Who doesn’t love a good memoir? Done right, they feel like grabbing a glass of wine (or three) and listening to one of your best friends’ stories, except you don’t even have to go to the effort of nodding sympathetically and can focus on the gossip. The women featured in this week’s book club have all achieved a great deal of success in their respective fields, and they’ve done it by being fierce and funny. So grab one of these bios and a glass of wine, and prepare to meet a new BFF.
1. Grace Notes: My Recollections by Katey Sagal ($26): You might know Katey Sagal for her 11-season role as Peg Bundy on the hit TV series Married…With Children, or for her voice work as the ass-kicking, no-nonsense, one-eyed Leela on Futurama. Or maybe you’ve just joined her fan club after seeing her recent turn as Jake Peralta’s mom on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Whatever your experience with Sagal’s warmth and comic timing, there’s more to learn about her background, and the actress tells all in her new memoir, Grace Notes.
The “grace notes” of Sagal’s title refer to the healing impact of music on her life. Though her parents were intimately involved in the TV business, her first impulse wasn’t to go into acting (though her father approved of her skills), and home life was anything but a sitcom; her father could also be overbearing and terrifying, and her mother struggled with both depression and heart disease. Both of them had died by the time she was in her mid-20s. Sagal spent much of the next decade as a singer (following in the footsteps of her mother, the former 11-year-old “Singing Sweetheart of Cherokee County”), whether it was in a restaurant, a musical, or backup for Bob Dylan or Bette Midler. In the meantime, she had an early marriage break up, dated Gene Simmons, and faced a cancer diagnosis. Sagal details her recovery from cancer, addiction, and a tragic stillbirth, but also her triumphs and wonder at the success she’s had.
“I have a keen sense of my mortality,” Sagal writes. “My shrink tells me all the time that not all folks have that. Who knew? My keen sense of knowing that this amazing life I have could end at any time is a fucking pain in my ass. Seriously. And always on my mind.” The singer-songwriter (she’s released two solo albums) wrote the book for her three children, one via surrogate at age 52, “so they know where I started.” Written with the spare, economical, and yes, graceful feeling of a song, her pages amply prove that she’s kicked both cancer and life’s ass, and now she’s taking names. Leela would approve.
2. Fierce, Funny, and Female: A Journey Through Middle America, the Texas Oil Fields, and Standup Comedy by Marti MacGibbon ($16): A prequel to her first memoir (Never Give in to Fear), Fierce, Funny and Female speaks to Marti MacGibbon’s indomitable spirit. MacGibbon, now a well-known motivational speaker as well as a comic, wrote her first memoir about learning the ropes of the world of stand-up while battling addiction and the loss of custody of her daughter. In this new volume, she focuses on her comedic childhood, a turbulent adolescence, and her unusual choice to work in the male-dominated Texas oilfields to become fully self-reliant.
“Deep down, I’ve always been fierce, but I didn’t come to grips with that till later on. Funny different. My earliest memories revolve around funny stuff: laughing at funny stuff and getting in trouble for laughing too much.” What MacGibbon would learn, later, is that “funny is fierce; it’s badass, a force to be reckoned with.” MacGibbon needed that fierceness to survive because after a happy childhood, young adulthood brought with it wild friends, “following the bands,” violence, and sexual abuse, where she tried to survive by “being funny.” (Later, as she details in her previous memoir, as her career began to take off, she became a victim of human trafficking, spending two months in slavery in Japan until her rescue.)
There are plenty of tribulations in MacGibbon’s memoir, but they all lead to her eventual success and recovery. She gains her independence as one of the first female oil field workers, a physically demanding job where the explosives and backbreaking labor were slightly easier to deal with than the prejudice and (occasional) gunfire. If you like your funny with a side of pain, and your pain with a side of fierce, take a look.
3. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler ($27): Alyssa Mastromonaco made history at 32 as the youngest deputy chief of staff to work at the White House, under Barack Obama. Her success as a young woman in a field dominated by older men was a surprise to many, not least herself; she often found herself wondering how she got there. Her book answers that question, with a look at how she worked her way up in a high-pressure environment from John Kerry’s staff assistant to the press, to his presidential campaign’s deputy scheduler, to a position assisting in Obama’s senate run and beyond. (“I especially wanted to work for someone who was not going to run for president,” she writes, of joining Obama’s team. “I didn’t think I could take that heartbreak twice in a lifetime.” Oh well.)
It’s not exactly a “how-to” manual, but it is a welcome guide to the world of politics, and an encouragement to young women who would like to follow in her footsteps, to achieve “the humble goal of seeming competent and not too annoying.” Mastromonaco doesn’t sugarcoat the workload, which is intense and never-ending, or the difficulty of dealing with sexist attitudes, but gives the impression that the payoff is worth it. Together with Oyler, a contributing editor for Broadly, she takes the reader through survival tips and scheduling nightmares, celeb politician encounters, and some dish (mostly glowing) about the former president, as the Josh Lyman to his Jed Bartlet (if that reference fills you with glee, you may have already bought this book).
Now 40, Mastromonace looks back at what could easily be called a career pinnacle, but for her is only just the beginning, and offers advice like, “A Lot of jobs in politics are basically about getting shit done” and “look like you belong.” Fast-paced and funny, this is a book for all those future game-changers out there — and that means you.
What’s your favorite funny book? Tag us in your next fierce read @BritandCo.
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