Detours through nostalgia

I just finished reading Tim Rogers’ memoir, Detours. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. I feel a bit bad about that. There’s nothing actually wrong with it. It’s warm, lovely, and funny, in parts. Banjo Paterson-esque in writing style. But I judge a good book by how compelled I am to read it, rather than how disciplined I must be before I allow myself to buy another book, and this one fell into the latter. By contrast, Tina Fey and Marieke Hardy had me turning page after page.

In the absence of narrative, memoirists must have to work a little harder to keep my attention. For memoir, it’s about humour and familiarity; familiarity with place or circumstances. I don’t seem to hold fiction to the same ruleset. In Marieke Hardy’s, You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead, it was humour and place, with mentions of familiar scenes in Sydney and Melbourne. In Tina Fey’s, Bossypants, it was her particular style of humour and that her alter ego, Liz Lemon, is pretty much me. I, too, have been awkward and bespectacled, working as the only woman with a bunch of donut-munching dudes, where a robust sense of humour is a business requirement.

But as I think about it, Detours does have some humour, is certainly familiar in the most aching way, so why didn’t it at least get a 4/5? I don’t read reviews before buying a book and if I had, I would’ve known this memoir, from one of my generation’s icons of the Australian music scene, doesn’t share many stories of the band and the lifestyle from the road or the stage. There are few references to that part of Tim Rogers’ life that we are most familiar with as Gen X, former Triple J listeners. Instead, it’s a more intimate insight into what it’s like to be Tim Rogers. I won’t bother repeating what the review in The Guardian says, because Brigid Delaney’s appreciation for the book captures the depth that was lost on me at the time of reading and is a far better review than anything I could cobble together.

I think it was the ache that chipped a star off my rating. The ache Rogers has as a long-distance parent, the aching anxieties that he’s managed throughout his life, and the aching longing that moments of his memoir elicited within me when he described the Melbourne of the early 90s. Out of home for the first time and well into the music scene, I frequented the same places and I often wish I could relive 1993, if only to take it all in again from the eyes of the naive 19 year old I was back then. In one story he refers to Topolino’s, a well-known St Kilda pizza joint that’s still there, and it drew me straight back in time. Sitting in Topolino’s with a couple of friends and band members after a gig, eating pizza and spying Judith Lucy sitting a few tables in front of us. Oof…there it goes again. Nostalgia hurts sometimes.

In the days since I finished the book, I’ve played Heavy Heart on repeat. If the publishers had done a book trailer, this would’ve been the soundtrack. It’s been made more poignant with the context of Rogers’ memoir. Perhaps I should revise my rating up.


Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

I first heard about Tina Fey when Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, ran for the vice presidency of the United States. The Saturday Night Live routines had hit YouTube and were being rebroadcast on commercial TV around the world. She had an uncanny resemblance. Or maybe it was simply having brown hair and glasses, as Fey tells it. Once the election was over, I forgot all about Tina Fey. Maybe it was her self-described plain looks, but it was more than likely because we don’t have cable TV. Late last year after the nth run through of a West Wing series, we decided to do what the other cool kids in our circle were doing and chow down on a series marathon of 30 Rock. I developed an affinity for Liz Lemon. We were of similar vintage with a shared weakness for junk food and a lack of confidence, but comfortable working in our respective male-dominated environments.

I read this book on the Kindle and I wondered how it would handle the photos that are usually part of a memoir. Happily, the Kindle does present the photos but they aren’t very clear. And, while you can zoom the text, you can’t zoom in on photos in hopes of a better look. There are also a few pages copied from an actual Saturday Night Live script with handwritten notes and edits that I could barely read. For this reason, I would recommend splurging on a paperback version, if you don’t mind it taking up space on your bookshelf. It’s a funny read, as well as being a quick and easy one. I read it in four late night sessions. You could easily re-read this book in a day, if you don’t have kids or a job.

Tina Fey has an enjoyable style of writing. It’s conversational, jokey, and just like Liz Lemon you expect her to sound. There are loads of comedic footnotes and hilarious asides. (If you do read it on the Kindle, don’t forget to click the asterisk footnotes as you go. It took me a while to realise what they were and I had to go back and cross-reference at the end.) Her self-deprecating humour and deadpan delivery are part of her charm and what makes her so relatable.

As the oopsie second child of older parents Fey chronicles the path to her 15 minutes of fame as Sarah Palin and the cultish following that 30 Rock began to draw. Starting with childhood she launches, almost straight away, into the story behind the scar on her cheek. Her intention is to get it out of the way as people seem to focus on it. I have never noticed it. After getting to know a little bit about her family and a lot about how awkward it was to go through puberty as a young girl in the early 80s, we find out about Fey’s theatre beginnings in a hometown community program called “Summer Showtime”. It was here that her interest in theatre was ignited along with the requisite friendships with “half-closeted gay teens”. Fey later completes a drama degree, has a boyfriend, works at the Y, takes improv classes and then gets a job with an improv theatre company in Chicago.

Bossypants is worth the ten bucks you might pay for it, not just for the comedy but the how-to. Fey explains the tenets of improvisation—agree, add something of your own, make statements and finally, there are no mistakes, only opportunities. But a lesson in comedy from Tina Fey is also a lesson in life. It’s not just comedy tips Fey gives you in this book. There are beauty tips, how to juggle family Christmases, how to juggle work and parenting, ways to find me-time, and the differences between Film Acting and Real Acting.

No Tina Fey memoir would be complete without stories from her nine years as a writer at Saturday Night Live and her interactions with production genius, Lorne Michaels; and then the transition to the creation and the, sort of success, of 30 Rock. We meet the main characters from both shows and their memorable jokes; we get the full background to Fey’s Sarah Palin and her brushes with Oprah and Monica Lewinsky; and we get the breakdown of Saturday Night Live’s six-week election comedy campaign.

Tina Fey is forty now. She has struggled with all that normal stuff Gen-X women have, and are still struggling with. From sluggish reproduction abilities to poor cooking skills and an ongoing, underlying mild anxiety. Her feminist leanings are threaded throughout the book in stories of her work and personal life—from mothering to marriage. Her experiences in stage and TV comedy are distilled in her vision and this one sentence from Bossypants: “My dream for the future is that sketch comedy shows become a gender-blind meritocracy of whoever is really the funniest.”