Celebrity bios are often vacuous, ghostwritten appeals to the voyeuristic spirit of Western civilization as a whole. Amy Poehler’s is not ghost written. I gave the book a shot since I was a big fan of Saturday Night Live during the 2008 presidential election; the writers and performers were both at their creative peak and supplied with plenty of comical material. Poehler is a great comedian and a talented sketch writer, but these skills do not extend to her prose or ability to construct a compelling narrative.
I gave this book a try -somewhat against my better judgement- because:
- I need to make sure I’m not always reading just literary fiction, and
- The audiobook version seemed to be an interesting experiment of sorts, with a huge and impressive voice cast that even included Poehler’s parents.
As longtime readers know, I’m a consummate podcast fiend and a great lover of standup comedy. I’ve also listened to dozens of audiobooks, and the idea of these forms coalescing into something new is extremely appealing. The closing chapter of the book (“The Robots Will Kill Us All”) is read in front of a live audience and is immeasurably superior to the rest of the book but I don’t believe that Pohler became a better or more interesting writer at the very end. A veteran of crowds, she not only gets them completely in her corner, she feeds off them, injecting adrenaline into the heart of what she’s reading. It stops becoming a static form and becomes participative, transporting the listener into that live experience.
The sterile reading of the rest of the book leaves much to be desired. The idea of a 15-hour audiobook being recorded live is insane, I’m aware. At the same time, I’d rather ditch the celebrity voice cameos and listen to what a performer like Poehler could manage over a series of live readings in front of an engaged audience. Literary fiction might play with the form of the written word, but technology makes other kinds of experimentation possible, and audiobooks are ripe with untapped potential.
Recommendation: Skip it. Really. Maaaybe listen to the last chapter if you want, but skip everything else.