Friday, July 11, 2008

REVIEW: Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster

Bitter is the New Black, by Jen Lancaster. Published 2006 by Penguin. Nonfiction. Memoir. Humor.

Okay, so something published in 2006, to which there have already been two sequels, is not exactly hot off the presses. But then again, like little black dresses and Jen Lancaster's brand of sarcastic self-depreciating humor, some things never go out of style.

Bitter is the New Black is Lancaster's first book, the beginning of her very successful series of memoirs; I reviewed the second, called Bright Lights, Big Ass, and her most recent book, Such A Pretty Fat : One Narcissist's Guide to Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie is Not the Answer, just came out. What makes her books so much fun is that she makes a big deal about how unlikable she is, or was- how frivolous, insensitive, self-centered, etc.- and then subverts that premise at every turn with her wit and candor. Nowadays Lancaster is a successful blogger turned writer, but Bitter takes us back to the days before her fame, when she lost her lucrative, challenging job in the corporate world, and had to not just find a new job, but find herself in the process. Out of work for much longer than she expects, she struggles with self-doubt and shame, with moving from stylish digs in a nice Chicago neighborhood to ever more and more squalid surroundings, finally being evicted from a place she thought she'd never even end up in.

The book is about what she learns through these transitions and how she bounces back. In the mean time though she makes you believe in the real humiliation and shame of losing everything, being unable to find work despite her considerable strengths, and having to face up to how her own behavior landed her in the hole in which she finds herself. But she does it with grace and a light touch and a sense of humor. When she agonizes over selling her purses on eBay to come up with rent money, or bemoans the mani-pedi-less state of her hands and feet, she reminds me a little, in a very silly way, of St. Augustine- "Lord, give me chastity," (or in her case, fiscal responsibility and healthy priorities) "but not yet." I think we can all feel her pain.

Anyway her books are fun reading for the beach or for a little spare time here and there. When I was unemployed for a pathetically long time after finishing my master's degree, I had some pretty bad bouts of self-loathing and self-doubt; I could so relate to her experiences. And I could smile at and with her pratfalls and struggles. She made me laugh, and she made me think. Not bad.

And you can find her blog here.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.