Inspired Reads: Amy Poehler’s Memoir, “Yes Please”

Author’s Note: This post is the first in a monthly series, “Inspired Reads,” where I’ll be reviewing a book focused around themes of inspiring women, feminism, women in media, and issues facing women in our culture. I’ll be looking at fiction, non-fiction, essay collections, and even poetry. It’s going to be fun. If you’re interested in reading along with me, check out Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist for January.

Image from Gawker

Image from Gawker

Would you vote for Leslie Knope for president? Do you occasionally signify your positive response to something simply with an oot oot” à la Baby Mama? Are you interested in some no-bullshit sex advice from Regina George’s mom? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, we should probably be friends, and you should also read Amy Poehler’s debut memoir Yes Please.

I clearly belong to this book’s target demographic — those who’ve already been won over by the comedian’s distinctive performances and breezy, “I’d-be-great-to-hang-out-and-drink-wine-with” attitude. Admittedly, part of the appeal of a book like this (which belongs to a larger cohort of recent books by funny ladies — Bossypants by Tina Fey, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham) is the subject herself. So if you were never much for Amy Poehler on SNL, or The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, or Parks & Recreation, or when she rocked at co-hosting the Golden Globes, this might not be the most fascinating read for you. Now that I’ve shaken off the one or two people in the world who don’t think Amy Poehler is awesome, I’m going to take the author’s own advice and “get to the point, please.”

The book is a a blend of memoir, advice, and essays, and is divided into three sections, “Say Whatever You Want,” “Do Whatever You Like,” and “Be Whoever You Are.” It is, as the 43-year-old writes, “a street-level view” of her life so far. It’s scrapbook-like with pictures, letters, haikus, and even guest chapters (one from her parents, another from SNL colleague Seth Myers) scattered throughout. If you’re looking for a tightly crafted memoir, this is probably not your bag, but I found her writing style engaging despite some tonal shifts. The book’s title signifies a few different things. “Yes” hails from her days in improv and “please” from the idea that “agreeing to do something usually means you aren’t doing it alone.” Poehler explains it’s also one of her favorite phrases:

“I love saying ‘yes’ and I love saying ‘please.’ 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.

A smattering of things you’ll learn from this book: Amy discovered her love for improv when she was cast as Dorothy in an elementary school production of The Wizard of Oz; her favorite show is Law and Order; she and best friend Tina Fey exchange a pair of dog tags that say “Pleasant Tomorrow” when each are going through tough times; sex is better in her forties than ever before; and George Clooney is the actual best (because of course).

You’ll learn about her family too. Not one to forget her “Lower-Middle-Class” roots in the Boston suburbs, she relates fond memories of her life growing up in Burlington, MA with her parents and brother Greg. What might be the clearest point Yes Please has to offer, is that motherhood is the role Poehler cherishes deepest. Of her two boys, Archie and Abel, she writes, “I wonder if this love will crack open my chest and split me in half. It is scary, this love.” A self-described “moon junkie” she writes about their pastime of “moon-hunting” and a night spent cuddling with her boys on the roof her car on their Los Angeles street, gazing at the sky. It’s the personal details like these, rendered clearly and artfully throughout, that bring Poehler closer to readers and add a layer of vulnerability to the book.

She doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff either. One chapter opens simply: “I hate how I look.” It’s a sentiment many women can relate to but rarely have the courage to talk about with such candor. The chapter hinges on the idea of overcoming the whispering inner “demon” voice we all have (she describes sounding like “an angry Lauren Bacall”) and deciding your currency early in life. In other chapters she contemplates apologies and shame. Poehler writes, “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for” and admits there’s a balance we must find. She relates a story of the one SNL skit she regretted doing, and how it took years for her to find the right words to say sorry.

There’s a lot to love about Yes Please. The one detraction I found was the recurrent theme that this was a very difficult book to write. From the get-go, with a preface titled “Writing is hard,” Poehler makes clear that the writing of the book was nearly an insurmountable task. The book editor in me felt complete sympathy with her (writing a book is hard), but the repeated mentions made me, as a reader, feel a bit guilty — who were these awful people who’d forced her to write this book? You can complain and fear all you want, she relates, but in the end you have to “just dig in and write it.” And she did. You really only need to read the opening sentence of the book: “I like hard work and I don’t like pretending things are perfect” to understand where her character Leslie Knope’s “Go get ‘em” attitude originates, and why this book, a labor of many things — love, hard work, laughter, tears, and hopefulness — is definitely worth the read.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ALLY MACDONALD

Ally MacDonald

I’m an editor at O’Reilly Media where I work with talented content creators on technical books and videos focused on server-side web topics. Prior to joining O’Reilly, I worked in higher education publishing at Cengage Learning, interned at St. Martin’s Press in New York, and also taught English abroad in the Czech Republic. When I’m not editing, or thinking about things I should be editing, you can find me reading, consuming large amounts of coffee, cooking fun things and then taking Instagram pictures of them, and probably watching too much Netflix (sometimes all of these at once). Follow me on Twitter to keep up with my adventures in tech publishing and occasional cat GIFs.

Twitter: @allyatoreilly

Read more about and from the author: Ally’s WiLab Profile