Thursday, September 15, 2016

September's Book: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Non-Fiction (2011 - 275 pp.)

Fans of 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live or comedy in general have probably already read Bossypants. Those who haven't probably will. This is Tina Fey's memoir of sorts, released at a younger age than most other memoirs. It's like an autobiography but with about a joke per paragraph.

The book started weak for me. It may be a generational thing; she's kind enough to refer to generations a few times, which reminded me she's 17 years older than I am. When she was a 23-year old visiting a Planned Parenthood for a gynecological exam, (17) I was a 6-year old cheering on my Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Maybe that's why I had a tough time finding a lot of her early years funny, especially the college-aged experiences. Once she got into her improv days in Chicago in the '90s, I perked up. Ali Faranahkian's monologue about Big Macs, which assuredly requires his host to buy him one, (83) inspires me to try something similar.

My 30 Rock fandom kept me going and it paid off huge. Off-the-cuff observations like "We were trying to make Viagra and we ended up with blood-pressure medicine" (190) give a vivid idea for how Fey felt about the show's ratings. Insider information like that is more effective than a simple recounting of a show I've watched ever could be. Also, I quite enjoy any time a book breaks from the narrative format to toss informational tidbits at the reader. Fey does that a lot, such as in a textbook-style expository blurb (84-85), or an inset magazine cover (159), or a 30 Rock FAQ. (195-196)

My favourite moments were the ones Fey spent discussing her career in television and her more recent life moments. My working not-at-all-verified theory is that, like radio stations that play new music counterintuitively have more options than radio stations that play older music, her newer memories are less rooted in life-changing moments and more rooted in mundane events. An improv comic like Fey is at her best when the humour feels natural, so being able to draw on anything from a drive on the 80W (246) to playing Scrabble* (194) is a boon. The worst thing for any funny person is to be under a spotlight and be told, "Okay, be funny now." When she gets going about TV or recent home life, Bossypants is hilarious. When she recounts her trip up Old Rag Mountain, I have a far tougher time getting lost in her romantic strife. I, for one, would have called the failed date a success purely based on the mention of Hickory Farms. (61)

Tina Fey is one for self-deprecating humour (see almost anywhere in the book). I'll follow suit. I could have sworn there was something I wanted to reference in this blog entry from either page 44 or page 244 of my edition. Naturally, both of those pages are the plain white pages between chapters. I have now literally drawn a blank.

What surprises me most isn't about Fey or about Bossypants - it's about me. This book came out in 2011, I started watching 30 Rock in 2009, and I've been familiar with SNL basically since birth. How had I not read this yet? To think I actually made time to get through really long and really arcane books first. Well, it's read now. Besides, it's not like I've ever put a book off for way too long before.

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 1

*Scrabble is far from mundane, it just probably doesn't quite rank up there in her life compared to, say, being hired by SNL.

NOTE: Bossypants has a large number of short chapters. I love that format for books, even though I don't always use it when I write. It was pioneered in the 18th century, when enough books were serialized it was a necessity. Now, it just makes books easier to read.

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