Over the past week, I read two memoirs, and I have good news and bad news for you. Because I think it’s better to get it over with and move on to better things, I’ll break the bad news to you first…
Straight Up and Dirty – Stephanie Klein
According to the promotional material that accompanied the review copy of this book, Stephanie Klein’s blog, Greek Tragedy (http://www.stephanieklein.com) is in the top 1% of all blogs on the internet, which is both impressive and a sure shot at a book deal. This memoir deals with Klein’s life post-divorce and all the woe, drinks, awkward dates and bad sex that entails. Apparently, she’s like a real-life Carrie Bradshaw, which I guess makes her popular, but didn’t really bode well for me as a reader, since I never could figure out the deal with Sex and the City. It’s a memoir, so it’s of her experience as she recalls it, which is fine of course, though her recollections often come across as so glib and glossy that it’s hard to find the real emotion that must be lurking underneath it all somewhere. To put it both straight up and dirty — I hated this book. Mostly. I mean, it has a pretty cover.
The memoir is somewhat non-linear and reads like a series of blog posts, and the tone, which I think is supposed to be kicky and fun often comes across as bitchy and judgmental. Now, I’m not usually one to complain about things that are bitchy or judgmental, but really. Am I honestly supposed to get my panties in a twist as a show of solidarity for the time that one guy had the nerve to suggest a date on the Lower East Side? Does the use of the word “insipid” in conversation truly make a person sound like “a black man impersonating a white news anchor”? Is it true that if a guy says “cock” instead of “dick” he’ll be great in bed? Yeah, see, I’m not convinced. These things, combined with Klein’s puns and other cleverness — the ex-husband is called The Wasband, the aforementioned use of “insipid” makes you not only black pretending to be white, but also awkwords, her friends are chicklets, and instead of a divorcee she’s a divorcette — came across (to me) less cute and more like trying-too-hard cleverness on the order of a motivational speaker who tries to get you to change your life by using fun words. I only have room for one motivational speaker in my life, and that is Matt Foley.
Perhaps the reason I am just not that into this book is that I’m too Midwestern and never-divorced to understand the horror of being taken to Jersey for sushi. Though I think that’s exactly the problem — I shouldn’t be too Midwestern to connect with it. It’s the writer’s job to make the subject matter relatable, to give me something to latch onto. Because even if our experiences are completely different and we have nothing in common, I still think I should get more out of my reading experience than I’m not as cool as Stephanie Klein because I’d never spend $125 on a tank top to make me feel better about myself and I don’t party in the Hamptons. Anyway, I thought it was all pretty damn painful (more painful still when I read that she got a $500,000 advance for this and another book, and she is in talks to develop a sitcom about all of this), and I just wished that the book had turned out to be as entertaining as its back cover pretends it is, instead of being a bunch of tries-too-hard narcissistic prose. In short, I can honestly say that I haven’t enjoyed not reading a book all the way to the end in a very very long time.
And now for the good news…
After putting down Straight Up and Dirty in a fit of irritation and sadness for the state of the world of books, I picked up Beth Lisick’s memoir, Everybody into the Pool, which has just been released in paperback. The back cover claims that if I’m a fan of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell, I will dig this, and since Sedaris is one of those rare writers who has actually made me laugh out loud (not a lot, but some), I hoped this book would be right up my alley, and oh, how lovely to have my hope fulfilled. I laughed right on the first page, and though I’m not much of a laugh-out-loud kind of reader, Lisick’s memoir was able to, at the very least, keep me smiling from page to page.
From tales of being a high school homecoming princess in a hideous plaid dress with a Crisco-aided tan to a story about stealing money from nuns to help pay for an abortion, the vignettes often veer into the realm of personal awkwardness, but it always seems okay to laugh at them, because it seems clear that Lisick is laughing too. Aided by a self-awareness that never comes across as “look at me!” self-aggrandizement, Lisick’s razor-sharp wit keeps things moving along at a quick, enjoyable pace. Who doesn’t love quick and enjoyable? People who want to be slowly bored to death, I suppose, but I think anybody who doesn’t want to be slowly bored to death will certainly find something to like in this book.
It’s probably unfair to draw comparisons between this and the previously-reviewed Straight Up and Dirty, but since I read them back-to-back, it’s hard for me not to. Whereas the problem (or one of the problems, rather) with Klein’s memoir was that it was impossible to relate to her, Lisick’s book is so open and accessible. I didn’t grow up in the suburbs in a two-parent home, I was never a homecoming princess and I never had a live-in hippie babysitter, but I could still relate to Lisick’s storytelling — the teenage awkwardness, the procrastination, the gift of getting into bizarre situations — all rang incredibly true to me. It may not seem like that much, since I am often reading things like The Book of Margery Kempe, but I mean it most sincerely when I say that Beth Lisick’s Everybody into the Pool is, without a doubt, one of the most fun things I’ve read all year.