Lady Cusp’s #CBR5 Review #6: Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossy pants is amazing

You know that cliche everyone says: ‘just be yourself’?  It is universal advice given on topics such as career, romance, general happiness etc.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of this advice (as I often have), you should read Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It is a master class.  Has Tina always been herself?  To read her memoir, yes. And while most of us don’t have her wit, exhausting-to-even-read-about work ethic, or weird lucky resemblance to one of the most legitimately absurd political figures of my lifetime, she’s still undeniably inspiring in her authenticity.

The memoir includes anecdotes of growing up dorky, a few improv tales from Chicago, SNL vignettes and many 30 Rock shout-outs.

All written as if you were just chatting with your bestie, Tina Fey.  Of course, she’s doing all the talking with her awesome stories and all you’re contributing is laughing and enthusiastic head-nodding.

I whipped through this book. And really, if you consider yourself a ‘pajibian’ then you have probably read it at least once all ready and love it too.  Image

Lady Cusp’s #CBR5 Review #5: A First Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi

ImageNassir Ghaemi takes on reverse diagnosing some of history’s greatest leaders in A First Rate Madness.  His thesis boils down to: it takes crazy to fight crazy.  He argues that leaders in history, such as Lincoln and Kennedy, were as successful as they were because of (not in spite of) their mental abnormalities.  Nassir often circles back to Churchill vs Chamberlain to explaining that Chamberlain’s rational mind was not match for Hitler crazy, but Churchill’s depression/addict mind lead Great Britain to (a slow, hard-fought) victory.


Is any of it true?  Who knows?  It’s an interesting thesis, but there is no way to prove any of it.  Reverse diagnosis, 20/20 hindsight, and modern psychiatry imposed on historic (and dramatically history-altering) time periods is asking too much for me.


If you are someone who has an interest in Abraham Lincoln, William Sherman,  JFK, Gandhi, MLK or even George Bush and Tony Blair, then you may enjoy this book.  There are definitely some fascinating tid-bits (MLK attempted suicide as a very young man when he mistakenly thought his grandmother had passed away JFK had quite a regular steroid/amphetamine cocktail a la Mad Men’s episode ‘The Crash’).  But, all in all, not my favorite.

Lady Cusp’s #CBR5 Review #3: Life’s a Witch by Brittany Geragotelis

In this Young Adult novel, 16 year old Brooklyn Sparks uses magic to transform her high school situation starting with her looks.  The story begins on the day of Brooklyn’s 16th birthday and traces her through a day of ‘invisibility’ where she eats lunch in the counselor’s office and is generally ignored by classmates and teachers with the exception of tripping in the cafeteria and spilling liquid all over herself.

Luckily, that evening, Brooklyn receives her gift from her parents—untethered witch-hood.  Until this point in her life, Brooklyn’s parents (who are ultra-conservative witches) have seen fit to bind her powers in an attempt to teach her a normal non-magic lifestyle.  This result backfires and has had Brooklyn ceaselessly researching magic spells and doing whatever preparation she could til this point.  Within 48 hours Brooklyn has given herself a magical make-over which leaves other classmates asking for the name of her plastic surgeon.

By completely transforming her outside, Brooklyn is now in the running to join the popular kids known as ‘The Elite.’  Unfortunately, this popular crowd seems intrinsically evil and require and a series of tests into grey areas of morals, law and high school codes (the kind where kissing is considered cheating).  Brooklyn aces each test (using magic) with only an occasional sting of conscious.  Her external makeover begins to work inward and while other characters (her parents, her sweet crush, her lunch-pal/school counselor) tell her how much she’s changed, Brooklyn refuses to acknowledge this and consistently rationalizes and justifies her dubious post-makeover choices.

Since What the Spell is written in first person, I wonder if the justifications that Brooklyn uses to convince herself will also convince readers.  I also found it interesting that Brooklyn never undid her sweet 16 magical make-over.  And though she manages to oust the evil Elite, will she simply fill the void as the new queen B without any real introspection?  As part of a trilogy, we can only hope


Lady Cusp’s #CBR5 Review #2: ‘Tis by Frank McCourt

‘Tis is the sequel to the Pulitzer winning Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  Also a memoir, ‘Tis begins when Frank arrives in America at the age of 19 having escaped a hellish childhood in Limerick.  McCourt’s honest, simple and heartbreaking prose again makes the difficult circumstances he faces into a sublime book.  While he constantly refers to his chronic conjunctivitis (scabby eyes), frequent ‘failure to appear’ at dates with his fiancé due to what started as one drink at the bar, and insecurity and ennui at his string of dead-end jobs, I still felt a pang of jealousy at the moment when Frank describes his wedding.  Each recollection conjures such intelligence, warmth and hope that I undeniably fell head over heels in love with the author.

While there is less extremity to Tis than Angela’s Ashes, the story does trace Frank as he adjusted to having a life where simple survival is no longer the only goal.  This existential context shift is no small feat. Fate sets Frank up with his first job sweeping up trash in the lobby of a hotel, and then frees him from it when he is drafted into the Army during the Korean War.  All along, Frank sends money back home to Limerick to support his mother and surviving 3 younger brothers. 

Frank describes his dreams as a vague longing: seeing students on the subway with books attending college and later sitting on a bar stool at the Lion’s Head Bar where book jackets of their author patrons are framed along the walls.  What he describes as simple jealousy his readers can root for, knowing the outcome.

McCourt shares moments from his 30 year teaching career and the memoir also covers the death of both his parents which left me weeping for the last 50 pages or so.  This however, is my favorite excerpt (teaching):

“Lesson? What are they talking about? What lesson? All I can remember is the usual high school whine about why we have to read this and why we have to read that, and my irritation, my unspoken response, is that you have to read it, goddamnnit, because it’s part of the curriculum and because I’m telling you read it, I’m the teacher, and if you don’t cut the whining and complaining you’ll get an English grade on your report card that will make zero look like a gift from the gods because I’m standing here listening to you and looking at you, the privileged, the chosen, the pampered, with nothing to do but go to school, hang out, do a little studying, go to college, get into a money-making racket, grow into your fat forties, still whining, still complaining, when there are millions around the world who’d offer fingers and toes to be in your seats, nicely clothed, well fed, with the world by the balls.

That’s what I’d like to say and never will….”

Hug a teacher, or if you never really liked your teacher, pick up ‘Tis and fall in love with Frank McCourt. 


Ladycusp’s #CBR5 Review #01: Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

I am a twenty-first century Lucy fan in so much as I’ve seen clips from “I love Lucy” in film studies, women’s studies and media studies classes.  I may have fallen asleep to an episode or two on Nick at Night in my youth.  What really interests me about Lucy is her fame, her success, her work ethic, and the fact that her stardom hit at 40.  The show I love Lucy is historic for many reasons such as the innovation of 3 camera filming, being taped live but not aired live, merchandising, and the astronomical paychecks of the stars (large enough that Desilu was able to purchase Lucy and Desi’s former employer RKO motion picture studios).  I was hoping that Lucy might give be able to explain the success.

She dedicates just two out of 16 chapters to the years of I love Lucy and recounts the events with what seems to be an impartial, journalistic tone of an observer.  Perhaps it is due to the timing of the book.  It was put together from tapes as a ‘told to’ style from the early 60’s shortly after Lucy married her second husband.  There are infinitely more details in the stories from her youth such as when as a model in New York panhandling for one penny to make up the nickel subway fare than in her stories of success.

While it’s terse, it’s also easy to hear the rhythm of the Lucille Ball coming through the page.  So, what I learned from Love, Lucy was the life story of a famous actress: a regular gal with her General Foods image intact.  I wonder if such a feat would be possible today.   Jennifer Aniston might be able to pull it off—only time will tell.

If you have a soft spot for Lucy already, or would like a dose of 1950’s style straight-talk, I would recommend this book.  If not, I’ll share my favorite part: in the first sentences of the forward, written by Lucy’s daughter, she recounts: “One of my mother’s favorite things to do, when a small group of people were involved in some ordinary conversation, was to wait until one of them left the room and as soon as she returned, blurt out, convincingly, “Here she is now!  Why don’tcha tell her to her face?!!”  This was always followed by frozen silence, and then she’d howl (with that depth-of-the-sea laugh she had) to see the look on the poor soul’s face…”

I’ve got to try that sometime.

lucy book