How's this for an inspiring series? This week I'll discuss some books I read recently that were, at best, "so-so." (She says, while shrugging apathetically.) Our first title in the series is Lizz Winstead's Lizz Free or Die: Essays.
Wouldn't you think I would have laughed more, reading the essays/memoir of the women who co-created The Daily Show? I don't even remember why I placed this book on hold at the library, but I'm pretty sure I heard about Winstead's role creating and writing that show (although she left it before Jon Stewart came along and made it unmissable). It's kind of a free-ranging collection, from stories of her youth, college, early days in stand-up, to her creation of The Daily Show and later successes. It's not poorly written, and in many ways Lizz herself seems quite likable. An early essay, about the preponderance of babies she came across in her childhood and the many baby-centric social outings her mother dragged her to, did make me laugh:
"There were always babies around--sometimes there were so many, it seemed they came in bulk, like our family was the Costco of procreation...
...The parties were made up of about fifteen women and were a combination of my sisters, aunts, grandma, and cousins. They sat in a big circle on flimsy folding chairs, most of them tryig to balance a baby or toddler of their own on their laps while simultaneously gobbling up plates full of 'the egg dish,' a bready/eggy casserole lathered in cream of mushroom soup. This was the food of choice at every family gathering that started before noon. Cream of mushroom soup, however, was the ingredient of choice for every recipe ever created in the 1960s and 1970s, no matter what time the gathering or what the main dish was. I like to think of it as America's binder. And it's a fitting metaphor for baby shower conversations: thick and bland." (p.8.)
But it never really got any better than that. Periodically I would pick it up and read it and pretty soon I noticed I had read most of it, but here I am only a few weeks later and I can hardly remember any of it. I do remember this: she includes an essay ("All Knocked Up") about an early experience when she became pregnant by her high school boyfriend. It's not so much about the abortion she would end up having, as it was about the way the woman at the clinic where she found out about her pregnancy treated her, but I still found it super depressing. While I was reading this one I had also just started Leslie Jamison's much-lauded essay collection The Empathy Exams, which also includes a personal story about abortion, and it was just too much. I don't want to get into a big long thing here, but it depressed me that all these ostensibly feminist memoirs include abortion stories, when abortion seems to me, frankly, such a passive (or at best, reactive) way to assert the self.
But even before the abortion essay this one just wasn't as funny or as sparkling as I wanted it to be. So-so.