Book Talk (rerun): *Bossypants*, by Tina Fey

This review was originally posted in July 2011. I’m re-running it as part of my feature on the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Short List (Biography/Memoir) this week. 

(Have you entered my Blogiversary Giveaway?)

Tina Fey
read by the author
Reagan Arthur Books (2011),  Hardcover (ISBN 9780316056861 / 0316056863) (Audio edition 1609419693 / 9781609419691)
Memoir/essays, 288 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook
Reason for reading: Personal

Book description, from the publisher’s website: “Before Liz Lemon, before ‘Weekend Update,’ before ‘Sarah Palin,’ 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.
At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.
(Includes Special, Never-Before-Solicited Opinions on Breastfeeding, Princesses, Photoshop, the Electoral Process, and Italian Rum Cake!)

Comments: I’ve referred to celebrity memoir as my “guilty-pleasure genre,” but my most recent experiences with the genre have given me very little to feel guilty about. Perhaps it’s not the genre itself that’s guilt-inducing; it could be the celebrities. If the memoirs I read are actually written by celebrities who are interesting people best known for appearing in places other than TMZ and the tabloids – and are competent writers to boot – I suppose none of us have any reason to be embarrassed.

I intended to read Tina Fey’s memoir/personal essay collection Bossypants (we bought it in hardcover) eventually. However, I read quite a few reviews during Audiobook Month (June 2011) that suggested that audio was the perfect format for the book. That guidance led me to make it my very first download from Audible.

There was no guilt involved in this one, either. This is definitely not a “tell-all” – there are some things that Tina Fey does not intend to talk about in this book, and she states that up front. However, she doesn’t mince words when it comes to the things she does want to talk about.

Tina Fey’s autobiography isn’t terribly remarkable. She had a middle-class upbringing in the Philadelphia suburbs as the younger child and only daughter of parents who are still married to each other; college; a move to Chicago to work, study improvisational theatre, and eventually join the Second City comedy troupe, which led to another move – this time to New York and a job as a writer for Saturday Night Live; creation of and a starring role in a critically-acclaimed, Emmy-winning sitcom inspired by her experience on SNL…and marriage and a family. Okay, some parts of her autobiography are pretty remarkable.

Fey’s recollections of career and life milestones are mixed with observations about life, society, and the challenges of being a woman who loves both her work and her child in early 21st-century America. Bossypants may strike some readers as being a little short on personal insight and reflection, but Fey’s opinions on the bigger picture are a worthwhile trade. It’s not entrirely clear to me whether she self-identifies as a feminist, but her worldview is clearly informed by feminism. As befits the title of the book, Fey does spend much of the second half discussing work, and repeatedly expresses a preference for the collaborative management style that tends to be more associated with women; she is a boss, as creator of 30 Rock, and is fully aware of the perks, the stress, and the responsibility that go with being the source of 200 people’s paychecks.

But it’s not all serious gender politics or management theory – in fact, most of it’s not serious gender politics or management theory. Most of it’s humorous and real. Tina Fey’s experience is in writing and performing comedy, and this makes Bossypants, as read by its author, ideally suited to audio. If you’re a Tina Fey fan, which I am, you’d probably hear her voice in your head while reading the book anyway, so why not just hear it for real? She mines her own story for the funny, mixes it with smart observations and self-deprecating reflections, and comes across as pretty down-to-earth and genuine. My stepdaughter was in a six-week teenage theatre workshop last summer, and I want her to hear Tina’s stories of her two high-school years in “Summer Showtime;” in addition to those, I particularly liked her work stories and the tale of her ill-fated honeymoon cruise. I was intrigued to discover just how much Liz Lemon is Tina Fey (a lot). And I appreciated the way her appreciation of certain people in her life – most notably her parents, her mentor Lorne Michaels, and her friend and SNL colleague Amy Poehler – came across so clearly.

I should also mention one feature of the Bossypants audiobook that’s not part of the print version: it includes the full audio of her first “Sarah Palin” sketch for Saturday Night Live. While that’s not the only reason to “read” this on audio, it’s definitely something to consider if you’re torn between this and the print version.

I’m (still) glad I chose this for my very first audiobook.

Rating: 4/5

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