In light of the past months (year) of political turmoil, I recently began looking for something to read that would provide a distraction and make me feel better. I needed to fill that social media shaped hole I’d created several weeks ago by stepping away from all things negative. In the past, I’ve been more of a novel reader, but in hopes of lightening my mood, I decided to turn toward nonfiction, specifically memoir. Since I was going for humor, I sought out books written by women comedians, because comedians are funny, right? The one word answer to that question, I discovered, is sometimes. Sometimes, but not always. Although all comedians are funny in one way or another, not all of them are successful in writing humorous books, and after reading one-too-many of these unfunny books that had been mistakenly assigned to the humor section, I was forced to expand my search. I stayed with memoir, but explored those that had been written by female actors in addition to comedians. And what do you know; I found what I was looking for.
So if you, too, are in need of a pick-me-up because your side lost and you feel battered, or because your side won and you feel battered, or because of the impending and inevitable recount–Good Grief, here are some books that are interesting and funny and uplifting. Go ahead. Escape for a moment to the lighter side of life. You’ll be glad you did.
Note: Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking makes my list as well, but I read it so long ago, I didn’t feel I could write an accurate recommendation. And I’m eagerly awaiting Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Melissa McCarthy to get busy writing, but so far—nyet. Oh, and Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can comes out today, so there’s that nugget for all us Lorelai fans to add to our Christmas list. Let me know if you’ve read a worthwhile memoir I haven’t mentioned. I’m hoping there are many.
Scrappy Little Nobody
What a delight this book was! Anna Kendrick (not to be confused with Kate Mara) is pleasantly entertaining and fun to read in this well-ordered collection of stories about her life. She opens with a retelling of her first performance in front of a live audience as a five-year-old, when she forgot the words halfway through her rendition of Shirley Temple’s On The Good Ship Lollipop. I won’t tell you what happened, but three pages later I was still laughing. She went on to perform in a Broadway show at the age of twelve and later, opting out of college, she moved to New York before ending up in LA. As young Hollywood does, Kendrick reveals a plethora of information about her sexual experiences, but unlike some of the others, she doesn’t seem angry or entitled or out to prove anything to anyone but herself. She takes the reader on a fascinating backstage tour through her experiences as an actor. From her on-set work, to dealing with the press, to the inner workings of awards shows, she covers it all. Kendrick’s talent has landed her roles in Pitch Perfect, Twilight, Up in the Air with George Clooney, and the recently released The Accountant with Ben Affleck. She works hard, doesn’t take her success for granted, and seems wise beyond her thirty-one years. She’s a fresh voice, the kind of person you wish success, and her book will leave you entertained, uplifted, and hopeful for the younger Hollywood generation. Brava Anna!
Why Not Me
Penguin Random House 2016
Like many of you, I first met Mindy Kaling in one of my favorite shows of all time The Office. She played the needy but optimistic Kelly Kapoor who was nothing if not relentless in her persistent pursuit of poor Ryan Howard. I loved her in that show, and I love her even more now that I know she wrote twenty-four of its episodes and was nominated for an Emmy in the process. The woman is brilliant, but in an unassuming, unimposing way. As proof of her intelligence, she attended Dartmouth, and she didn’t get in because she was a star, she got in before she was a star. Yes, she probably could have been the doctor she now plays on TV in The Mindy Project if she’d wanted (her mother was an OB/GYN), but she chose the entertainment industry instead. Opening with Maybe you accidentally bought this thinking it was the Malala book, she sold me from page one. She writes, she creates, she produces, she acts. She laughs at herself and believes in herself. She deals with her non-traditional looks and non-skinny body in a business that loves skin and bones. And she succeeds. She works long hours every single day, frequents McDonald’s, and hopes to find true love along the way. The last chapter of her book addresses confidence. And here’s the simple but wise insight: work hard, know your stuff, show your stuff, and then feel entitled. Only listen to the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. It’s simple but sage advice, and it’s certainly working for her.
I chose this book because I wasn’t sure why Amy Poehler had become so wildly popular in recent years. Sure, I’d seen her on Saturday Night Live, and yes, I’d caught snippets of her sitcom Parks and Rec because my boys love that show and for some reason, it’s always on, but I’d never really stopped to give her a chance. Then she went and wrote a book, so suddenly I had motivation to find out what made her tick. After reading her book, I understood the draw. In it, Poehler introduces us to the world of improvisational comedy, which is foreign to most people (me). Improv is all my biggest fears rolled into one: public speaking, thinking on your feet, and a bright spotlight bathing you in vulnerability. But to comedians, it’s heaven. And also a lot of work. But what I learned about Poehler was that she is soft and strong and insecure and confident and most of all wildly passionate about most everything in her life. From her wonderful family (her mom: you’re the prettiest and the best), to her co-workers (they always wind up being her best friends), to her drive to succeed (this woman has worked and worked and worked her way tirelessly up the ladder), and her head-over-heels love for her two boys (Archie and Abel-how cute are those names); Amy Poehler is a down-to-earth superstar who deserves every ounce of success she gets.
Reagan Arthur Books 2011
It’s been awhile since I read this book, but I remember that it made me not only laugh out loud more than any of the others, but it made me like and respect Tina Fey even more than I already did. She opens with a story about how she responded the first time some jerk catcalled her. I won’t ruin it for you, but I’m sitting here laughing as I type. Fey is whip-smart, she’s powerful, she’s ferociously feminist, she’s sarcastic, and she’s hilarious. She was head writer on Saturday Night Live for six years and has since gone on to successfully create, produce, write, and act. She’s won Emmys, SAGs, Golden Globes, and Writer’s Guild awards. And she can toss out a zinger like no other. She explains the scar on her face only by saying that she was slashed by a stranger in an alley when she was in kindergarten–how horrific–but Fey doesn’t dwell on obstacles, she thrives on them. She seems determined, relatable, and likable and her book is both intriguing and hilarious. Enjoy.
Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty
Random House 2014
I fell in love with Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Diane Keaton while watching her years ago in Something’s Gotta Give. She stole my heart with her hilarious, heartbreaking portrayal of an aging playwright who reluctantly opens her heart to her daughter’s ex-boyfriend (Jack Nicholson) and proceeds to have it predictably and thoroughly stomped. Ah—my kind of movie, part comedy, part tragedy—what more does one need? To me, she was perfect. When someone asks the question: if you could choose anyone in the world, past or present, you’d like to have dinner with, who would it be? I would not say Mother Teresa or Maya Angelou or Amelia Earhart, no. I’d say, you guessed it, Diane Keaton. So, I’ll admit, I’d pretty much decided I loved this book before I read it. But then I read it, and I really did love it. Keaton is one of the most beautifully neurotic people I’ve ever read and she’s not ashamed. She’s talented and endearing and humble and strong and just trying to make it through another day like most women. She’s quirky and unique and her own brand of superstar. She wears her Annie Hall style clothes to hide her body, and wide-brimmed hats to hide her self-proclaimed disappearing hair. But somehow it always works on her, and she never fails to portray a picture of lovely elegance. Why? Because, as she explains, beauty is more than your face in the mirror, it is a combination of your flaws, your ineptness, and mostly, finding whatever works for you to get out the door every day. Preach.