful.

Race of a Lifetime was recommended to me by one of my best friends—someone who knows how voraciously I read and who doesn’t often feel comfortable pointing me in the direction of books. The glowing endorsement she gave combined with the intriguing concept of the book told me I absolutely had to read it.

The culmination of hundreds of interviews with key players—both on and off the record—and filled with inside information that can only be obtained through long-held and strongly-forged professional relationships, Race of a Lifetime is perhaps the most comprehensive and most compelling look at the race between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and a host of other players such as John Edwards.

It’s fast-paced and thrilling, with Heilemann and Halperin making you feel as though you’re not only inside the room, you’re inside the players’ heads. Having read it voraciously for three days straight, including on a notoriously attention-sapping long-haul plane ride, I can hand-on-my-heart say (fitting given it’s a book that looks largely at American patriotism and precisely what it takes to commit yourself wholly to a process and country to win a game-changing presidential race) that Race of a Lifetime is stellar. And I say that as someone who’s not overly interested in (and who is incredibly frustrated by) politics and the guff that goes around it.

Heilemann and Halperin convey the tension, the emotion, and the details of the history-making pre-selection and presidential candidature process that saw the USA recently elect its first African American president. The campaign was long, arduous, and at times funny, and I feel as though I know Obama, the Clintons, McCain, and Palin more intimately and more truthfully than ever before.

The bulk of the book’s content concentrates on the at-times-vicious race for Democratic party endorsement between Obama and Clinton, as well as Bill’s at-times-crazy contributions to it.  The latter third of the book introduces McCain and the woman who was both fascinating and like watching an only-in-America train wreck: gun-toting former beauty queen Palin. The examinations of each candidate aren’t always flattering—in fact, I do wonder if they’re these days trying to work out who leaked what to whom and when—but are simultaneously humanising and intriguing.

We see just how difficult, extensive, and hard-fought the battle was between Obama and Clinton—leading me to marvel at the kind of miracle that either of them made it over the line still standing in spite of their exhaustion. We understand the complexity of the media-drenched, fundraising-driven process that appears, to largely disinterested and objective outside observers like me, quite befuddling. And of course, we catch a glimpse of an answer into what McCain was thinking in selecting the off-the-wall Palin as his running mate. I could tell you, but that would ruin it for you. Instead I’ll simply say you should definitely read Race of a Lifetime to find out for yourself. It may have been the race of a lifetime. I’d say it’s the read of one too.