Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bitter is the New Black

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

The book's subtitle--Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office--should give any potential reader at least a taste of what the narrative will be like. Lancaster's books always seem to have these crazy subtitles that are very her (as they say).

Bitter is the New Black was the November selection for the library book club. It's Lancaster's first book, a memoir about being laid off from her cushy sales job and how the experience changed her life. One of the things she does under her unemployment is start a blog. That blog, which no longer exists, kept her from getting at least one of the jobs she applied for, but it eventually led to finding a literary agent and publishing Bitter is the New Black. (her current blog is Jennsylvania)

Lancaster is very smart and very snarky. She has no illusions about herself and is very open about her various faults. At the beginning of Bitter is the New Black (before her layoff) I wasn't sure I was going to like Lancaster because her overcritical overconfidence really turned me off (more than her fashion obsession or her attitude toward money). Over the course of the book, though, she becomes much more sympathetic because she mellows (the wind was definitely knocked out of her sails) and we as readers get to know her better.

Everyone seemed to like the book even though a couple of us didn't manage to finish it in time for the meeting. We all agreed that Lancaster's boyfriend-turned-husband is a saint for putting up with her (one of the times that I appreciated Lancaster's excess of chutzpah was when she wouldn't take no for an answer when Fletch needed something). We also found her trip to the convention center to pick up a friend's registration packet for the Chicago marathon to be the most revealing episode recounted in the book.

It seems to me that this book should be getting a lot of attention right now with so many people struggling with unemployment. Even though readers may not always be able to relate to Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black is a good reminder that others have gone and are going through the same situation.

I have a copy of her third book, Such a Pretty Fat (One Narcissist's Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie Is Not the Answer), and I plan to read it sooner rather than later.

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