Wednesday, March 3, 2010

'Bitter Is The New Black' Prompts Me to Say: O Jen! My Jen!

Get it? In the spirit of "O Captain! My Captain!" from Walt Whitman -- but more importantly, the line from Dead Poets Society (which is from Walt Whitman)? After reading Jen Lancaster's first memoir (which has since been followed by three others and a soon-to-be-published fifth), I just have to say: Jen is my hero. Thus, the reference to "captains" which evokes (I hope) feelings of idolizing someone, which (in the case of Jen Lancaster) I do.

In her first memoir, 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 (no, seriously -- that's the title), Lancaster writes about her fall from grace. Grace being a several-thousand-per-month penthouse apartment in a swanky Chicago neighborhood, and the "fall" landing her and boyfriend Fletch in a $1600 per-month 2 bedroom in a lesser neighborhood which is truly more of a 'hood. And therein lies the loving her/ loathing her conundrum that is found in all of Lancaster's memoirs. She's hilarious (loving her). She is also, however, a "condescending, egomaniacal, self-centered smartass" (loathing her). And seriously -- can I feel sympathy for a person who lives in an apartment that cost (almost ten years ago) almost four times my own rent? Granted, I live in small town America, while Lancaster lives in big city Chicago. But really? I'm expected to believe $1600 = the 'hood, just because the neighbors speak languages other than English? Lancaster needed a second wake-up call -- a second fall, period.

And she gets it. Although I would NEVER (can I say that again? NEVER) say I was hurting for money while having a lavish Vegas wedding at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino (I've never even been to Vegas! Well, okay. I was in their airport once for an hour or two.), Jen gets a bigger reality check when she and Fletch are almost evicted. And she has to sell all her former fashion "prizes" on eBay to keep them in food and electricity. Somewhere along the way, she realizes that her $800 handbags and $600 pairs of shoes were a wee bit much. In other words, things that no one would ever need. She comes to hate the Prada bag she once loved because it represents all that went wrong for them. As she and Feltch scramble to find jobs first at big firms, then at Starbucks and Pottery Barn to no avail, you begin to feel a little bit of sympathy for her. That, and she's really, really funny. And abundantly able to make fun of herself.

Why, you might ask, is Jen Lancaster my hero? She's funny. I get it. She learned an important lesson (maybe). I get that, too. But hero? Well, at the end of the book, Lancaster makes an important decision. She decides to embark on chasing her dreams -- real dreams, based on what she enjoys, not on a quarter of-a-million-dollar salary at a marketing firm. And she succeeds (as evidenced by her now-five published books). That (and the sense of humor) makes her idol-worthy in my opinion.

Pick up a copy of Bitter is the New Black and prepare to have your socks knocked off because you're rolling around on the chair/floor/couch/bed laughing so hard.

For your enjoyment, a video interview with Jen:

(**Note: Remember when I liked but didn't love Jen's second memoir Bright Lights, Big Ass? And I said that she had obviously grown as a writer, making her last two books a bit better than that one? Yeah, forget that. It must have been an off week when I read memoir #2, because this first one rocks just as much as the last two did.)

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