Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I checked out Jen Lancaster’s memoir, Bitter is the New Black, from my library and put it on my phone to enjoy while I drove to and from work. I expected that it would be a snarky, fun account of Lancaster’s descent into the ranks of the poor and back again, and I hoped that it would be a good book to listen to, and that it would help me decompress after long days of heavy conversations about literature with my high school students.
Well, I was partially right. The book was a snarky account of Lancaster’s woes as she went through two years of unemployment and came out of it a writer. It was not, however, fun or good to listen to, nor did it help me decompress in the least. It was also not as uplifting as you might think from a book about someone on the top of her game but completely egocentric who loses everything and comes out of it a “better person.”
While the book was snarky and sarcastic, it was far from funny. There were a few moments when I found myself laughing out loud – most of them during the depiction of her wedding preparations – but other than that, I mostly felt on edge while listening to her anecdotes. The trouble I had with the book went deeper than the fact that it wasn’t all that funny, though, and lies in the fact that Lancaster is the least reliable of narrators. She set out to tell her story, which is an important one, but she also set out to make herself look as good as possible, and she did that not by actually ending up as a good person at the end of her book, but by making herself look so incredibly bad at the beginning that any improvement would have made her look like a saint in the end. I actually don’t believe she changed at all; she just moved out of her posh apartment and sold all of her haute couture stuff. Anyone who would turn down an awesome job that they actually really needed in order to pay the bills in order to write, even if her husband has a job that can support them, is still a bit selfish for my liking. By her own admission, her husband was doing well, but they were not even close to out of debt. While I respect the urge to write and/or switch jobs, I could not ever justify turning down a job to start writing when my family desperately needed the money.
I also think her choice of vocabulary later in the book shows just how little her personality changed. Just as an example, when she was temping and heard people talking about her in the bathroom, she says something to the extent of, “Normally, I would have gone all Columbine on them.” Any person who is a truly good person would not use the term “Columbine” to describe their usual verbal slashing of offenders. It will always be too soon for that joke.
Add all of this to an unrefined and juvenile writing style, and I wasn’t too impressed to say the least. The writing style was so juvenile, in fact, and she dropped so many name brands, I found myself wondering if she was paid for product placement in her book. I wouldn’t put it past her.
I debated about whether to give this book two stars or three, and ended up going with three because, while it was overly snarky and sarcastic and all about her, it never pretended to be something it wasn’t. Right from the title it was clear that she was self-centered and condescending, and the cover art screams “chick lit.” It was just that, and never tried to be insightful literature. I went into this one eyes wide open, and I wasn’t surprised – either pleasantly or negatively. It just was what it was, though I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone I know.