In a New York Times profile a few years ago, Mindy Kaling expressed her irritation at the “media’s tendency to define funny women in relation to one another, as if they’re all competing in a game of musical chairs.” So when I sat down to my pile of celebrity memoirs or pseudo-memoirs–Kaling’s, Fey’s, and Lena Dunham’s, topped by Amy Poehler’s forthcoming contribution to the genre–I was anxious not to put a group of talented women into one narrow bracket. Even calling the female celebrity memoir a genre felt unjust (Kaling’s introduction, a facetious FAQ, includes “Why isn’t this more like Tina Fey’s book?”). In addition, I began the reading on the offense against my worst instincts. If you want to conduct a sociological experience with a sample size of one, pull out a NYT bestseller by a female celebrity on the bus and see how it makes you feel. If you’re me, it might make you feel a little bit “basic,” and that doesn’t feel great, either about yourself, or about society.
While I think there was a noble instinct behind my early wariness, I have to laugh at it now that I’ve a) tallied the advances received by each of these women for their work and b) read the books. When the preface to Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” explicitly reveals that her writing process involved rereading “wonderful books by wonderful women,” including Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me,” Lena Dunham’s “Not That Kind of Girl” and Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” these books can fairly be considered part of one artistic inheritance. This is an inheritance over which, for better or worse, the ghost of Nora Ephron confidently presides.