Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Report: Layoff Memoirs

Note to self: Writing a big fight/action scene right before going to bed isn't conducive to relaxing and falling asleep. Then again, trying to go to bed with a big fight/action scene in my head but unwritten probably would have resulted in weird dreams and not getting much rest, anyway, so it's kind of a wash.

I haven't done a book report in a while, mostly because July involved re-reading/reading Harry Potter, and I hardly needed to do book reports to tell people about those (I would like to eventually discuss book 7 -- has everyone read it yet?). In August, I've mostly been writing, so I've been avoiding a lot of reading. However, I have let myself read non-fiction, and I stumbled across a couple of humorous memoir-type books that were a lot of fun (I discovered them while bored out of my skull at a booksigning when I resorted to reading off the nearby shelves). These are in the genre sort of being called "blooks," or books based on/spinning off from a blog.

Bitter is the New Black (or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office) by Jen Lancaster is the riches to rags story of a high-flying professional surfing the dot-com wave who then lost it all when both she and her husband were laid off in the post-9/11 bust. She went from shopping for designer labels to selling everything on eBay in order to pay for basic necessities. It's not nearly as bleak as it sounds because it's all written with a kind of catty humor that practically invites you to enjoy her misfortune. She doesn't hold back about what kind of total, raging bitch she was and how she really got a comeuppance. I found myself relating a bit to the story, since I, too, was caught in a post-9/11 layoff and ended up with a book deal. I do allow myself a bit of a moral high ground because I think I handled my layoff much better without a lot of hardship or drama since I was never a big spender and therefore had money set aside so I never missed a mortgage payment or had to worry about how I'd buy groceries, even though I had a much, much lower salary to begin with -- and I never even filed for unemployment. Then again, she got a much bigger book deal out of it all and her book sold a lot better than mine did, so I guess she got the last laugh.

The follow-up book is Bright Lights, Big Ass (or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?). The first one reads almost like a novel, as it does tell a story with its own plot arc. The second book is more like a bitchier 21st century Erma Bombeck, so instead of having a plot line it's more of a series of essays about modern life in the big city and how those Sex and the City girls were totally full of it. Parts of this book are laugh-out-loud funny, to the point of having to put the book down for a while to recover before going on with it.

I will admit that when I first started reading these books, I had to double-check to make sure they weren't actually written by my freshman-year roommate from college, under a pen name, but I'm pretty sure now that they are two different people who may or may not have been separated at birth (they were in different sororities, however). On the one hand, she sounds like the embodiment of all the character traits I hate, but on the other hand, she's aware of that, has a sense of humor about it, and I bet she'd be a good friend to have in your corner. Plus, she likes chick lit, the Sci Fi Channel and Television Without Pity, so she can't be all bad. (And I just know this chick Googles herself on a regular basis, and I may be a little afraid of her, so I want to make sure I say something reasonably nice.) For a taste of the style of these books, you can read Jennsylvania, the blog that started it all.

You know, maybe I missed the boat by not blogging my way through my whole layoff-to-book-deal experience. That might have paid off better than writing quirky fantasy novels. Then again, there really wasn't all that much drama to it. I went from modestly paid PR job to being laid off, freelancing and living off my savings, to modest book deal. The day-to-day details didn't have a lot of room for conflict or humor. I could probably tell the whole story in three blog posts. Hey, maybe that's what I'll do for the rest of the week.

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