Dear Thursday: BITCH IS THE NEW BLACK by Helena Andrews [Book 22 of 2010]

Remember how I promised you that I would eventually review a non-marketing piece of non-fiction, because I wasn’t completely self-absorbed and could in fact read non-fiction that didn’t either 1) directly benefit me or 2) teach me how to do stuff. You probably didn’t believe me. “Ernessa, you’re just makin promises you won’t keep (again),” you probably thought to yourself. But then … BAM, today I’ve got thoughts on BITCH IS THE NEW BLACK by Helena Andrews — yes, an actual memoir! Who’s all about keeping her promises now? (Ignore the fact that I’m still four books away from my promise to read a book a week until my own book, 32 CANDLES launches).

Why I Decided To Read It: Okay, well Erica Kennedy (FEMINISTA, BLING), adores this chyck IRL. Also, she’s a label mate, being Harper-produced and we have the same cover designer, Archie Ferguson. So you know how when someone tells you that your distant cousin,  ReeRee, who you’ve never met,  is in some horror movie, and you go to see it even if you don’t particularly like horror movies? — that’s kind of how I felt about reading this book. I don’t go out of my way to read memoir, but I ordered a copy of BitNB for both my bookcase and my iPad.

What It’s About: Basically it’s a collection of essays about dating, family, career, and pets. If I were not black, I might say it’s a collection of essays about tackling dating, family, career, and pets as a black woman, But despite a certain Washington Post article that hit the internets like a viral bomb, this book isn’t about the collective black woman experience, it really is a memoir about Andrews’s one-of-a-kind life.

What Makes It Different: Well, Andrews was raised by a nomadic, lesbian single-mother and spent a few of her formative years as the only black child living on Catalina Island before growing up to become a journalist and date a series of problematic men before the age of 29.

What I Loved: Andrews is a terrific writer, engaging and cool  like a walking one-woman episode of SEX AND THE CITY — if SATC were a black show. I loved how the essays skipped back and forth over time. I loved her love for her character of a mother. I loved how she said duuuude in print All.The.Time. And having a BFF in Jersey, I was so feeling her relationship with her bicoastal best friend. Actually it helped that the essays clipped along at a fast pace, never overstaying their welcome, but leaving you with the impression that you had just taken in a really good story — the best kind of party guest. But most of all, Andrews is really, really funny. I mean laugh-out-loud funny. I had to fight the urge not to put the book down and tweet something I had just read several times — I would have but I had to finish the book before my “Dear Thursday” deadline.

What I Didn’t Like: Well, my main “didn’t like” is rather unfair. There’s a chapter about a fainting spell that Andrews has while out on one of her many long walks. She admits to being a compulsive walker. A few of you know that my mother was a) a compulsive walker, to the point that my sister, Liz, and I still talk about the crazy-long 10-mile treks we were forced to accompany her on as children, and b) that she fainted while out on one of her compulsive walks and died less than 36 hours later of an undiagnosed blood clot. So…

“Why are you crying?” my husband asked me when he woke up to me crying over the glow of my iPad.

“This book.”

“Oh, is it bad?”

“No, it’s great. It just made me sad.”

Liz, if you’re reading this, you’ll love the book, but maybe don’t read that chapter.

Writing Lessons Learned:

Be Yourself. I try not to taint my own reviews with other reviews before I read a book, but I suspect a few people have probably said judgmental things about Andrews, like “she’s too picky” or “she should have done this.” But I adored that Andrews for the most part remained herself throughout her narrative and only got in trouble when she tried to be someone she wasn’t. A valuable life lesson for us all. I also liked that she showed us both the great and not-so-great parts of herself. There was one scene in which she revealed herself to be a rather mean, sorority girl and cheerleader in college. She and her mean girl friends, mock a hapless nerdy black girl. As a hapless, nerdy black girl, I should have gotten upset, BUT by this point, Andrews has given us a pretty complete picture of herself and her life before this moment. It struck me that every mean girl who ever picked on me had a complete life outside the moment she picked on me, one that outweighed anything she said or did to me. I’m trying not to gush here, but I actually felt a little healed by the end of the chapter. As a fiction writer, it occurs to me that your characters can get away with just about anything if your reader has a complete version of their life BEFORE they do the bad thing, for which you would otherwise judge them.

Write a memoir ahead of time. You know when Andrews announces in a tone that I think was supposed to set off alarm bells, that she is (gasp!) 27, I actually smiled and shook my head. I imagine that when she’s happily married, she’ll look back at this memoir as a perfect time capsule of how she was feeling “back then” and wonder why she felt so panicked. But it also made me think about how cool is must be to have the first third of your life completely catalogued like this.

Don’t put stalkers in your memoirs. Andrews has a great story about being stalked. However, the first rule of stopping stalking is that you don’t talk to or about stalkers, b/c attention is the air that they need to breathe. I would highly recommend that anyone who’s considering answering her stalkers calls or emails or writing about him, read boy gets girl by Rebecca Gilman, a play that should be taught in high school classrooms across America as opposed to THE SCARLETT LETTER, which doesn’t really do American girls any service. Yeah, I said it.

To Whom Would I Recommend This Book: Women In Their Angsty 20s, People Who Grew Up In California, Anyone Who Works In Politics, Journalists, Anyone Working On A Memoir, Marilyn Friedman, and seriously, Liz, you will adore this book.

One last note: I am filled with sadness that I will alas, be on the East Coast doing my own book events, when Andrews comes to Los Angeles to do hers on Friday, July 23. But the rest of you Angelenos should definitely swing by. More info can be found here.

Click on the cover pic to buy the book!