Book review: Bossypants, Tina Fey

BossypantsHere is what I was asked a million times (literally) last year: “Hey have you read Bossypants? Now have you read Bossypants? When are you going to read Bossypants? You should read Bossypants right now. Why haven’t you read Bossypants yet?!”

Like, god, I get it, sheez, I need to read Bossypants already. So I did. (It’s such an easy book I finished it in a day. So there’s really no excuse for not having read it. Why haven’t you read Bossypants yet?!)

And it’s great! Is it really necessary to point out that this is a smart and funny book? We all know Tina Fey is a smart and funny woman. We’re all fans of 30 Rock and Mean Girls and Mom Jeans here. (Right? If you answered “No”, GTFO.)

She’s an attractive woman, too, but it feels weird pointing that out for a couple reasons. First: would you point it out in a review of a male comedian-writer-actor’s book? Why must a woman’s achievements still be framed around her appearance? Bossypants is a pretty explicitly feminist ((Important note!: “Feminist” is not meant to imply “Overbearingly feminist”!)) book, and Fey raises a lot of questions like these, mostly arguing that institutionalised sexism exists less because everyone is a misogynist and more because it goes unchallenged too often.

The other reason it’s weird to point out Fey’s attractiveness is that she doesn’t seem comfortable with that label. The book is so rife with references to her physical flaws – 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon is the personification of all those neuroses – that it’d feel like she was exploiting the “I’m so not attractive!” thing, if it didn’t read so genuinely. It’s startling to come to the chapter in Bossypants that documents Fey’s discomfort at photoshoots (fame isn’t as eternally glamorous as everyone makes out?!), and even more startling when she name-drops her own pubic hair (famous women have that?!).

But even as she’s writing about herself there’s an impression that Fey is very guarded, unwilling to open herself up completely for us. There is a genuine sense of her personality revealed in Bossypants, but there’s also a sense of the “real-life” Tina Fey lurking off the page, unseen and unrevealed.

Which is fine! Since when is Fey obliged to offer a reality TV-style, warts-and-more-warts expose of every aspect of her personality? Instead, Bossypants is more akin to a really great stand-up show, in book form. There are a lot of LLOLs (that’s literal laugh-out-louds) in there.

And, unexpectedly, the best and funniest bits are Fey’s recollections of her off-camera life: her awkward formative years, her early dabblings in improv comedy (I admire her unironic, earnest, heartfelt passion for the form), her experiences with marriage and motherhood. I say “unexpected” because much is made of the book’s anecdotes about Alec Baldwin and Oprah and Sarah Palin and who have you, and they’re interesting, but they’re not what makes the book.

So what I’m saying is: why haven’t you read Bossypants yet?!