Bossypants by Tina Fey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My year of memoir/autobiography/biography continued with Bossypants by Tina Fey, which had been built up in my imagination more than most books are in any given year. Tina Fey is a lot like Barack Obama--young and impressive, accomplished and endearing, a kind of American story that people like to claim for America. In the first year of his presidency Obama was granted the Nobel Peace Prize; in her fortieth year Fey became the youngest-ever winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Both awards felt, to me, a little like reading the last page of a mystery novel before you read chapter one: a perfectly sensible but utterly premature climax.
I'm the same age as Fey, and I think as I read that I identified with her view of the world and how she communicates it. She struck me as being slightly uncomfortable but generally un-self-conscious in the oscillations between absolutism and relativism that characterize the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. For Bossypants this collision manifests itself in hyperbole that extends well beyond the comic: Alec Baldwin could not be, and consequently is not, as brilliant and unparalleled an actor as Fey makes him out to be. Neither is she, in that Gen-Xy preemptively disappointed way, "the worst," as she reiterates repeatedly late in the book. Not every slight or snub or insult is rooted in misogyny, but sometimes in Bossypants that seems to be the argument. This is who we are, we forty-somethingers--mid-career, mid-epoch, and struggling to find our footing, alternately making mountains out of molehills and molehills of ourselves.
I have a great deal of respect for Tina Fey. She's talented, funny, historically significant. 30 Rock is hilarious. I can see why she's won so many accolades so early in her career. But she's only forty, and while Mark Twain was once advised that forty is the age to start your memoir, there's no need to rush things. I read Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up earlier this year, and found it both shorter and slower-paced than Bossypants, and a more enjoyable reading experience. Martin waited some twenty years to write about his first thirty years, and I learned from it. In contrast, Bossypants felt rushed, like another angst-producing item Fey wanted desperately to check off her to-do list. I'd invite her to slow down and enjoy life a little more, and write her memoir with the benefit of hindsight. She might do well to reflect on this line, from the part where she writes about Oprah's guest spot on 30 Rock, shot on the same day as her Saturday Night Live spot with Sarah Palin: "When Oprah Winfrey is suggesting you may have overextended yourself, you need to examine your f***ing life." I look forward to twenty years from now, when I can curl up with my eyeglass-frame computer and read Bossypants II.
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