Bossypants by Tina Fey: A Review

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By Tracy G. Cassels

I have to admit that I found the title quite apt for me as my own daughter has become quite the bossypants herself.  Trying to start the book was quite an ordeal as every time I tried to open it while she was awake, she would walk over to me, take the book from my hands, close it, and return it to the bedside table.  And if my hand reached over for it again, she had her hand on mine pulling it away before I could get to it.  Of course, she’d been doing this for a while with everything she didn’t want me to do, making it very clear that my priority was to be whatever she had in store for me.  So with this going on in my life, I aimed to read about it in someone else’s.  You see, somewhere along the line, I became under the impression that there was a parenting element to this book.  Perhaps it was a review, or a friend, I don’t know, but I started the book ready to read some parenting stories or how to’s – you know, the usual for a memoir on parenting.  But, um, apparently that was a big mistaken thought for this isn’t a parenting book at all.  In fact, there’s very little about parenting involved in any, way, shape, or form (but I will talk about what little there is).  It’s a memoir, plain and simple.  So with that little surprise out of the way (which took me a good few chapters to accept), let me get on with it…

The book is funny, there’s no doubt, as Tina Fey is generally a funny woman.  However, like most of her stuff, I found that when she seemed to be trying too hard to be funny, it just didn’t work.  She had bits responding to internet comments that frankly seemed too forced to make me laugh (though it did get me wondering how I’d handle the kind of vitriol she’s faced online without a way to punch the nameless person in the face, and I realized it takes quite a bit of fortitude – and money – to do so).  But what I find makes Ms. Fey so funny is her way of just describing the ridiculousness of the world around her.  At that, she is a superstar and it was in these moments that I found myself laughing aloud to this book.  The story of her honeymoon, her work at a stage production in her hometown, working at the YMCA – all classic examples of the wit with which she sees the world.  After all, there certainly is enough “ridiculous” around us every day, but many of us fail to see it or fail to see it in its naturally humourous light which is why we need people like Tina Fey to make us cognizant of it so we can laugh at it too – even if we’re part of it.

At the end she finally got to that whole parenting thing, but marginally.  The only real bits on parenting had to do with breastfeeding and working moms.  For the breastfeeding versus formula debate, Ms. Fey seems to be on the breastfeeding side – pointing out the ridiculous ads for formula in articles touting the benefits of breastfeeding , and saying, “I knew when it came to breast-feeding I had an obligation to my baby to pretend to try”.  Now, this is a humourous book – I get it and by and large I like it – but what she then describes shouldn’t be humourous because it’s really a massive statement at the failure of our system to help moms who have troubles breastfeeding.  While Ms. Fey was in the hospital, a nurse helped her try different holds, none of which worked (though she never tried the breast crawl, the most successful of all as it’s based on baby’s natural instincts), and nurses came in to give her daughter formula without asking.  Doctors recommended adding formula because her daughter was on the smaller side.  She started pumping instead of breastfeeding to get breast milk to her already supplemented daughter (which she doesn’t seem to realize doesn’t get your milk in nearly as well as actually breastfeeding) and ends up depressed and switching to an all-formula diet at around seven weeks.  And while she jokes about all this, it’s frankly quite sad to read.   Her description of formula?  “[Y]ou know it smells like someone soaked old vitamins in a bucket of wet leaves, then dried them in a hot car.”  Lovely.  And she feels guilty about it at the same time.

The problem?  Her take-home lesson seemed to miss the point that there was a failure of support and a failure of other options if breastfeeding had continued not to work for her.  Instead she gets angry about moms who tout the benefits of breastfeeding, and gets ready to do an IQ test between her daughter and another breastfed baby when the father mentions off-handedly how breastmilk makes babies smarter.  (To be nit-pickity, she also misses is that it’s a comparison within the same baby – not across.  Your baby will be smarter with breastmilk than without.  How s/he will compare to others includes a host of other factors.  Research only says, all else being equal, the breastfed baby will usually be smarter.)  It’s unfortunate because she really did seem to understand the benefits, but probably because of the path she had to take given the lack of support and other options, she got on the bandwagon of formula is just as good to help alleviate the guilt.  I would have much preferred her wit pointed at the system that failed her instead of the mothers who talk about how good breastfeeding is (the “Teat Nazis” as she describes them).

The only other parenting bit was about juggling work and being a mom.  Her daughter was very young when 30 Rock started and thus Ms. Fey has been working long and hard hours continuously during that time.  Here you get to see the real debate back and forth between work (especially when not necessary) and staying at home.  While she does take some shots that I think many stay-at-home moms would counter (i.e., that stay-at-home moms crave news from the “outside world”), she has an incredibly balanced look at work and family.  She also rightly points out that one of the big distinctions for her is that she works at her dream job – not many people get to say that – and that there are a heck of a lot of jobs on the line if she quits.  She seems to phrase it as the grass always looks greener, but who knows?  Does she really want to be at home with her kids full-time?  I don’t think so, despite the few comments to the contrary.  The tone of her writing makes it clear she loves what she does and that should count for something.

All in all, the book is funny and quite witty when it comes to examining this messed-up world we live in.  Somehow Ms. Fey has managed to extrapolate from her own life to the larger problems and idiocies of the world and it’s refreshing.  At times she tries too hard for my liking, but when she’s on, she’s soo on.  Now if only she’d breastfeed…

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Comments

  1. says

    Umm…who’s Tina Fey??

    I hate it when you pick up a book thinking it’s one thing and end up with something else, especially when you are by then invested (for whatever reason) to finishing it. I’ve had this issue a number of times, sometimes I end up with a new good book (like…ok, I can’t think of the title of any book this has actually been true of, but it has happened!), sometimes it’s a blot on my reading career! (Like when I picked up a romance by accident with the same title as another book, bleck, I don’t do sexual romances, but I was *so* sure the title was correct I just kept reading it hoping maybe it was just taking time to get to the parts I remembered, that book went into the trashcan). Glad you enjoyed your misunderstanding.

    • says

      Tina Fey was on Saturday Night Live and left to create and star in 30 Rock. I generally find her funny (when she’s not trying), but got a little annoyed with the whole formula vs. breast thing in the book. Especially given that this book has done gangbusters (my wait for it at the library was months).

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