As you know, if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, I first got into audiobooks through listening to celebrity memoirs/comedian essay collections because they tend to be fun and easy to follow and are usually read by the authors. And since I recognize their voices, it’s like they’re there in the car with me while I’m driving! Even though I’ve expanded into other genres in audiobooks, I love to revisit this introductory one, as it still tends to be the most entertaining. After loving some of Ali Wong’s other media, like her role on Big Mouth and her full length movie Always Be My Maybe (both on Netflix), I knew this was a memoir/collection I was going to want to read. In addition, it ticks one of the boxes for The Reading Women Challenge 2020, for Prompt #20: A Feel Good/Happy Book.
“The answers to making it, to me, are a lot more universal than anyone’s race or gender, and center on having a tolerance for delayed gratification, a passion for the craft, and a willingness to fail.”
Wong’s essays in this short collection are written as letters to her two young daughters. And they cover topics like meeting her husband/their father, her years as a wild child growing up in San Francisco, her experiences getting into comedy, traveling/study abroad, Asian food and culture, reminiscences on living in NYC, insights into pregnancy/childbirth/parenting and just general tips and recommendations for living life to the fullest and in the best way you can.
This was such an incredibly fun and entertaining collection. I enjoyed the entire experience of reading it so much, from the funny parts to the more serious parts. I liked hearing about Wong’s background and family – she did a great job recognizing and explaining many of the stereotypes about Asians, while simultaneously showing how absurdly up-side-down her family threw those expectations. And though this is a humorous collection, so it may be a bit exaggerated/facetious, it was uplifting how in-stride (ish) all those foiled expectations seemed to be taken by her family. Similarly, seeing how things were different for her, growing up in an area with many Asian immigrants/Asian Americans, and things she notices later in life in Asians who grew up not surrounded by their own cultures, was really fascinating.
Basically, all her insights into Asian culture and food were some of my favorite parts (and made me very hungry). I also liked listening to her early experiences in comedy. If I’ve noticed anything reading celebrity memoirs, it’s this: no route to fame is ever the same. And Wong did a great job telling her unique path while also using those sections to really give some great advice to her daughters, and the readers, about the importance of failures. I loved how positive she was about her failures and how they’re necessary to really grow/hone one’s craft. Side note here, I snorted *hard* during one of these sections when she talked about how a white comedian one told her she was so lucky to be a female and a minority in comedy – her response to this was the perfect amount of fed-up and disbelief, in true, perfect comedic form. One of the best, most poignant moments of the collection. (Side note here: the other most poignant, and most serious, moment was when Wong talked about her miscarriage. And I want to just take a moment to say thanks to her for sharing that most difficult time, bringing light to that common and very under-recognized trauma, and just generally being awesome and brave about that part of her life.)
Reading about her personal journeys was also engaging. Focusing on her own time spent in travel and study-abroad, she highlighted really smoothly the combination of the ridiculous things students get up to on those trips (for entertainment value) and a more serious reflection on how much it meant to her to meet her mother’s family in Vietnam and generally learn more about the culture she came from. Learning how she met her husband, their dating life, and how they balance their current life as parents was great. I really appreciate seeing how many challenges for working parents are the same no matter what the job is, while also getting some insight into the challenges unique to famous parents. On this point, I have to say that I truly loved the Epilogue, a letter written and read by Wong’s husband. His clear pride in her work, how he handles being the subject of many of her jokes, the way he has stepped up for the family and beautifully discarded typical gender roles to do so was sweet and inspiring and exactly the cherry on top of this ice cream of a book that I wanted.
One final note… If you have experienced Wong’s comedy style elsewhere, you may already be aware of this. But for anyone new to her – this collection, like her stand-up, is dirty, crude and profane. It’s not high-brow, intelligent comedy. But it’s a fantastic version of what it is – completely unfiltered. There’s no holding back on anything, from her bodily experiences postpartum to the weird things about women’s bodies (her openness here is refreshing, let me tell you) to stories of some of her own very awkward sexual/intimate experiences to innumerable mentions of eating ass. It starts strong, on that front, and never lets up. But Wong owns the lack of inhibition as her life and comedic style and I love that. Just be prepared.
This was a very funny, pretty vulgar, yet strangely uplifting/heartwarming set of letters from Wong to her daughters. It’s chock full of legitimate advice, presented with obscene humor (and maybe a little TMI about their mother; TBH, I’m not sure I want to know that much about my own mother, haha) and a genuine sense of love/caring behind the words. In general, this was a great one – I definitely recommend it!
It’s a long one, but this passage really stuck with me, and I wanted to share it:
“A reporter once asked me why I think progressive men who earn significantly less than their breadwinning wives still won’t quit their jobs to take care of their children. Why do they still hold on to their careers, even if taking care of the children would make more financial sense because the cost of childcare is higher than their net salary?
I think I know the answer to that now, and it sucks. Women are not expected to live a life for themselves. When women dedicate their lives to children, it is deemed a worthy and respectable choice. When women dedicate themselves to a passion outside of the family that doesn’t involve worshipping their husbands or thanking care of their kids, they’re seen as selfish, cold, or unfit mothers. But when a man spends hours grueling over a craft, profession, or project, he’s admired and seen as a genius. And when a man finds a woman who worships him, who dedicates her life to serving him, he’s lucky. But when a man dedicates himself to taking care of his children it’s seen as a last resort. That it must be because he ran out of other options. That it’s plan Z. That it’s an indicator of his inability to provide for his family. Basically, that he’s a fucking loser. I think it’s one of the most important falsehoods we need to shatter when talking about women’s rights.”