One of Book Riot’s challenge tasks for this year is to listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award. I’m not big on audiobooks. I understand their usefulness if you drive regularly (I’m a public transit person) or if you have visual impairments or if you frequently work with your hands and like the background noise. Call me a snob, but I dislike audiobooks for the same reason I dislike e-readers: I thoroughly enjoy the experience of reading a physical book. But, what is this challenge for, if not for getting out of our comfort zones? The trick for me was picking a book that wouldn’t be potentially ruined by the listening, but also one that I definitively wanted to read/hear. The runner up was Walter Isaacson’s Einstein, read by Edward Hermann, who I will always fondly remember as Richard Gilmore, but I’ve already planned that for the biography task and didn’t want to give up the experience of reading it. Then I saw that Tina Fey’s Bossypants (2011) won an award in (2012). It was a book I wanted to read and it could potentially be enhanced by hearing the author read it. For me, it was a natural winner.
Bossypants is Fey’s autobiography, chronicling her childhood, her awkward adolescence (though I’m sure she’d add young adulthood and full adulthood to that), her time at Second City, her job as a writer at Saturday Night Live, and her eventual critical success with 30 Rock. What I find most compelling with Fey’s narrative – as I said before of Julia Child in My Life in France – is that we spend so much time assuming that stars are overnight success stories that we ignore the hard work and years of toil that add up to the shiny veneer we see today. Fey doesn’t gloss over her tough years working as a door attendant at a YMCA or her early comedy days where she was told that no one was interested in seeing a sketch with two women. She doesn’t claim to be meant for the camera and she doesn’t feel she’s owed any of the awards she’s won. In a time where people become famous for…being famous…it’s refreshing to read an intelligent, honest review of someone’s life. The fact that it’s written with Fey’s characteristic sarcastic humor is just gravy.
I don’t know why, but I was surprised (pleasantly so) to find such overt feminism throughout the book. I mean, this is Tina Fey and we have never seen her pitching diet pills or fighting with another woman on the red carpet or leaking sex tapes to jumpstart a fledgling career. Where she shines in this book is in her taunting of the sexist criticisms and expectations she’s experienced throughout her life and career. She not only celebrates her own strength against misogyny, but all the other women who have risen up against it as well. On the subject of Cheri Oteri being passed over in an SNL sketch for Chris Kattan in drag, she writes “By the time I left nine years later, that would never have happened. Nobody would have thought for a second that a dude in drag would be funnier than Amy, Maya, or Kristen. The women in the cast took over the show in that decade, and I had the pleasure of being there to witness it.”
Fey further lambasts sexism in her field when speaking of the reactions to her portrayal of Sarah Palin. She’s criticized as if the two women are too weak, too vulnerable to withstand the comedy onslaught typically thrown at men, that one woman parodying another is an inherently nasty thing, like two girls clawing it out by their lockers over a boy. “There was an assumption that I was personally attacking Sarah Palin by impersonating her on TV. No one ever said it was ‘mean’ when Chevy Chase played Gerald Ford falling down all the time. No one ever accused Dana Carvey or Darrell Hammond or Dan Aykroyd of ‘going too far’ in their political impressions. You see what I’m getting at here. I am not mean and Mrs. Palin is not fragile. To imply otherwise is a disservice to us both.”
Where I loved Fey best was in her responses to all those who would scorn her decision to keep working after becoming a mother. “I chose to breastfeed, and it was an amazing time in my life. It really changed me as a woman, and it’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done,” she writes, followed by the footnote: “Except for several very satisfying work-related things.” On realizing that she will never be a full-time mother she writes, “Of course I’m not supposed to admit that there is triannual torrential sobbing in my office, because it’s bad for the feminist cause. It makes it harder for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. It makes it harder for other working moms to justify their choice. But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a triannual sob, so I think we should call it even. I think we should be kind to one another about it.” I love that Fey champions the idea that motherhood is hard for all, that you never feel like you’re doing enough, regardless of whether you work or stay home, and that we should rally around that instead of trying to make those who have made different choices feel bad about themselves.
I suppose I was surprised because, to a certain extent, overt feminism is still a hard sell. But this is Tina Fey’s life and it would have been dishonest not to include it. “MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women,” she writes, of a rule typically applied to improvisation. “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?’ Make statements, with your actions and your words.” I applaud the statement Fey has made in her book.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a book that has won an Audie Award]