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03 September 2010

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I haven’t read any of Ms. Lancaster’s books. In fact, I have never even HEARD of her…if that makes you feel any better. I have heard of Baudelaire. I read some of his poetry in college French classes. I doubt anyone will be reading Lancaster’s work 150 years from now.

I also don’t understand how she can have a fourth “memoir”. I guess, when I think of memoir, I think “autobiography”, which should span childhood to adulthood in my mind, not the past five years or so.

Even Laurie Notaro ran out of stories about herself and turned to thinly veiled fiction.

Ruthiella,
Well, actually, that does make me feel a little better. And yes, Lancaster herself has said that her books mainly constitute a "guilty pleasure." Still. I like a little more pleasure in my guilty pleasures.

Ah, the memoir vs. autobiography question. A very good one! I think memoir used to be more synonymous with autobiography, but in the last decade they've been so hugely popular that I think everyone's trying to publish everything as memoir--even if their story only covers a year (or even less time). Anyone else got a feeling for this?

Kerry,
This is terrible to admit, but I never found Laurie Notaro all that funny either. I didn't know she'd started writing fiction! Very interesting...maybe that's where Lancaster will turn next.

Yes! Someone else who dislikes Jen Lancaster's writing! I only got past part of her first book before throwing it away. I found her too grating. I don't feel bad saying this since she has a lot of fans already.

She sounds like this generation's Kathie Lee Gifford...except Kathie Lee had a show and she was on every morning. Lancaster has books that we can run right out and avoid.

I thought Lancaster's Such a Pretty Fat was funny. I don't get the popularity of Stephanie Klein or Julie Powell. Gah!

Thanks for taking one for the team, CR, because I could never pick up this book. This is one of the reasons I'm not a big memoir fan - often there isn't much substance in them especially if the author keeps writing spinning them out. At some point it must become a book of essays about one's life rather than a memoir. Hey, you got me thinking after reading a post about a book I won't read.

I love my husband but I would probably have to shoot him if he noticed that a man or a woman was not wearing a belt at a party let alone taking photographs of it in disbelief. Think of poor Alec Baldwin - what if he noticed someone taking photos of his belt area. These people are just creepy. (Another morning where I comment without enough coffee!)

I totally agree about Jen Lancaster and Julie Powell and lump them in the same category. At some point being bold and sarcastic turns into rude and whiny. And that point, for me, is very early on. And don't get me started on their work ethics.

The situation with memoirs is iffy, too. I often read and refer to "comedy memoirs" that are really humorous essays. LC's "American wit and humor" doesn't really cover it. That makes me think of Dave Barry.

Valerie!
Yes, "grating" is a perfect word. I never quite know what to do with her as an author; on the one hand, I know she's quite popular so I do want to suggest her to people who like humor writing; on the other hand, it sticks in my craw to do so. I also bring a lot of baggage to the topic because I'm still waiting for a really funny woman to come along and write some books--to me, Lancaster and Notaro don't count. Chelsea Handler can be quite funny but is a little too, ahem, open for everyone; Nora Ephron's quite funny too but skews a bit older in audience (I think), and Hollis Gillespie I actually find very funny but no one has ever heard of her! What do you think? I'm still looking for the female David Sedaris or David Rakoff.

Bybee,
Tee hee, Kathie Lee. Isn't she on the Today show again or something? Yet another good reason to keep the TV turned OFF.

Sherry,
I agree with you about Julie Powell, although my problem with her first memoir is that it read like a completely unedited blog. Now, coming from the author of a completely unedited blog, that's rich, but it's not like I'm slapping a cover on these ramblings and trying to sell them. And "Cleaving" was just a terrible book, ugh, I still shudder just thinking about it.

Venta,
Well, I wasn't so much taking one for the team as I was just trying to figure out this woman's appeal. I don't mind if memoirs are slight, or really more humorous essays--I just want them to actually BE funny if that's what they're purporting to be. And it really has nothing to do with being uppity--Lancaster's been called an author of "chick lit NF"--and I love fiction chick lit. So you'd think I would be her target audience.

Yes, evidently her husband was taking pictures of "celebrity butts" at the party. On the other hand, I would guess Alec Baldwin is probably used to some weirdness from fans. He's hilarious himself but seems like he might appeal, at least partially, to a strange demographic.

I hope by now you've been able to enjoy some coffee! :)

I remember finding Lori Borgman's "I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids" amusing. I tried to read Chelsea Hanlder's book & thought it was awful. Got to about page 20. Yuck.

I would so love to find a female Sedaris. That would be the humor find of a lifetime.

I confess (wow, I feel like I should be in a small cubbyhole asking for absolution) that I like Jen Lancaster. I don't think she's a great writer, or even a good person, by any stretch. But...I cackled through the first 3/4 of Bitter, and was amused by much of Such a Pretty Fat. The last one was "meh" at best, and I have this one on my shelf and will have to scramble to read it before it's due back.

I think for me the appeal is that she is, indeed, a shallow ass. She's me, if I had a lot more self-esteem, an unwarranted high opinion of myself and my abilities, a ridiculous facility to land on my feet when I should fall on my face, very little depth and self-awareness, and ABSOLUTELY NO FILTER.

Do I like that her writing appeals to me? Oh, hell no. Am I going to stop reading her books? Well, if this one is as disappointing as the last one, then yes, it will be my last. But I stand behind Bitter as shallow entertainment. I like seeing her brought low. I like hearing about the horror that is her living situation. It's fun.

Yes, the writing is horrible. But to be honest, I think Russell Brand is both smarter, better read, funnier, deeper, more self-aware and a better writer than Jen Lancaster, and I had to put down My Booky Wook and slowly back away. Sedaris's last collection also wasn't up to his usual standards.

Hmm, all of this is sounding far more defensive of my guilty pleasure than I intended. I think I'll just summarize by saying no, she's not a good writer, but there's something amusing about someone who is so, so awful and yet so generally harmless.

I started off as a Jen Lancaster fan. But as I've gotten through her books, I don't like her anymore. I'm just so tired of the same attitude, over and over again. The same themed stories. When writers don't grow with their audience, they lose them. I *hate* how in her books she's always telling people to go buy her other books. After her second book, I decided I would only get her books from the library just because that pissed me off.

It's sad in the light of so many people in this economy really hurting.

Sherry,
Well, I really like the title "I was a Better Mother..." I'm going to check it out!
Yes, Chelsea can be funny, but is definitely not for everyone--more so in subject matter than anything. I do think she's a more skilled writer than Lancaster, though; at least her chapters/essays read like vignettes and not just some stuff that was rambled into a diary or blog.

Rachael,
Thank you for explaining the appeal. I DID ask, after all. You'll notice that I too made my way through the entire book (and Bitter...) so there is something a bit addicting about it. I think it only bothers me because she writes NF. I read and enjoy a lot of not spectacularly written genre books, particularly romances, and they don't strike me as a personal affront. But somehow for NF I am never willing to accept it as a "guilty pleasure" and let it go at that.

But do you really want to BE the type of person who has no self-awareness and no filter? At least in fiction you know the asses are fictional. Real-life asses who are PROUD of their assiness, that's a little depressing. Again, that's probably just me.

I'm so sorry you didn't like Russell Brand's book! Too many personal details? I must admit I find his stand-up much more clever than the book was, but he still kind of charmed me in My Booky Wook.

Sarah,
Good for you! (I understand spite as a motivating factor, and say kudos on getting her books from the library.) Part of what I don't like about her, I'll admit, is that she does seem to be a very astute marketer. I know that shouldn't make a difference, but when people are a little too smooth? It makes me nervous. Lancaster's particularly ingenious because her smooth marketing ploy is her unsmoothness. "I'm just a girl with no filter! I don't give any of this any thought! Aren't I disarming? Buy my books! Oops! I didn't know it was unsubtle to say that!"

Oh my, I must really have my crank on today.

I haven't read Lancaster, but as for memoir vs. autobiography, the MFA take on it would be that an autobiography is a book that covers your whole life, and it's usually written by someone famous (someone famous enough that people are interested in their whole lives, or think they might be).

A memoir, by contrast, covers only a section of someone's life. Sometimes that's a chronological section -- that's where you get all the books in the genre that I call "I Went and Did This Thing for a Year." Sometimes it's a section defined by a particular theme -- the period where I got sober, the times I've been ill, the walks I've taken with my mother. So you might well write multiple memoirs over time, each with a different focus.

The old director of my program liked to use the term "the literature of memory," which is rather lovely.

Er, I spent the last week cooped up in my house trying not to pull any stitches. I think I was a little stir crazy when I posted this because I really don't feel all that passionate about her writing. I've met Jen, and she's probably not quite the person she claims to be (ok, she may not be far from it, but still).

I wouldn't want to be as clueless as she is/seems to be, and that is the ultimate problem with her work--she claims to be learning lessons, but you see no evidence of growth or change over time. At the same time, though, I appreciate that she's honest about what a wreck of a human being she is, and some of her little bits o' (non)wisdom make me laugh.

I think I've just read so much dry non-fiction, and so many failed attempts at "depth" and "meaning" that suck all the joy out of reading, that I'm willing to let her take me to the shallows. For me, it's a willingness to take a book on its own terms (though I hold fiction to a higher standard than non, simply because I think fiction writers have more leeway and should damn well take it).

The Russell Brand memoir I read just before you posted your review, so I was excited to see that you enjoyed it. I really wanted to, and to some extent did enjoy his (obvious) talent and intelligence. It just made me so sad, and I didn't want to go through that journey with him.

Re the saving money bit - I suppose they have to keep up the facade, have the house/car/clothes/lifestyle. Besides, saving money might indicate that they doubted the gravy train would continue.

Re Alex Baldwin - perhaps his saying "I'm sorry, who are you?" is his way of saying "Have we been introduced"?

Laura,
I like the phrase the "literature of memory," very much. Thank you for sharing it!

Rachael,
Hey, whatever stitches you're trying not to pull--I hope you are doing all right. Sit down and read some more, take it easy (even if it is Lancaster--I'll allow it!).

Yes, I could see not wanting to go on Brand's journey with him. I hope most of that stuff is behind him now so he can get on with being hilarious and slaying me with his wonderful Essex (is that where it's from?) accent.

p.s. I totally hear you on dry. I've read a lot of bad serious memoirs too, so I get what you're saying.

Sarah,
Yes, the facade, I always forget about the facade. So much energy put into the facades. How do people stand it?

Alec probably recognized her husband as the guy who had been taking pictures of his beltless butt, and didn't want any part of meeting her, I would guess. :)

Well, I certainly am enjoying the comments, which is good, as I'm close to positive I would NOT care for Jen Lancaster's books. "Grating" seems a good description, and I agree about the stupidity of not saving some of the big-bucks paychecks. (I'd start in on a rant as to why our nation is in the hole we're in, at least partially, but what would be the point?) She sounds a self-absorbed, self-obsessed whiner -- most unattractive. Try a different humorous memoir -- by a woman (Constance Feathers) who had her own cabaret show. She talks about life post-divorce in "Secrets of a Mysterious Older Woman," and gives her own secrets to becoming a MOW. She takes off to rural France with a count; he didn't speak English and she didn't speak French, so they spoke the ever popular "Body Language." (Who hasn't done that?!) Then when they could speak each other's languages they found out they had nothing to speak about (who hasn't had that happen?!) So -- Secret No. 16 is, "Never trust Body Language, even if his syntax is sublime.

Darn it; did the link not work for "Secrets of a Mysterious Older Woman? See http://www.constancefeathers.com

Ugh, I take it back. I'm so done with Jen Lancaster. This book is the final straw. Boring, boring, boring, and not even fun snark. Grrr.

I received a recommendation for "Bitter is the New Black" in my blog comments. Thankfully I remembered to check your blog before picking up a copy from the library. I love your blog!! Why waste time reading another overrated book. Now how to respond to the comment...

Well, Savvy, do check BITNB out from the library if you decide you have to read it. She's a huge bestseller so there's something about her people like...it's just that I don't get it. I'd actually be interested to hear what you think about her, but I know, there's not enough time to read the good books and the books you really DO want to read!

I personally adore her and her books. Sounds like a few of you need to lighten up and enjoy some humor in your life. All of my girlfriends, myself included enjoyed every one of her books. I love that she can laugh at herself and can share her most humiliating moments! Who starts dislike blogs about authors? Too much time on your hands, find more positive and constructive things to do with your time!

I'm glad for you, Amanda, and I'm glad to hear someone likes her--it explains why she's a bestselling author. But what is it about her that's so funny? Do you like that she'll say anything? The focus of her stories? The writing? Who are other authors you enjoy? Really, I just want to understand.

And thanks for your suggestion re: finding more positive things to do, but I personally find that asking questions and trying to understand why readers like the books they do to be a very constructive use of my time. But I'll certainly work on enjoying some humor in my life--just not Jen Lancaster's.

I personally have tried to write to Ms. Lancaster but she has never replied. I was a fan of hers until then. I should have known she was going to use her bitterness and be a chicken.

Really, what's so humorous about her work? I understand the first memoir (Which I bought at a rummage sale for $1). She lost her high paying job, boo hoo. What's the point of the other memoirs?

She needs to watch out. Someday her bitchiness will bite her in the ass.

Jealously appears to have gotten to you since no one gives a shit about anything you're writing. Best selling books and TV show in the works w/Martha Stewart don't happen from crappy writing. NPR and Chicago Tribune columns don't happen from crappy writing. Grating. Whining - the kettle calling teapot black. Get over yourselves! She had never professed to be the nobel laureate of writing - she makes people laugh.

Lindarosen,
Yeah, jealousy is probably a fair charge. I'll admit to jealousy of any NYT bestselling authors, for the royalty checks alone!

I'm glad she makes you and others laugh. We need lots of laughs. Perhaps you need a dose of her good mood right now--you seem a bit angry about this post, which, as you point out, no one gives a shit about, and will certainly not affect Ms. Lancaster's sales or many writing contracts. Sometimes I just like to provide an opening for people who have different opinions about books than the majority does to talk about them. I think that's important too. But I'll try and get over myself nonetheless.

I think everyone that is complaining needs to relax and lighten up! If you don't enjoy relaxed humor of everyday life situations- most Iof which I can identify- then you aren't really living!! Don't suck the joy out of moments! Being happy and laughing and reveling in little, everyday situations is half the fun of life. Somehow I think you are missing the point! Smile- have a glass or two of wine, relax in a tub, and lighten UP!! You probably shouldn't try and read my blog either! Ha!

Collyn,
I can't read your blog--you didn't provide a link to it.

You're probably right that I could lighten up, etc. etc. And perhaps her books would be better if I had a couple of glasses of wine first. Good suggestion! Thanks!!

I loved "Bitter", everything else was just on repeat. I think the appeal for me was the "riches to rags to riches" story, and since I'm also an aspiring writer and immature, the style was fresh and interesting. However, the later books tended to show her slow spiral back to the narcissistic self-described bitch she learned NOT to be in the first book. Now I find her, and honestly most of her fans, just mean. If you don't like her work, you're "jealous" or "uptight". I've written three blog posts about my Jen experiences, and they are unedited blog posts, but if you're interested, I'll learn from Collyn and leave a link! http://adayinthewife.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=990&action=edit Thanks for your post, I enjoyed it!

Julie the Wife,
Thanks for the link--but I couldn't access it. It asked me to sign in. Just an FYI.

I do think one thing Jen Lancaster is really, really good at is getting people to keep giving her publishing deals, even though she's been running low on material ever since that first memoir. But the books are still selling, I suppose, so there you have it.

And p.s., I'm totally jealous of her bestsellers! Who wouldn't be?

I think her appeal is the same appeal anyone has for another person. We all have someone in our life we relate too, who makes us laugh or tells stories we like to listen too. The thing is this will never be the same person for everyone. All you have to know to "get" Jen Lancaster is that there are some who relate to her on some level. There are a lot of books I enjoy reading and a lot I do not. I am fascinated by the mind of Stephen King. I have seen some of the movies that have been made from his books. I have tried to sit down and read a couple and have had a very hard time getting very far. My conclusion isn't that I don't "get" him, but that how he writes is just not what I enjoy to read. I don't think every author or genre is for every person to "get". Everything in life touches different folks in a different way. It's the beauty of what makes things interesting. It's what makes browsing through a book store fun. To find that one gem that speaks to us.

Wow, what a bunch of bitchy ego-centric whiny posts. I love Jen. Seems like if you don't you shouldn't read her books. Instead, you read them so *you* have something to write about in your blog. Hmm. Yes, she's best-selling because she's awesome and you are? Lame.

Amelia,
Meant to reply a long time ago--sorry about that. You are right that not every person has to enjoy everything. Sometimes when I write these posts, I really am trying to get at why people like an author that I don't. It's the librarian in me--we always have to help people find stuff they might enjoy reading, whether or not it's to our own personal "taste." If Jen's a gem for you, more power to you.

Stina,
Glad you love Jen. You'll notice I said lots of people do, and I apologized at the very top of the post for not finding her funny myself and having to resort to asking what the appeal is.
I still think "awesome" might be stretching it a bit. I did find this on another forum and think this person summed up her appeal better than I ever could:
"I think she's hilarious, but I do go into it with the understanding that yup, like kthanksbye said, she's elitist and self-absorbed." (from http://getoffmyinternets.net/forums/stay-on-my-internets/jen-lancaster/)

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