Monday, November 24, 2014

YES PLEASE :: Amy Poehler

My first thought upon picking up Amy Poehler's Yes Please was that this book is different. Yes, partly because it weighs as much as a (tofu) Thanksgiving turkey, but also because of its stuffing. Printed on thick, photo-quality paper, the book reads and feels much like a coffee table book or "yearbook," filled with photos (old and new), news clippings, handwritten poems, letters, script excerpts, emails and graphics. I was quite impressed and immediately sucked in by the presentation.

A "missive from the middle," Yes Please is much more than a memoir. It's a wonderful mix of personal history, life lessons (from the author and her parents, among others), advice, and (yes, not to worry) humorous anecdotes, served up by a funny lady who feels young and old at the same time (what Poehler calls "pre-peri-middle-aged"). Despite discussing setbacks and the negative inner voice that haunts us all, Poehler's Yes Please is full of positive messages geared towards getting past life's hurdles and finding your true self.

The title itself was borne of important messages:

The title Yes Please comes from a few different places. I like to say "Yes please" as an answer to a lot of things in my personal and professional life. The "yes" comes from my improvisational days and the opportunity that comes with youth, and the "please" comes from the wisdom of knowing that agreeing to do something usually means you aren't doing it alone...Saying "yes" doesn't mean I don't know how to say no, and saying "please" doesn't mean I am waiting for permission. "Yes please" sounds powerful and concise. It's a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman...[N]ice manners are the secret key to the universe. 

Although a few of the essays are arguably geared slightly more towards women, the author correctly assures us the book has "plenty of stuff" for men as well. Indeed, most of the messages are universal. For example, a missive on pregnancy and childbirth discusses the various approaches and how women can be judgmental of each other concerning choices different from their own. Poehler has a two-sentence motto for this situation that really can, and perhaps should, apply to all of us in most every situation: "Good for her! Not for me."

While we all expect plenty of funny from Poehler, it was the more serious portions of the book I took to the most. They were heartfelt and sometimes difficult to read, but underscored the fact that we all suffer from the same faults and indignities, despite our stations in life. My favorite essay was about saying "sorry" and a situation Poehler suffered through for years before finding peace through an apology. It was a lesson in humility and grace not to be missed.

While Yes Please comments on other serious issues (death, divorce, postpartum depression, negative inner voices), never fear, there is plenty of humor, even in the "hard parts." Fans of Poehler's work will be tickled to read insider stories from her time at the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and Parks & Recreation. With section titles such as "Treat Your Career Like A Bad Boyfriend," "My World Famous Sex Advice," and "Talk To Yourself Like You're Ninety," it seems certain there's something for every reader.

I didn't find all of it funny (see: worn out joke about Hollywood lawyers and agents being Jewish - which may have been a parody of the stereotype I just didn't find humorous regardless), which lends itself to how "human" the book feels. It may seem cliche, but Poehler was able to come across as the "everywoman," someone to whom we can all relate on some level. In an essay by former Weekend Update co-anchor Seth Meyers, Meyers writes about the first time he saw Poehler, performing at a Chicago improv theater in the mid-90s. A member of the audience, Meyers remembers thinking "[s]he was charming, funny, sweet, and sharp and I left thinking, 'I would like to be her friend.'"

To Poehler's credit, I finished this book feeling exactly the same way.

STREET SENSE: Whether you're looking for a set of funny stories from one of our best comedic minds, or a memoir about what makes Amy Poehler tick, this book fits the bill. Highly recommended and put together prettily enough to display on your coffee table for a quick "thumb-through" by a guest or to revisit a favorite essay.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: I had to pick two, one that made me laugh out loud and one that got me in my guts:

Nothing is more depressing than a tired dominatrix.

Our parents surround us with origin stories that create deep grooves in the vinyl records of our lives.

COVER NERD SAYS: I liked this cover very much. As simple as a great photo of Amy, it also speaks to the "Yes Please" underpinnings of both vulnerability (the raising of Amy's hand) and power (the raising of Amy's hand).


Pop Culture Nerd said...

I want to read this book! The waiting list at the library is loooong and I'd be the 9,027th person in line. Guess I'll put it on my Thanksgiving list (we get gifts for Tgiving, right?).

I didn't get that she was raising her hand on the cover, as in saying, "Yes, please." I thought she was doing the Travolta disco move while sitting down. It's very confusing in my head sometimes.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

I wish I could have left you my copy, but it was due back at the library a couple of days after I got home. I think you will like it and appreciate parts even more than I did.

I think the cover photo can be and probably is all kinds of things. My idea didn't occur to me until I read her meaning behind the title. But I have no doubt there is also a little disco going on there.

Rhonda Hicks said...

I have been wanting to read this but can't decide on book or audiobook. I heard a story on npr tonight about comedy audiobooks worth listening to so I decided to listen. Now I've read your review, and the part about the "stuffing" makes me want a copy of the book.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

I was torn on this very same issue, R. The cast of narrators is so fabulous part of me still wishes I had listened. I don't think you can go wrong either way, and I may still listen one day. Do both!

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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