Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Golden lessons from Vodka

Lily Dawis , Jakarta Post

"Memoirs-in-stories" is a somewhat new way to classify books that have recently piqued my curiosity.

I first encountered the term while flipping through some books in my favorite bookstore on the ground level of Plaza Indonesia, looking for a great read to break my chick-lit binge.

I read constantly, mostly to unwind after a hard day of working and taking care of my sweet and energetic toddlers. Therefore, books that boost my mood and do not add creases to my forehead (from over strenuous thinking) are usually what I choose.

Famous for its popular formula of guy meets girl, guy annoys girl or vice versa; kiss, make up and live happily ever after, the chick-lit genre usually serves its purpose. That day however, I was getting rather tired of sugar coated prose, which is why I decided to venture into something different.

Are you there Vodka? It's me Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler, had a "brand new" sticker on its front cover. Upon reading the title and the author's name I had to pause and do a double take, unsure whether the Chelsea in the title referred to the author.

The cover featured a lively sketch of a lingerie-clad woman holding a cell phone. The title aroused my curiosity, was vodka a reference to the drink or of someone named vodka? I found the answer to my question on the back cover, explaining that the novel was a collection of "entertaining memoirs-in-stories" and the Chelsea in the title was indeed Chelsea the author.

A reviewer's quote on the back of the book sealed my decision to buy the book, "If I had the balls to really not care what people thought of me, this is the book I'd write." And boy oh boy I ended up patting myself on the back for purchasing the book.

My eyes widened, I snorted with disbelief, and my tummy got some much needed exercise from laughing so hard, time and time again upon reading Chelsea's words. The chuckles started right from the dedication page where she refers to her mother as "chunky monkey".

The book follows a somewhat biographical timeline, starting with her colorful childhood and working its way to the present, where Chelsea works as one of the most successful female comedians in the US. The book provides glimpses of how she comes up with her material and comic timing.

By the third chapter, I reluctantly tore myself away from the book to Google Chelsea Handler as I had a tingling feeling that I knew her name from somewhere. My instincts were right, apparently I knew the author by watching her cynical but mostly funny commentaries on the E! Entertainment channel.

The book is certainly far from being politically correct and is not concerned about pleasing anybody. It does not try to teach any lessons, but manages to be pure entertainment. Take for the example, the crazy yet hilarious way Chelsea describes her unique father: "Bitch Tits", her prim sister "as much fun as a cold sore" and others in a similar comic style.

The tempo accelerates when she writes about being pulled over for DUI (drinking under the influence) and ends up instead in a county jail for a seemingly minor offence - faking her sister's ID to get into a club. It was great fun reading her thoughts about her time spent in jail, including ideas about which would be the best gang to join, as well as how she connected with a pretty and soft-spoken inmate who was serving time for murdering her own sister.

However, what makes the book ultra appealing (it topped The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list in May 2008) is perhaps because as over the top as her life sounds, it is written from the heart.

Once in a while, Chelsea is endearing, dropping hints about how her family and friends have made her who she is and will love her no matter what.

Writing about the time she took Bitch Tits (her dad) away to Costa Rica on an all expenses paid trip (it was her father's first outing out of the country in 47 years), she states simply, "I was expecting to bond with my father." It is one of the rare contemplative moments and also when I worked out what she really meant by "vodka".

This is a book that I would recommend to anyone who is not fainthearted and has a tolerance for dark comedy written by a stellar author. The final thought that crossed my mind was *Who needs fiction when you have Chelsea Handler!'

Chelsea Handler is an accomplished comedian with many stand-up gigs all over the US. She has her own show on the E! Entertainment channel called Chelsea Lately, which has just been renewed for another 150 episodes. Prior to Are You There Vodka, she also wrote another bestselling memoir, My Horizontal Life, which is an account of her one-night stands.