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Summer Reading: Bossypants by Tina Fey

17 Jun

I’m gonna try something a little different this summer. I know we’re already halfway into June, but I always make a big deal about summer reading around here and I thought that it might be a good idea to actually spotlight good, summer reading options throughout this, our most oppressive of seasons. A great book is, after all, a perfect way to take your mind off of 90+ degree temperatures.

One of my favorite parts of summer is road tripping. I used to go on impromptu road trips when I was young, stupid and irresponsible, and I would almost exclusively listen to music or the rare podcast by connecting my iPod to the car with a totally cool tape-deck adapter.  I hadn’t really given much thought to audiobooks because I was a reader with pages and actual books, but then I drove with my mom to North Carolina for a triathlon I was running in and a spa weekend and we bought the audiobook of The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, because there were absolutely no radio stations in the mountains of N.C. I was completely enchanted by the book, which was only enhanced by the shared experience of listening to it with my mom while we traded off driving duties. Now, I tend to road trip for more important things, like weddings, which in the land of late 20-somethings, are extremely frequent. And audio books are becoming a more frequent companion.

Since that trip, I haven’t really jumped onto the audiobook train like I’d like to but I no longer look down my nose at them. Recently, I decided to give the audiobook of Bossypants by Tina Fey a try, for no other reason than I signed up for and had a credit to use. Oh, and because Fey narrates the book herself and she’s hysterical. I was also traveling quite a bit and had been getting slightly nauseous from reading too much in moving vehicles. This seemed like the perfect solution, and sure enough, I completely fell in love with Fey’s collection of personal essays on audio. Even though I’d intended to listen to it while traveling, I ended up enjoying it at the gym and on my metro rides to and from work (and pretty much everywhere). You’ll note that both of these are very public places. I think people may have thought I was slightly insane because I would giggle loudly every couple of minutes.

Here’s a couple of particularly snort-inducing quotes from the book:

About Photoshop and magazine photo shoots (btw, Fey says her best Photoshop job was from feminist magazine Bust. Judging from the photo, I totally agree):

I feel about Photoshop the way some people feel about abortion. It is appalling and a tragic reflection on the moral decay of our society…unless I need it, in which case, everybody be cool.

About Sarah Palin’s Vice-Presidential campaign “snafus”:

Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff? ‘I’m not one of those fancy Harvard heart surgeons. I’m just an unlicensed plumber with a dream and I’d like to cut your chest open.’

About the insane week where she taped the Oprah episode of 30 Rock, started her run on SNL portraying Sarah Palin, AND planned her daughter’s birthday party:

By the way, when Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your fucking life.

These are just a couple of the countless gems sprinkled throughout the book.

The essays themselves run relatively chronologically through her life, starting at childhood and continue through her run at Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. These personal essays are also interspersed with random essays about things that are just plain funny. Like when she responds to some of her internet critics, and by internet critics, I mean people that leave nasty comments on message boards at 2am.

This is one of those places where the audiobook just shines. Because there is no font for sarcasm.   There’s also no font for saying something under your breathe or in an aside or even in a really snide tone of voice. The print version of the book has quite a few footnootes. Footnotes don’t really translate into audio, right? Wrong. Fey says those “footnotes” under her breathe and in such a way that it feels like this is a book that was really made to be audio first and foremost, and the print book was the “alternate” format.

While Fey’s essays about her own life  are funny, especially the chapters about her dad Don Fey, her rendition of the epic Sarah Palin SNL skits, her relationship with Amy Poehler, and family holidays, they’re still guarded in regards to how much she’ll say publicly about certain topics. The most notable example is this is how she mentions the scar on her face but then pointedly refuses to explain it. Which is fine with me. I wasn’t really expecting a tell-all, but I did think it was interesting that she obviously was expecting the criticism and tried to nip it in the bud. I’m not sure if it was successful or not though. Her more random essays were more funny to me, because they felt like her commentary on all things pop culture. Like this quote for example:

Gay people don’t actually try to convert people. That’s Jehovah’s Witnesses you’re thinking of.

It would’ve been easy for Fey to make this all sarcasm and one-liners, but the thing I most enjoyed about the book is also why I loved her movie, Mean Girls. There’s this subtle message (and by subtle, I mean not at all) that chicks rock and that society is just trying to make us all think these things about ourselves that aren’t really true. And that women-on-women prejudice is the worst of it all. I particularly loved this quote:

This is what I tell young women who ask me for career advice. People are going to try to trick you. To make you feel that you are in competition with one another. ‘You’re up for a promotion. If they go for a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.’ Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.

And this:

Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at Johns Hopkins, so?” Make statements, with your actions and your voice.

(That last one is great on the audio because she turns her voice into this weird, whiny thing that sounds like a 13-year-old girl.)

I think that it’s pretty obvious I loved this book. I had a few issues with it in terms of content – the same issues I think several people have had with it. But listening to the audio I think probably canceled out those small problems I had. I never quote from books in my blogs (it’s a serious problem I’m trying to resolve), but I use them liberally here because I think the book best speaks for itself. Or Fey best speaks for herself. So it’s probably a good thing I had the audio.

Summer reading tends to mean lots of things to lots of people, and for those people who think summer is the perfect opportunity to read War and Peace, more power to you. For everyone else, this is a great multi-situational read. And even for those War and Peace-ers, maybe take a break for a few hours and read this instead.

Other audio on tap for this summer:
Tabloid City by Pete Hamill
Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell