My review of...
The front table of any Barnes and Nobles is invariably stacked with glossy samples of a genre I’ll call the Celebrity Book Deal (CBD). I tend to breeze past this table with a snobbish eye-roll: what do these stars have to say outside their shows? Surely these memoirs are all name-dropping and navel-gazing, the printed-and-bound version of reality television. I have limited reading time and real authors who’ve earned it, thank you.
Recently, though, a few CBDs were recommended to me and I decided with a shrug to give them a try. After all, these particular stars aren’t just pretty faces and voices. They’re hilarious, creative women who trail-blazed their way to success in notoriously competitive and female-unfriendly branches of the entertainment industry. And, crucially, they did so by writing their own material. Their preexisting popularity may have given them a fast-pass to a publishing contract, but they probably had the chops to follow through.
The first CBD: Tina Fey’s Bossypants.
Followed by: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.
Concluding with: Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost).
As expected (and noted in the recommendations), all three are fast, funny reads. All three string together self-mocking anecdotes and old photos. All three reveal how much their authors struggled and worked to advance their careers in comedy, acting, and writing.
Here’s what surprised me: the writers whose work I’ve most enjoyed in other media—Fey and Poehler—produced the books that least impressed me. Their chapters are a bit disjointed and their sidebar content tends to try too hard. On more than one occasion in both books I stopped to ask myself why I cared how these strangers spent their twenties, then remembered that I admired their accomplishments and might as well know their backstories.
Ah, the curse of the CBD: most authors need to win over their audience with craft, with character development, with careful editing. Celebrities can count on a preexisting fan base to buy the hardcover and may or may not bother with the rest. I’d say Fey and Poehler… well, they’re on the spectrum between those author/celebrity extremes.
Day, however, does not disappoint. Perhaps she had more time to devote to developing her drafts—Poehler notes that she typed chunks frantically during thirty-minute breaks on set, and both Poehler and Fey discuss the demands of parenting alongside their careers. Day is a decade younger and responsible only for herself. Which includes working as CFO of her own start-up, and producing endless projects, and promoting them through various online channels. Hmm, she seems just as busy as Fey and Poehler.
Ah, the other curse of the CBD: to discuss a star’s memoir is not to analyze the literary merits of a written narrative, it’s to engage in gossip about an individual. An individual who presents herself like a friend but who actually exists behind a veneer that’s regularly polished by PR professionals. I’ve read what Fey, Poehler, and Day chose to reveal about themselves, but I can’t possibly understand them as flesh-and-blood people. To believe otherwise is to buy into an illusion. Like I said—reality shows in book form.
Getting back to Day’s memoir, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her story is well-structured from start to finish; her voice is charming and brilliant and neurotic. My interest never waned, and by the book’s midpoint I was aching with empathy for this narrator as she finds her way in life. This is where I originally intended to list off Day’s résumé, the typical justification for reading anyone’s autobiographical writing. Instead, I’ll compliment her by ignoring her many other creative accomplishments. You can read Fey’s book to learn insider secrets about SNL’s politics, or Poehler’s for the scoop on the drug culture of Second City. But you can read Day’s book because it’s wonderfully, entertainingly, self-containedly human. Enjoy.