Monday, July 19, 2010

An Ode to Jen Lancaster

Earlier this year I was at a loss for something to read. I had finished my current book, wasn't able to get to a bookstore and nothing looked appealing as a reread on my personal bookshelf. Then my friend Jen asked me if I had ever heard of Jen Lancaster, an author from Chicago who writes memoirs and calls people “asshats” and is funnily bitter? No I hadn't and so the next day at work Jen brought to me Bitter is the New Black, Lancaster's debut memoir. After then reading all the memoirs of Jennifer Lancaster, dot com goddess turned author, I feel like I have a new best friend. Lancaster's writing is so witty and inviting you feel like you've truly come to know her as a person by the time the back cover closes.

The first memoir, Bitter is the New Black, opens with an almost archetypal portrait of a typical, rich, city-girl diva. Lancaster does not try to shy away from who she is and fully divulges that she was not the nicest or most concerned person in Chicago, While this might be initially off-putting, it's refreshing to see someone who is self aware and not afraid to put it out there. Lancaster herself admits with her subtitle, "the bitch had it coming." Throughout the memoir, though, Lancaster loses her big money-making job and subsequently faces the challenges of unemployment. Through this the reader sees a very clear metamorphosis which can only be described as touching and insightful. There's a definite switch throughout where the reader can truly get to know Lancaster as a person and can, because of her unique writing style that pulls the reader right in, really empathize with her situation.

Bright Lights, Big Ass, Lancaster's second memoir, is just plain, laugh-out-loud entertaining. She takes the most mundane occurrences, like grocery shopping, cooking dinner and working temp jobs for example, and turns it into a noteworthy adventure. Combining letters to city officials, emails to friends and first person narratives Lancaster pieces together a portrait of Chicago living sure to amuse both those from the city and those from others.

Such a Pretty Fat, is not only a pleasure to read but an inspirational story. Lancaster's third memoir explores her desire and quest to lose weight, get in shape and get healthier. She keeps her sarcastic, larger-than-life witty tone but the reader can see the real struggle she goes through while attempting different diet fads and trying to make peace with working out at the gym. As Lancaster relays her trials and tribulations, it's easy to enter into her world and go along for the ride. The reader can easily feel Lancaster's frustrations and triumphs throughout the memoir. In the end you are cheering her on as well as gearing up for your own health and fitness makeover.

Pretty in Plaid, explores her past and the events that led up to where she is now. This memoir offers terrific insight to where Lancaster comes from, what makes her what she is and how she became the person she is. Through thoughtfully chosen details from her girlhood, adolescence and early adulthood the reader gets to see the depth of Lancaster and put into perspective her three previous novels. Also, the novels layout, chronicled by wardrobe choices is a brilliant idea and absolutely fitting to Lancaster as a character.

Throughout each memoir, Lancaster achieves a light, entertaining tone that keeps the reader in stitches, literally laughing out loud at the ridiculous and outrageous things that occur in her everyday life. She is able to take the seemingly uninteresting and morph it into something worthy of being shared with others through her friendly writing style and her sarcastically cynical attitude (in the best possible sense). Reading Lancaster's memoirs is like sitting down to coffee with an old friend and catching up on recent events, leaving with a renewed sense of connection to a dear friend.

Not that long ago, Jen and I had the delightful privilege of meeting Jen Lancaster at a book signing for her latest memoir, My Fair Lazy. Truly one of the best nights of my life to date. Lancaster read aloud one of my favorite parts of the memoir, answered questions from the audience and signed copies. She's just as funny and entertaining in person. And My Fair Lazy did not fall short of expectation. Lancaster sets out to “culture up” because, she realized, she watched almost every single reality T.V. show ever created and really didn't do much else. As always, it's an entertaining adventure as Lancaster tries different foods from around the world, learns about wine, takes in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony, eats food created through molecular gastronomy at Moto and finds other ways to become a more cultured person.

1 comment:

  1. WooHoo!!! Love Jen Lancaster and love Allegra, too! Hopefully you'll turn other readers on to the pleasure of these books. Jen's book signing night in Oak Brook was one of my favorites, also.