Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Jen Lancaster

Here's a pic of my FBF and I from May 2011. No, that's not a misplaced "F."
My "FBF" is my "Fake Best Friend."

Don't judge.

I discovered Jen Lancaster about four years ago through the recommendation of a blogger I read at the time. It was for Pretty in Plaid, which I had seen on a friend's bookshelf. So, I borrowed it, devoured it, and Jen entered major girl-crush zone. I bought her three other memoirs at the time: Bitter is the New Black, Bright Lights Big Ass, and Such a Pretty Fat... and devoured them just as quickly. The books came with me on our family vacation to Pennsylvania and my nose was ear-deep in one as often as I could find the spare moments.

See... I realize you may think this is a one-sided delusional friendship on my part, but I tend to disagree. Dear Jen has been so kind as to schedule her memoir releases yearly right around my birthday. This is a very generous gift indeed, no? The above pic is from the release of My Fair Lazy. Jen was speaking and then signing books at a small restaurant in downtown Richmond, a bit over an hour away (like everything else). I discovered this too late unfortunately and could not get tickets to the actual speaking engagement. However, after waiting three hours I did manage to spend a few shining moments reveling in just how much we *connect.*

When originally sketching out this memoir the idea had been to focus on a year of volunteer service. I asked her what happened to that idea and she replied that it was quite possible she would have lost her entire fan base if she followed through on it. You see, Jen though hilarious without effort, has a biting sarcasm and forthrightness that some people just probably could not handle. She said that one of her first experiences was serving in a soup kitchen and the organizers were mortified by her questioning why a bunch of homeless folks couldn't serve themselves, "it's not like they have jobs." I get her point! Those involved in the experience? Not so much so.  Thus, the memoir took a new direction for that year.

Of course... of course!, I took this as an opportunity to brag on my kids and all the community work they do. I also suggested that she spend a year substitute teaching. She feigned consideration of that idea like someone practiced in the art of responding to unwarranted public advice.

Oh, and she complimented my hair.
And stroked it.
And asked if it was weird that she was stroking my hair.
Not at all Jen, not at all.

When I read Jen's memoirs, it really does feel like friendly banter, like someone dishing to me about their latest gripes or big ideas- often unfulfilled. It feels like "she thinks like me, she writes like me, she's so ME!" It really struck me that night at book signing how diverse the crowd was who felt like they "connected to Jen" too- the young sorority girls clutching their pearls dreaming of an LL Bean life, the business women still dressed from a day's work, older ladies that guffawed at that biting sarcasm that would shock most of their card-playing friends.

Jen's latest memoir that I just finished, The Tao or Martha: My Year of Living; or Why  am Never Getting All That Glitter off the Dog, had me a bit concerned at first. I thought Jen and I may have lost that "connection." I was quite excited several months go when I saw this was the premise for her new book. I like being crafty. I have a craft room. I love Martha. I want her Tao. However, my crafty vision of Martha was far less realistic than Jen's cooking & gardening version of Martha. I like the idea of cooking. I like the idea of gardening. The former rarely happens, and the latter probably never will. So, I was a bit concerned about how much I would enjoy reading about Jen's trials and tribulations in those fields. I should not be so surprised that it all evened out by midway through the book when the garden was never planted and her greatest adventure into cooking was "Crocktoberfest."

Instead, I enjoyed reading about her delving into celebrating the holidays "Martha-style," even if it meant a cinnamon donut-induced stomach attack in the line at Michaels while buying glitter to bling some gourds. There was the Jen I felt so akin to- from stressing over holidays to stressing over the proximity to the closest bathroom. Two constantly stressing topics in my life.

I could also fully relate to the Zen of a lone organized nightstand drawer or kitchen cabinet. A little harder to connect with was the loss of a pet, until  I realized that I am not too far from experiencing the same heartache as our "pup," who is over ten years old no longer barks at doorbells and will occasionally walk into walls, or trees.

This latest memoirs, like all the others, just felt like kicking back by the pool and hearing about the crazy day a friend had- including the one that encouraged her to buy better fitting undergarments to keep the ticks out of her nether regions. Jen's memoirs are so engaging that they are the only books that I limit my reading with, to pace out the chapters, and enjoy the book as long as possible.

For as big of a fan as I am for Jen's memoirs, I can't say the same for her fiction... and that saddens me. Here I Go Again is one of the novels I read over the winter and never found the time took the time to review. Honestly, if it hadn't been for Jen being the author, I probably would never have finished the book... if I had even picked it up to read.

In part, I think her voice is so strong in her writing that when she has to temper it for a traditional narrator, it just doesn't come across as authentic. It's simplistic, elementary. The plot for this novel has been recycled... a few times. The bitchy high school princess finds her adult life falling apart and goes back in time (literally) to see how small changes she could make, or decisions she could avoid, would cause a ripple effect into the future. Although that hints to stories and movies already written, I will say that I liked the twist that sometimes... you just have to be a bitch. The angle that the mistreatment of social outcasts in high school motivates future successes, while not completely original in thought, was a nice twist to the novel versus the fairy tale/"Kumbaya" ending it could have produced.

It's a light read. It's entertaining. It would be good for a beach read or holiday break quickie. I guess maybe my expectations for Jen are a bit too high considering how big a fan I am of her nonfiction.

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