Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

I’ll start with a disclaimer: I love Parks & Recreation. I love all of the characters, but Leslie Knope is one of my favorites. While searching for Yes Please at the bookstore, I initially asked an employee if they had Leslie Knope’s memoir in stock yet. Sometimes I still slip up and refer to it that way.

Also, I think Amy Poehler is way cool. Not just because she brings the Leslie Knope character to life, but because she does things like create the Smart Girls website, which, in its own words, emphasizes “intelligence and imagination over ‘fitting in’” and wants girls to be their “weird and wonderful selves.” Also because she was awesome on Saturday Night Live and when hosting the Golden Globes.

All of this is to say that I came at Yes Please with a strong bias. The idea of hanging out with Amy Poehler for 329 pages sounded like a pretty great deal and I was jazzed to start reading.

The book gave me exactly what I was looking for. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like a traditional memoir; rather, it feels like sitting in her living room, looking through a big box of her mementos with her, and listening while she recounts her memories of her childhood, her career, her family, her friends. Basically, it’s very much like hanging out with her for a few hours.

Yes Please doesn’t get deep and dirty. It avoids deep discussion of topics like her recent divorce and only lightly touches on any emotional struggles. Still, it does give a pretty clear portrait of Poehler as someone who is unflinchingly honest and tells it like it is; someone who truly cares about and appreciates those around her; and someone who, despite her career successes, remains humble.

Her humility, for me, is particularly wonderful. Poehler gives the sense that, even though she’s been doing it for years, she still can’t get over the fact that she does what she does or that she gets to work with the people she does. Writing about her friendship with Adam Horovitz and Kathleen Hanna (of Beastie Boys and Le Tigre/Bikini Kill fame), she says, “I’m blowing my cool cover but I am so psyched we are friends.” Then, she runs into a giddy list of other people she’s friends with and almost blurts out, “It’s awesome! I can’t lie, it’s so awesome!”

Tied into this is how much appreciation she gives to those who have contributed to her success – not just other show biz people, although she does recognize them, too, but the behind-the-scenes people you’ve never heard of. She thanks each of her nannies by name, crediting them with her ability to do what she does while being a mom, while acknowledging that she is lucky and that some people cannot afford such a privilege. She also thanks by name and photograph the TSA worker who found and returned her laptop, which contained the whole manuscript of Yes Please.

The book covers a variety of topics, including how she got into improv, her challenges with insomnia, her experience hosting the Golden Globes, and her time working on Parks & Rec, among others. While all of these were interesting, the best part of the book for me were the sections spent on her childhood. Poehler’s descriptions of growing up, the awkwardness of her adolescence, the excitement of starring in school plays and realizing for the first time in her life that she could improvise if she wanted to, the unspeakable sadness she felt when her best friend’s mother died of cancer, are all beautifully rendered and relatable.

Still, what stands out most are the sections on her parents. Yes Please gives a lot of room to Poehler’s parents, even allowing them to author short pieces about the day she was born. Her descriptions of her parents make clear her love and admiration for them, while simultaneously painting pictures of real, hardworking people who are just as interesting as their famous daughter.

In between all of these sections, Poehler includes memorabilia, childhood and family pictures, lists, and poems. Featured are treasures like her old report cards, a poem from middle school, sex advice, and haikus like this one: “Hey, shooting poison/In your face does not keep you/From turning fifty.” As much as the narrative, these give you a sense of Poehler as the honest, funny, smart, and sentimental woman she is.

Basically, Yes Please delivers exactly what Poehler hopes it will in the book’s preface: “an open scrapbook that includes a sense of what [she is] thinking and feeling right now.”

Rachel Adler is a writer and editor who is currently wandering through Montana and Wyoming. Yesterday, she had the opportunity to see baby bison nursing. It was way cool. She thinks everyone should visit Yellowstone. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Boulder, Colorado. Sometimes she posts things on her Tumblr.

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February Favorites: Tiny Fey

Everyone’s a little awkward, but Tina Fey is the best kind of awkward: the kind that can laugh at herself and let us laugh with her too. I’ve always looked up to Tina Fey as an idol of dorky glory, and this book only solidifies her as the queen of nerds.

41BzyifaJdLIn Bossypants, Fey tells stories about growing up, working her way through improv school, breaking into the comedy world, and becoming the creator of her very own network television show. She takes us through her life—beginning with her adolescent awkwardness, her college dating experiences, her happy (and unhappy) experiences in show business, and ending with her thoughts on turning forty—always exhibiting the sharp wit and biting humor we known her for. Even when tackling the tough issues, like thriving in the comedy world despite its blatant sexism and its “boys club” aura, Fey cracks ironic and sarcastic jokes that make reading about her experiences pleasurable while still highlighting important aspects of being a woman on the comedy scene.

But her book isn’t all about doom and gloom and staying funny while facing adversity. There are genuinely comical moments, like

  • When Fey and her husband survive a honeymoon from hell… Well, I guess this story is actually kind of about laughing at adversity. And near-death experiences.
  • When she has her first interview with SNL producer Lorne Michaels, and it goes exactly how you think it would.
  • When she confronts mean Internet commenters… Okay, this one is almost certainly about laughing in the face of adversity.
  • When she gets 30 Rock off the ground and running, and even manages to get Oprah on an episode! Achievement unlocked: Oprah. See? No adversity here.

So… her book is often about cracking jokes at misfortune, but that’s part of the book’s charm; no matter what Fey goes through, she keeps her head held high and finds a way to laugh about it.

What I love most about this book is Fey’s relatability. She’s an actual, real person who works (incredibly, super-duper) hard to ensure a good career and happy life for herself and her family. Throughout the book she deals with the internal tension that comes from being a total dork who strives to fit in with the glamorous crowd, but eventually comes to accept and even embrace her imperfection and flaws. My favorite part of Bossypants is when Fey advises us to treat life like an improve show. Rather than negate everything and everyone all the time, approach situations with a “yes, and…” attitude that leaves us open to all the good (and yes, sometimes bad) life has to give us.

Bossypants is really just a wonderfully hilarious read, in part because Tina Fey is just a wonderfully hilarious person. If you’ve enjoyed her other comedy and television work (improv with Second City, Saturday Night Live, Mean Girls, various Sarah Palin impressions, 30 Rock), and if you’re looking forward to her next project (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, starting on Netflix in March this year; I know I’m excited!), then you have found your next book.

 

Erika is a PhD candidate in English and Composition Teaching Intern, and will soon begin dissertating on how community identities are formed through social media. When she isn’t perusing tomes on rhetorical theory, she enjoys reading all kinds of things, fiction and nonfiction alike, but especially poetry, science fiction, fantasy, and biographies.


A Whole Lotta Demons

100Demons

Everyone’s got demons, right? And even for those who think they may not, there’s a Zen painting exercise that opens Lynda Barry’s wonderful 100 Demons complete with monstrous critters emerging from her own process therein. So, the ostensibly demon-less can join in, too. Barry’s cartoon avatar-self provides the reader with a brief explanation of the exercise, thereby cleverly framing the book and giving yet another use for yellow legal paper. Then we’re off on a journey through Barry’s own 100 demons, which include “Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend,” “Resilience,” and “The Aswang.” I highly recommend Barry’s comic book, which collects strips that appeared previously on salon.com into a longer story about the trials and travails of childhood, family, love, drugs, adulthood, death, and being weird. Plus, there are detailed instructions on painting your own demons, complete with supplies lists and suggestions.

First of all, full disclosure, I am a lifelong comic book reader. Regardless of my bias, though, I think I would still love Barry’s book. At a short, rectangular 6” x 9,” the book’s odd size makes it stand out before even being opened, and I know I’m breaking a readerly axiom here, but look at that cover! (My Lit Witches colleague did it first…) Barry’s whimsical, dynamic line quality and bright color palettes dance through every page. A mixture of collage and watercolor opens each chapter, announcing the particular demon she showcases. The pages’ large, often dialogue-heavy panels recall both old school underground comix and newspaper comics, yet Barry’s style is all her own.

Make no mistake, potential reader, there is not only a nostalgic fun aesthetic, but also some lurking cognitive creepies at work here. The juxtaposition of stylized cartoon bodies, glittery collages, chain-smoking and hollering matriarchs, nasty realities (no spoilers, just read it), and the monumental awkwardness of adolescence build to a small treasury that mixes the big gnarly, long-toothed demons with the smaller more common variety. Frankly, little Lynda—and big Lynda—suffers, but she also persists. Rather than taking the self-indulgent turn all too common in the days of memoir’s reigning popularity, Barry guides us through all of the hilarity, banality, and despair that hold sway over our short attachments to this mortal coil. Sit in the glittery, bright-hued, mixed media darkness with the demons and laugh and cry.

 

Annie is a writer, teacher, proofreader, and shy megalomaniac. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico where she is currently dissertating about narrative images from medieval manuscripts to contemporary comics. She studies flamenco and puts paint on things, too. You can find her on twitter, and trade red chile or sugo recipes to her for getting you an audience with that shadow you keep seeing in the corner of your eye.


Welcome to Lit Witches

Welcome

It’s our launch day and I’m so excited. If you’re not familiar with what we’re up to here at Lit Witches, here’s the rundown: we’re a bunch of ladies who support women authors. As such, we’re here to share recommendations for texts we love. Those texts could be poetry, books (of all kinds!), comics, cookbooks, you name it, we’re here to share the reading we love with you.

This week, we’ll see recommendations for Erin Morgenstern’s, The Night Circus, Aimee Bender’s, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Lynda Barry’s, 100 Demons.

Pull up your favorite familiar, pour a cup of tea and let’s get started,

a.c. waechter (current, head-witch)