It looks like I’m on a memoir reading kick now, more specifically those written by US female entertainers receiving considerable media attention. The stack of books in the abovementioned genre on my nightstand has become higher, and since it is in danger of toppling over and waking me up in the night (falling books make quite the noise), I got a move on.
Two of the books from said stack have been read. Before I pull out the parts that stuck with me the most, why did I turn to these memoirs? Because I was curious. They kept popping up in stories on sites I regularly visit and being mentioned by authors writing pieces I identified with. Quite a few of these books were bestsellers in the US and internationally, and as is sometimes the case for me with massively successful cultural phenomena, I wanted to form my own opinion. Also the authors of these books, whatever opinion one might have of their preceding and continuing work in entertainment, were hard-working women with established creative projects they felt strongly about and had pushed through themselves. I wanted to read what they had to say.
The first book was Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I opened the book straight to the middle, to be greeted by the simple statement, “If it’s not funny, you don’t have to laugh.” True, and thank you – that’s actually what got me in the reading mood before I started at the beginning. The order of events described in the book is not chronological, jumping from youth to childhood to adulthood and then back to childhood. Observations on family, friends, children, work and careers are interspersed with each other, which I found relatable, as that is basically what life is like on a daily basis. While some of the sketches described were not to my taste, quite a few experiences strike a chord, especially when Poehler switches from sarcastic to observant and humble in one chapter. Time Travel is a touching depiction of how time and friendships connect: “I believe you can time-travel three different ways: with people, places and things…In the shop, I found an old-timey bathing suit. I bought the bathing suit home and looked at it. I thought about who might have owned it before. The bathing suit didn’t fit into my life at that moment …I put this bathing suit in a drawer and it waited for me to take it traveling. And then six months later I went to Palm Springs with a bunch of wonderful women. They were my beautiful friends who helped me through a difficult year. We were going swimming and I reached into my bag to find a bathing suit….I realized I had traveled again, this time into a happier future.”
She also writes a succint and to-the-point passage about the reality of unwanted approaches women may deal with in the workplace, however small: ” But I did let him hug me. I let that creepy guy hug me. I stayed seated and he came over and hugged my stiff body while my arms stayed at my sides. All I was thinking at that moment was that if I let him hug me he would feel better and this would all be over soon. Do you think he would have hugged a male performer? Me neither. Either way, it never ends.”
Bossypants by Tina Fey followed, and I can’t help feeling I read it a little too fast, as I’m leafing through it now for this blog post and discovering passages that seem new to me. The additional catalyst for taking my own look at the book was hearing people talk about it at a party and rewatching Fey’s impression of Sarah Palin. In any case, one of the chapters I enjoyed most was titled I Don’t Care If You Like It (One in a series of love letters to Amy Poehler). The scene she describes, where Poehler speaks her mind about a, albeit jokey, reaction to her own joke, aptly sums up her creative approach to comedy entwined with views on independence: “With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not ******* care if you like it.” This is followed by a nugget of always true and handy advice that is never amiss (and also made me want to read on): “So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on.”
The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter is one of the best parts of the book, and one I confess I skipped to before reading in orderly fashion. Both humorous and heartfelt, it rounds up what a memoir is for – writing about yourself without being strictly autobiographical: “Oh Lord, break the internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers.” Regardless of whether you’re a parent or not, you will probably find yourself smiling as you read.
Just like the two women are famously friends in real life, the feeling you get after finishing reading is that the books could be friends too. Both authors mention each other and the role they play in each others lives without overdoing it, and those parts of the books are some of the most heart-warming. You believe in this friendship. Both honestly mention what it was like to write books and are open about the process of writing – yes, it’s hard! But the unstopabble part is that they both wanted to do it. Most notably, when you have experienced and achieved a lot in what occupies the main time frame of your life, the truth is that it can make a book.
Off to read the next one from the stack.