Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Review: Bitter Is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

In Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, Jen Lancaster really does bring a Prada purse to the unemployment office. It is a bad move. She's called "Ms. Prada" by the employees (who I am impressed all recognize the bag - I'm not sure I would, not being much of a label person) who then delay her unemployment benefits. Good to know.

I was laid off last month. I still have a couple more weeks of severance checks to go before I can apply. (In NC it's state law - you can't apply for unemployment until your severance has run out.) I haven't been job hunting too hard yet. I'd like to stay in the book business but in my neck of the woods, jobs are few and far between. I just have to bide my time and keep my ears open. When a job does come open here, I have to hope that my big fish in a small pond position works to my favor. Meanwhile, plenty of time to read!

I have been reading Ms. Lancaster's books all out of order. This was her first one, and it's the fourth one I've read. It was pretty hilarious. She really has personality oozing out of her ears, which makes her a captivating storyteller. You are partly watching out of train-wreck hopes, but also because she's just so hilarious you can't wait to hear what she does next.

Initially she's wildly successful and is making six figures in the dot-com world, and her boyfriend is also making big numbers at a telecommunications company. But then (it's the early 2000s), the dot-com world goes bust and Jen loses her job. Then her boyfriend's company is being investigated (it eventually is revealed to be WorldCom), and so he loses his job too. Lots of bills, and no income. Jen isn't a sit-on-your-butt-and-cry kind of chick - she applies for any and every job she can, she dumbs down her resume, she works temp jobs, but even in a huge city like Chicago she exhausts her options. Eventually they have to sell her car, Fletch's car is repossessed, they move into a small apartment in a bad neighborhood, their electricity gets cut off, they have to ration necessary medications, and they contemplate moving back to Indiana and moving in with Jen's parents.

There are excellent lessons here about saving, planning for the future, not investing so much personal self-worth in labels, but it's really about perseverance and hard work. Jen never gives up. She seems like a negative person but she really isn't. She may be bitchy and snarky but she gets up every days and works like a dog to get a job, while keeping Fletch's spirits up and keeping house and home together. I thought this would be an excellent book to read right now as I begin my job search, and I was right. While Jen's diatribes about the crazy Russian construction crew next door or her nutso dogs or her bitch of an ex-best-friend who stole a job out from under her are laugh-out-loud funny, I kept reading to see if someone as hard-working, determined, and who never truly feels sorry for herself would ever catch a break and get rewarded for her work ethic and follow-through. You can probably guess the ending but I won't spoil it with details. Meanwhile, I was completely distracted by her funny friends, her endless requirements for a new apartment, the hippie neighbors, and her ridiculous interviews. I hope my own job hunt goes better than hers. I am incredibly happy that I have savings in the bank and that the Federal government has extended unemployment benefits so that mine won't run out as quickly as hers did. I am a bit intimidated by her excellent cover letters (which I totally can't steal due to the success of this book.) I am jealous of her wardrobe (even if I have way, way more clothes than enough already.) If you have any unemployed female friends with an ounce of humor, this book would be an excellent pick-me-up gift for them. I was truly and thoroughly amused, and hope I can stay ahead of the eviction notices myself.


Booksnyc said...

I read this earlier this year while on vacation and literally laughed out loud poolside - it is a great book!

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I was laughing so hard while reading this book, my husband came to our bedroom to see what was going on!!
I haven't read any of her others because I am afraid I will be disappointed.

Jennifer Perry said...

Simply put - I worship Jen Lancaster. she understands the pain a lot of us are going through and that it can happen to anyone at anytime.
My husband and I are voracious readers. But when I read Jen's books, I laugh so hard he puts his book down and has me read to him.
Jennifer 'Madame Perry's Salon' Perry
PS - If you love Jen, hopefully you'll like my blog http://memoirsofamisanthrope.blogspot.com

Carin Siegfried said...

@Gerbera, the others aren't quite as funny, but I'd say they're 90% of the original.

@Jennifer, I am a new follower! Yes, I'd say you and Jen L. have a similar sensibility, good luck with your job hunting!