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.

How I Broke The Memoir – Neil Patrick Harris in print

I love non-fiction and Neil Patrick Harris (in completely different ways, mind) but the announcement of his book deal has me less excited and more than a little confused about what, exactly, it is we will be reading.

Not content with a mere biography or memoir, the scene has been set by press releases sent out today for the actor’s first book to be ‘a Work of Imaginative Nonfiction’. Tina Constable, Senior Vice President at publisher Crown Archetype, is promising entertainment but not illuminating what will be involved. She said, “Neil Patrick Harris’s wildly creative, funny, and inventive vision for his book reflects his many talents and dimensions as an artist. We are certain his book will entertain, surprise, and delight not just his legions of fans but also all readers who love a good puzzle.”

Such as puzzling out what, exactly, Harris is likely to be writing about and if it’s worth reading? Crown’s press release is hedging on that too. “As yet untitled, Harris’s book will be a work of imaginative nonfiction that delivers an interactive, nonlinear reading experience that breaks the boundaries of conventional memoir. An accomplished amateur magician, Harris will draw upon his love of adventure and surprise in creating the book, as well as upon the many roles he has played in his life and career—from being a child star to coming out, and from acting on Broadway to becoming a proud father.”

Sounds fascinating, and all that, but what exactly does that mean we’ll be reading? A memoir? A book of anecdote-inspired crossword puzzles? A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book based on his life? (Actually, that last one sounds fun.) Neil may know but he’s also not making it explicit, preferring to joke around the subject in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m excited to be writing a book of the observations and stories of my life,” said Harris. “I read with great fondness Tina Fey’s Bossypants, so my plan is just to reprint those exact stories but change the names to people that I knew. What editor would take issue with that?”

There’s little doubt that Neil has a golden touch when it comes picking and producing his projects; from rocking the audiences’ socks off in musicals such as Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to cameos in the recent Muppet Movie, as well as his Emmy-nominated role as Barney Stinson in CBS sit-com How I Met Your Mother. And, while you won’t find his name on any other books, this isn’t his first publishing credit, also credited as the co-author (under his character’s name) of The Bro Code. So, while the press release may be alarmingly vague, we can hope that the end product will be offbeat and entertaining even if the phrase “interactive, nonlinear reading experience” makes it sound like a code for “couldn’t think of a plot or theme so put in dot-to-dot puzzles”.

What do you think – does it sound like wonderful whimsy, edgy-experimentalism or just indulgent idiocy? Will you be standing in line to buy it? Crown Archetype, who are part of the Random House, Inc publishing group, say that publication is set for 2014, so I guess we’ll all have to wait until then to find out.

 

REVIEW: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true. And now, here is her story.

My more usual reviewing gig is speculative fiction with occasional diversions into history. So why am I reviewing this autobiography by Tina Fey?

Well, firstly, only ten copies were being made available to blog-based reviewers in Australia. I put my hand up for a copy, not expecting to get one. It was a rather delightful surprise to receive an email a few days ago that a copy had been tossed into the post for me. Next, Fey is a writer and I believe in learning what we can from those who have gone ahead of us on the writing journey. Finally, I think Tina Fey is very funny and talented. And cute. There. I said it, OK?

When I first elevated myself to the luxury of pay television here in Australia, The Comedy Channel was running old episodes of the long-running US comedic icon, Saturday Night Live. The humour did not always do a lot for me but it must be incredibly difficult to keep turning out comedy sketches year after year. My favourite part of the show was easily the Weekend Update piece featuring a quirky, bespectacled lady who was not above throwing the occasional comment to the audience.

To many people, Tina Fey is “that” woman who did the impersonations of Sarah Palin even though this was just one small part of her story, albeit one that brought her a much wider audience and attention.

This was a very entertaining book. While some cultural references are naturally US-centric and I did not necessarily always get them, it is fast-paced and very easy to get right into. It is a confession, the story of a journey, an account of life in the entertainment business, genuine admiration of others, biting sarcasm, self-deprecating humour and some lovely lunacy.

With all the many people Fey has worked with, particularly the special hosts on Saturday Night Live, there must have been a temptation to do a ‘tell-all’ about some of the ‘d-bags’ (Palin’s expression) but she has resisted that. But some people from earlier in her life come in for some biting sarcasm and ridicule but are generally kept anonymous.

I am left with the impression that Fey is a bit puzzled by the attention she has received in more recent years as an attractive woman. Her list of self-perceived body flaws includes her feet.

“My Father’s feet. Flat. Bony. Pale. I don’t know how he even gets around, because his feet are in my shoes.”

I was also a little puzzled by Fey’s references to the alleged low popularity of her current creation, 30 Rock. That is easily one of my favourite programs.

As a biography, Bossypants will appeal to more than just Tina Fey’s fans. It is a delightful reflection by a very entertaining and perceptive person and keen observer of life, not to mention giving an insight into life working in comedy and television.

I have also reviewed this at www.awritergoesonajourney.com and my own blog, Words by Ross.