Welcome to the era of smart-lady confessionals: "Bossypants'' (Tina Fey), "Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's 'Learned' '' (Lena Dunham), "Grace's Guide: The Art of Pretending to Be a Grown-Up'' (Grace Helbig), and now "Yes Please'' by comedienne Amy Poehler.
It's the Golden Age of feminine sass — if only authors could abandon two devices that squelch that sass, both of which afflict Poehler's new book.
Device one: Cutesy titles that practically jump up and down shouting, "I'm a funny woman!" It is hard to imagine a man titling a book "Assertive-pants'' or "Not That Kind of Boy'' or "No, Thanks.''
Device two: Autobiographies that masquerade as advice, as if this is a more generously feminist way to be hilarious.
That's one of the primary downfalls of "Yes Please.'' It's split into three arbitrary directives: "Say Whatever You Want," "Do Whatever You Like," and "Be Whoever You Are." But don't drink and drive. "Seriously. It's so [messed] up," Poehler advises.
This contrived structure forces her into tips on everything from porn to plastic surgery. And speaking of plastic surgery, lots of this book feels like filler. There's wisdom from her parents, a haiku, a list of reasons to cry on an airplane, a chapter written by Seth Meyers (so Poehler could take a break, he says — I tried this technique with my husband but he said I had to finish this review myself), and a Tina Fey acrostic, which Poehler calls "the laziest form of writing."
She plays this "writing is hard!" card when addressing more important topics, like "Saturday Night Live.''
For instance, "It's tough for me to find a single story that would really explain to you what SNL felt like or what it meant to me. So I'm not going to try. I told you, writing is HARD."
Writing is hard! But if you choose to write a book, the writing and trying goes with the territory.
And there's the deeper problem: the pervasive sense that she felt pressured into this gig. She even says so in an apologetic introduction (coincidentally titled "Writing Is Hard''): "It's clear to me now that I had no business agreeing to write this book."
This isn't reassuring if you're the eager fan who agreed to read it.
By now, it might seem as though I dislike Poehler. Some readers might even think I'm jealous. Jealousy is a common accusation when women critique successful women.
No, my problem is that I admire her. I love that she's just like you and me, but funnier. I enjoy that she's just a regular kid from Burlington who made it big and still isn't afraid to say what she thinks.
I just wish she'd say more. There are too many lags where it feels as if she really needed to just fill up some pages. Think of it like the last half-hour of "Saturday Night Live.''
But when her heart's in it, she's magnificent, especially when she sticks to straight-up memoir. Local fans will devour her tales of growing up in the suburbs, scooping sundaes at Chadwick's in Lexington, or partying at Boston College.
Her "Birthing Plan'' should be distributed in every maternity ward nationwide. It's hilarious and human. So are the passages about her kids. Her motto about accepting differing parenting styles — "Good for you, not for me" — should be tattooed on the face of every judgmental parent in the land.
And if this comedy thing ever falls through, she could become Anna Wintour's ghostwriter. "My silhouette was an upside down triangle. Add in my round potato face and hearty eyebrows and you've got yourself a Grade-A boner killer," she recalls of her teen aesthetic.
That's the saving grace of "Yes Please": candor. "I felt completely sorry for myself while simultaneously believing I was [great]," she writes about a period when her career was ascendant and her personal life was faltering. We've all been there.
And this candor is why we love Amy Poehler, and why fans will eat up "Yes Please'' like a gooey Chadwick's sundae, extraneous haikus and all.