Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Bright Lights, Big Ass by Jen Lancaster

Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent, Surly, Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me? by Jen Lancaster

You really need the full subtitle to truly appreciate Ms. Lancaster's humor and snarkiness. Another funny, fun memoir from the twisted mind of Jen Lancaster. Some of hers have more of a point (losing weight, getting a job) than others, and this is less of a themed memoir with a point than simply a bridge book between two others, and it's just a year in the life of Jen. Not that this is any kind of a complaint, but some people who like memoirs to always have a point and not just be like a journal might want to steer away from this one.

I do have one teeny-tiny issue with this book is that one of her temp jobs is working for a darling Southern gentleman, and she relates his Southern language as best she can, but she frequently has him saying "y'all" when he's only referring to Jen. Not to the staff in the office or Jen and Fletch, or Jen and his other assistant, but just Jen. I'm sorry, and I know she's a Yankee so I shouldn't be hard on her, but Southerners just don't do that (except when words are put in our mouths by Yankees.) I was worried about mentioning this. I don't want Jen to hate me, because I love her. I worry this will be our "scrunchy" moment like Carrie and Burger when she had just one teeny tiny criticism of his book and it ruined everything for him. For me, as a former editor but even more just as a well-read former English major who does read deeply and for meaning and knowledge as well as escape, a critique shows how closely I did read a book. I only pick because I love.

That said, as usual Ms. Lancaster is mean and shallow and hilarious and smart and I loved every minute of this book. I adore that she works out in pearls (and I am tempted to do so myself.) I agree with her wholeheartedly as regards the brilliant Don Knotts (although I haven't seen that movie she references and it kind of scares me.) I admire her patience with her dogs, and with Fletch's cooking. I agree that those kids probably did have sex on his boss's boat.

One thing I find fascinating is when she talked about going to Barnes & Noble and seeing her book (Bitter is the New Black). I can't recall any other memoir I've read where the memoirist acknowledges that they are a bestselling author. People like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell and J. Maarten Troost make most if not all of their money from writing, and yet you wouldn't know that from reading their books. The only book I can think of that has a moment of knowledge is A. J. Jacobs's The Guinea Pig Diaries when he decides one of his crazy months of doing bizarre things ought to be doing everything his wife says, since so many people comment to him on how she must be a saint, putting up with his months (and years) of personal experiments. But that still only acknowledges the things he writes about, not the writing, editing, touring, etc. I really appreciate that in Ms. Lancaster's books. They really are about being a writer. she talks about deadlines, her pretty jacket, having to go to book signings, and so on. She also of course talks about being bored writing, and avoiding writing, which is the real reality of the job!

I really needed a light, humorous book this week and it's lovely to have someone so reliable. I know I can't go wrong with a Jen Lancaster book. They hit the spot, every time.


Unknown said...

Ha! I just left a comment on your "Teaser Tuesday" post about how much I am in love with Jen Lancaster. Then this review popped up. Yay :) I've been reading all around your site and I loooove it! I'm not even sure how I found it, but I'm so happy I did! In your travels around the Northeast, did you ever go to The Norwich Bookstore? It's one of my favorites :)

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I adored Bitter is the new Black -- but haven't read any of her other books. She is the funniest writer on the planet!

Kathy said...

In my anthropological observations (which amounts to being a yankee living in Texas for the past 19 years) I have found that sometimes Texans will indeed say y'all to one person. In fact, the plural of "y'all" (when a Texan is referring to more than one person) is "all y'all." So, while I can't speak for all darling Southern gentlemen (and, really, Texans are their own breed), maybe Lancaster wasn't so wrong about that.

This may or may not make you feel better, but I just thought I'd throw it out there. ;)

Lily said...

hopping on by, thanks for visiting my blog. You have a fabulous site, I'm a new follower

Carin Siegfried said...

Katie, yes, I have been to the Norwich Bookstore. So many awesome bookstores in New England, but I'd bore you to tears if I listed all of my favorites!

Kathy, true, Mr. James is from Texas, and Texans certainly wouldn't let a little thing like grammar get in their way, but I really have never heard it used that way. I've lived in Tennessee for 25 years, then New York for 5, and now North Carolina for 6, so aside from my NYC sojourn, I do have extensive knoweledge of the use of "y'all" and that's just plain incorrect, as misunderstood by a Yankee. Of course there is "all y'all" but that's normally used to indicate you're talking about a very large group, such as to indict a whole city or state or university of some crime against humanity, as opposed to just the people standing before you, the fraternity in question, the people at this party, etc. Now I haven't spent very much time in Texas at all - probably only 2 weeks altogether and at least a couple days of that includes layovers in the Dallas and Houston airports, but everywhere else in the south, that's just wrong. (And PS, when people use "y'all" incorrectly here in Charlotte, it's because they are Yankees trying to pretend to be Southerners, so be sure those carpetbaggers don't cloud your observations.) :)

Booksnyc said...

I am a big Jen Lancaster fan and am excited to get to this book - I fortunately found it at a Goodwill store recently!

Thanks for the review and education on correct use of y'all!

Jennifer Perry said...

Love, love, love Jen Lancaster! and thrilled to see other people love her too.
Carin S - thanks for putting it so brilliantly. I'm a native Atlantan now living in Asheville, NC