The Sunday Salon: A Supposedly Funny Author I Might Try Reading Again

by Kim on February 19, 2012 · 24 comments

The Sunday Salon.com I’ve had two quite busy and stressful weeks at work, which has cut into the brain power I have for reading and blogging. I just haven’t been able to write any reviews lately, and I’ve been struggling to get into some of the nonfiction I’ve got on my plate right now.

This week, Thursday was especially mentally and emotionally exhausting, so by the time I settled in with a book before bed I was just looking for something frothy and goofy. I’ve had Jen Lancaster’s My Fair Lazy: A Culture-Up Manifesto out from the library for about a month, and it seemed like exactly what I needed.

Unfortunately, I really, really didn’t like this book… despite the many, many positive things friends and coworkers that have good taste in books have said about  Jen Lancaster, it did not work for me. I finished the book up this morning and couldn’t help wondering what was wrong with me. What wasn’t I getting about this author that everyone else seems to love?

I thought about my cranky reaction all day (hence this very late post), and I think I finally came up with my two big problems with My Fair Lazy that, combined, left me actively annoyed that I actually bothered to finish reading it. First, the stunt memoir part of the story was poorly executed. And second, I didn’t think Jen Lancaster’s persona was funny at all.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a super geek when it comes to the sub-genre of the stunt memoir. I’ve read a lot (really, a lot) of stunt memoirs, so I have deeply-held ideas about what makes them interesting and what makes them seem like, well, a pointless stunt. One of the most important aspects is to set up the premise of the book early, then get started working on it right away. The stunt also has to have something for the reader, a reason we care about the author going about whatever stunt they’re planning.

My Fair Lazy fails pretty spectacularly on both accounts. While Lancaster does set up the idea of becoming more cultured early in the book, she doesn’t really seem to get started doing anything about it until well over 100 pages into a 360 page book. Sure, she goes a play and visits a society hotel in New York, but those things happen more as a result of Lancaster procrastinating on writing her next book and going on a book tour… which is not what I really signed up to read about. And finished the book without ever getting the sense that I cared whether Lancaster became more cultured or that she was offering me any lessons I could apply to my own life (other than some general platitudes about “Live life to the fullest!” and “Try new things!”)

To be fair, it could be that Lancaster didn’t intend My Fair Lazy to be a stunt memoir, and I placed the wrong set of expectations on the book before I even started. But, the full subtitle — “One Reality Television Addict’s Attempt to Discover If Not Being a Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or a Culture-Up Manifesto” — makes me think I’m not totally off-base… but that’s open to debate.

Secondly, and probably more damning, is that I just didn’t think the persona Lancaster adopts for the book was very funny. All of the reviews and in-person recommendations I’ve gotten to read Lancaster have talked about how hilarious she is… but I just didn’t get it. I think I laughed out loud once in the entire book (at a joke about fois gras being meat butter). I think if her sense of humor had clicked more with me, I wouldn’t have minded the fact that this isn’t a very good stunt memoir. But when the book was both not funny and not well-executed, I got annoyed.

I read some reviews online after finishing the book, and it seems like I’m not the only person that was less-than-thrilled with this particular Lancaster memoir, suggesting that this is the worst of the several she’s written. So I want to try again, sometime, with one of her other books, to see if maybe it was just the execution of this book that I disliked, not Jen Lancaster as an author. I’m leaning towards Bitter is the New Black, but I’m open to suggestions?

Have you ever been excited to read an author that let you down? Or, brought the wrong set of expectations to a book that caused disappointment? What are you reading this fine Sunday?

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

bermudaonion (Kathy) February 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm

I’ve found with books like this, a little can go a long way. I would think 360 pages of humor would feel forced after a while.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:27 pm

That’s a great point — 100 fewer pages would have been awesome.

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Aths February 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I did try Jen Lancaster once, with her Bitter is the New Black, and I didn’t really get past the fifth page. I had been so looking forward to reading her books and laughing my head off, but I found her humor too sarcastic and cynical. Meh, not for me.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Oh good, I’m glad I’m not the old one. This one didn’t seem cynical, but it was very sarcastic… but also forced. I just didn’t laugh at all, which was disappointing.

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Trisha February 19, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I read the first few pages of a few Lancaster novels, but I couldn’t get into any of them despite the fact that so many people I trust recommend them.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm

That’s so strange! I’ve had so many recommendations, I was feeling like I was the only person on the planet that didn’t think this book was funny. Apparently there are lots of people who are just quiet about it?

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Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog February 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I tried one of her earlier books and had the same experience. For humor writing to work for me, it needs to seem like a natural part of the writer’s voice (think Sarah Vowell), not a contrived act that the writer is self-consciously putting on to convince me that she’s funny, and Lancaster didn’t hit that mark. She seems very sure that she’s funny–which I guess is good for her self-esteem?–but she was selling way too hard.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

That’s a great way of putting it: the whole book, from concept to voice, felt really forced and uncomfortable to me.

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Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm February 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm

I hate it when books don’t live up to recommendations! Sometimes I think it’s that people over-recommend things, and then I’m expecting more out of them than I ought.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:34 pm

I worried about that too… was I just expecting her to be too funny? That’s why I want to try again with a book that got better reviews than this one seems to have gotten.

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Amused February 19, 2012 at 10:00 pm

I really like Lancaster and have a couple of books reviewed on my blog if you wanted to check them out. I found that audio really made them shine for me!

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm

That’s good to know! I’m always looking for funny audio books, especially for long car rides. That might help.

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Jeanne February 20, 2012 at 8:33 am

I just have to say that I love your DFW-inspired title.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Ha, thanks. Nerd alert!

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Suzanne February 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

I loved her book Bright Lights Big A** because I think I read it at just the right time. Her other books – meh.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Oh yes, the right time certainly does help!

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Cindy Dwyer February 20, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I read Pretty In Plaid, which started in her childhood so was a good place to begin. Some parts were hysterical, others honestly disturbed me. But it set the stage for the reader to understand that her humor is…different.

I agree with Kathy’s theory about the length. I never finished any of her other books either. But I enjoy following her blog.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm

That was one of my thoughts too — starting with a late memoir might not have been my best bet. Maybe people who feel like they’ve gotten to know her respond to this book better than a Lancaster newbie.

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Citizen Reader February 21, 2012 at 9:53 am

I have never for the life of me understood the appeal of Jen Lancaster, and I never will. I think she is decidedly UNfunny. I think last year she put out a novel based on her experiences of living in the house where they filmed part of the movie “Sixteen Candles”–maybe you would like her better in fiction.
And have you read any of Hollis Gillespie’s essay collections yet? Now, Hollis, although she uses more profanity, is actually funny, unlike Lancaster. And she would play in nicely with your “essay a day” plan.

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Kim February 22, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Thanks for the recommendation! There’s one Gillespie collection in my library, so I’ve got it on hold now. I am getting close to the end of Best American Essays 2011, so I need another one.

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Lisa February 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Just the kind of book that makes me always wonder why I bother to try this kind of book, even as a sort of sorbet against the heavier hitters. Sorry it didn’t do what you needed it to do!

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Kim February 25, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I’ve read some good funny, sorbet sorts of memoirs for when I need a break… this one just didn’t work for me at all!

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