Book review: Funny face Tina Fey's Bossypants

Published: June 5, 2011
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Literature today is the result of much experimentation and there’s nothing more enticing than reading a unique work. Unfortunately, not all experiments are successful. To say Tina Fey’s comedy memoir Bossypants is one such failed attempt is to risk being too generous. The 277-page book at times feels like an elongated punch line.

If you are already a Tina Fey fan, you will probably like this book. But if you are familiar with great humour writers, or if your knowledge of comedy as a genre is not limited to the popular TV-comedy then this is not the book for you.

The story generally follows her life, her junior high school issues which are typically related to her looks, self-image and sexual matters, her average jobs in the beginning of her career, to her achievements in show business (mostly consisting of behind-the-scenes stories of “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”).

Something between a memoir and a supposedly humorous take on life, the narrative mode of Bossypants appears more like a hotchpotch of biographical revelations, poorly written essay-like prose, and a meandering commentary imposed upon the writer’s own personal experience. But the most annoying thing about Bossypants is the overuse of one-liners, with the result that you never feel like you are reading a book but rather going through the painful process of listening to a hastily-drafted comedy sketch.

Fey seemingly wants to portray herself as ‘deep’ but ironically the book is all about face-value; you don’t find a hint of depth under the trivial subject matter of Bossypants. Those who expect this book to be a feminist guide to life are gravely mistaken. This is not some kind of feminist manifesto for the average working women at any stretch of imagination. Fey is a representative of the liberal-humanist school of thought who believes that the end goals of the struggle for women’s rights are the right to vote and equal employment opportunities. In fact, she never shies away from using the vulnerable position of women for comic purpose. The title of the book is quite suggestive in this regard — it shows a woman who has successfully managed to make her way to the top and is willing to embrace the prevalent male-oriented hierarchical structure to stay in her bossypants.

Fey portrays herself as an eccentric talented woman, a super-nerd, half-Greek young girl who used to fancy Caucasian men and doesn’t believe in using the unending range of cosmetics available today … but she does not shy away from handing out her own version of essential beauty tips for women.

The abundance of parody, exaggeration, and superficiality in the book create the impression of an elusive author who is afraid of saying anything truthful and thus ends up with a part-whimsical and part-conceited narrative.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 5th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Jun 6, 2011 - 4:26PM

    Fair enough.
    But for a book that claims to be a humorous biography at best, why on earth would anyone go into it expecting a feminist manifesto?! Not all women are ‘feminists’ and not all books are politically motivated.Recommend

  • Umair Khan
    Jun 6, 2011 - 7:43PM

    @aryzha:

    It is not essential for a writer to belong to certain ideology to ‘qualify’ to be analysed from that ideological perspective by some reviewer. If a piece of writing is not claimed to be feminist work, it does not mean no one can comment on that work from feminist theory perspective. In fact a piece of writing is critiqued by the perspective of a theory which is not upheld by that text. Leftists critique rightist writings from a marxist perspective. Liberals critique conservative writings from a liberal perspective. So does, non-feminist works dealing with issue of women could be critiqued from a feminist perspective.

    And secondly, even if this writing is not politically motivated, that does not mean no one can dare apply feminist criticism on it. Feminism is more than a political ideology. In fact, even Liberalism or Marxism are not only political theories. All of these theories have broader social dimensions. Not every serious debate or argument is supposed to be political.Recommend

  • Tamara
    Jun 7, 2011 - 9:52PM

    “But if you are familiar with great humour writers, or if your knowledge of comedy as a genre is not limited to the popular TV-comedy then this is not the book for you.”

    Could you be any more of a snob?Recommend

  • Crystal
    Jun 10, 2011 - 7:32AM

    I agree with this review. I love Tina Fey, but I was disappointed at the superficiality offered in this memoir. She is charming and witty, but her snarkiness is a smokescreen that keeps you from really seeing who she is. The book only reinforces that sense of being kept at arms length — which is fine. Obviously, no one is required to bare their soul, but memoirs are designed to do exactly that, so I was a bit confused when I read one that led to absolutely no insight into the author’s thought process, character, etc. Recommend

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