Tina Fey

Janet Maslin of the New York Times recently wrote that Tina Fey’s hilarious Bossypants as “isn’t a memoir.” I’ll delay the question for a bit while I say, first, that it definitely qualifies as a smart work of nonfiction by a person about that real person’s life. Tina Fey is a writer, and it shows throughout this wickedly hilarious work. She tells the story of my small subsection of American culture (short dark-haired ethnic-looking white girls), and she observes popular culture, dishes on behind-the-scenes at Saturday Night Live, and most importantly is REAL. She tells about crying at work, about growing up with a series of bad haircuts and bad fashion choices, about her family and what it’s like being a woman in charge. Every sentence in the book is smart and funny. I was reading it one night after putting my son to bed, and I was laughing so loud I woke him up. Sorry, bud. So is the fact that this book is by a well-known person grounds for excluding it from the ranks of “literature”? Nope. Should we ignore it as a celebrity bio because it’s written by someone on television. Nope. In fact, I can’t think of a reason why I should keep it off my recommended reading list of creative nonfiction for my students. Here are five reasons why: 1. Fey does humor well, and humor–especially mixed with serious insights–is hard. 2. Fey does scene, character sketches, and sensory detail with the best of them. 3. Fey does voice, with a self-deprecating awareness that creates the double-vision I tell my students to cultivate. 4. Fey takes on the hypothetical and imagined reality that is often shocking to the publishing world but natural to anyone with a brain. In other words, she makes a joke about life in a hypothetical “So-I-said-to-myself” tone while acknowledging that this is all going on in her head. She laughs about this as “joke reality,” that it doesn’t need explaining in the land of comedy, but sometimes does in the context of memoirs evaluated on their truthiness. 5. Fey does not do sappy-sweet insights. She pitches against every feel-good narrative and digs deeper into her own character and foibles to find the hilarious complexity. So… I can’t see why Bossypants is not memoir. It’s the kind of memoir we should aim to write.

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