Book Review: Yes Please – Anna Spargo-Ryan

Book Review: Yes Please

Book Review: Yes Please

It’s hard to resist the comparison between this book and Lena Dunham’s, not least because Amy Poehler herself refers to it in her introduction (alongside other wonderful books like Tina Fey’s Bossypants).

I will start by saying that I didn’t think Yes Please was very funny. I mean, I didn’t laugh once, and I’m the kind of person who laughs so much that I have to be sent away. I’m also a huge fan of Poehler and have Parks and Recreation repeating 24/7 on a dedicated television in my formal lounge area.

The thing is, I was glad that it wasn’t funny. I could see the jokes in the words she (and others) had written, but they were almost negligible alongside her insights and encouragement and sadness.

What Poehler has produced is a collection of stories and other bits and pieces that speak to hard work, and the times life is shit, and what it means to have what it takes. Rather than just being a reflection on a bunch of stuff that happened to her once, each story offers a bit of something meaningful, a bit of wisdom.

I was most moved by the way she writes about her former husband, Will Arnett. He appears over and over in the book, as someone who supported and loved her, as a father to her sons, as a person who was, once, before, earlier. As a divorced person, I found the gaps in what she said so familiar. I loved this person, and it didn’t work out, but there is all this time in the world’s history that includes the both of us, and here are our children and don’t they look just like you, and you were so many wonderful things to me and now you’re a different set of things to me. I cried when I read his acknowledgement and how it differed from that of Poehler’s boyfriend’s (Nick Kroll). This is probably as a result of me imposing my own emotion on to Poehler and generally making stuff up, but I was very sad.

Mostly, though, I was inspired and motivated. As a creative person with dreams and goals (“have a shower”, “don’t lose the children under that pile of rubbish”) I found so much to like about Poehler’s journey so far, the longevity of her love for her art, and especially her approach to not giving a shit about what other people think of it. I give more of a shit than I would like. I write something and I put it somewhere and I worry about whether people are going to tell me it’s no good. It’s easy to get caught up in being validated as a worthwhile artist. In Yes Please, Poehler reflects, in many different ways, on how it feels to just get on with it, to change perspective and to Have A Go. And especially that, had she spent her time worrying about whether her stuff was any good, she wouldn’t have made any stuff and would still be sitting at her parents’ house in Boston, not making stuff (I am providing my own analysis here — I suspect she probably would have moved out of home by now).

The title itself, Yes Please, is a comment on how she’s done what she’s done: by saying yes, and by being an ace person with manners, and by being someone who will try anything.

A lot of the issues I had with Not That Kind of Girl were around the lack of “what it’s like to be a woman in showbiz”, and “here’s how I worked hard to be successful”. Yes Please is brimming with these. And I mean, some of that is about circumstance — Dunham obviously can’t invent childhood poverty and a lack of interest in her work — but a good chunk of it is taking notice. Poehler takes notice of everything. She is present and fascinated. She is openly grateful for the people in her life, and for the opportunities she’s had, but she’s not surprised by them, because that’s what you get when you work hard.

Poehler has multiple stories that speak to womanhood. Not just “it’s a man’s world” (which is there in I’m so proud of you), but also great swathes of female friendships, about women competing with women, about being old and surrounded by girlfriends. In Every mother needs a wife, she says:

When I heard those words I didn’t hear “I don’t know HOW you do it.” I just heard “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” I would be feeling overworked and guilty and overwhelmed and suddenly I would be struck over the head by what felt like someone else’s bullshit. It was an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence.

I stood up in my chair and applauded, because here is someone — a woman — saying something about “mummy wars” but in a way that is truthful and challenging. Here’s a book that’s a worthwhile contribution to the conversation about what it is to be a woman, and especially to be a divorced mother who works and desires and thinks and creates, and what reason could any of us have to criticise that woman?

There is an unspoken pact that women are supposed to follow. I am supposed to act like I constantly feel guilty about being away from my kids. (I don’t. I love my job.) Mothers who stay at home are supposed to pretend they are bored and wish they were doing more corporate things. (They don’t. They love their job.)

And although Poehler is speaking here about motherhood specifically, this attitude exists throughout. She has chosen to be a person who does what begs to be done. She has created opportunities for herself, even when the odds were stacked against her. She has been naive and bright-eyed and smashed it anyway. For any person who dreams big, whatever their creative poison, this book will encourage and inspire. I put it down after each chapter and fist pumped and wrote a bit of a story and thought about achieving my dreams. Where Dunham’s book made me feel like the ship had already sailed (because I hadn’t been “discovered” at 20 and my success is minute), Poehler imparted NEVER SAY DIE wisdom. Keep going. Do it. Just fucking go and do it. Whatever that looks like. You’ve got an idea? DO IT. NOW.

Yes Please ate every shitty self-help book in existence and then shat out this polished diamond of goodness.

My only complaint is that this book, in its hardcover and paperback versions, is full-colour and glossy. It weighs six hundred kilograms. I used it to do tricep curls. It poked me through my doona and left a bruise. The photos are excellent, but you might consider buying the Kindle version as well, and just using the hard copy as a reference device.

  • nic

    November 7, 2014 at 3:31 pm Reply

    As a (relatively) new mum and on a journey to realize my dream and run my own business, write books and be an international rock star (not asking for much) this sounds like something I would enjoy. I might go and purchase – watch out world! Thanks for s brilliant review love.

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