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Monday, May 25, 2009

Bitter in Plaid

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"She may not be everyone's cup of tea," admits one of Jen Lancaster's ardent online followers, referring to the author's unlovable persona. But you've got to hand it to the corporate-high-flier-turned-blogger-turned-author: She doesn't sugarcoat her past to lend it a more flattering hue. To the contrary, the memoirist who won readers over with an unabashed retelling of her fall from grace (Bitter Is the New Black), her weight-loss experience with an instructor named Barbie (Such a Pretty Fat) and her comic look at city life (Bright Lights, Big Ass) has established a successful career casting herself as a politically incorrect, bad-mouthing antihero. The devoted following that's lapped up her last three autobiographical tales is likely to greet her fourth memoir, Pretty in Plaid, with the same unreserved enthusiasm. Why? Because of Lancaster's gift to state what the rest of us are apparently thinking.

To be sure, anyone still plagued by the horrors of a Brownie uniform or the trials of mercilessly squeezing far from svelte thighs into a pair of size five Jordache jeans will at least smile in common anguish at this account of the errors of a misspent youth. The buoyant cover of the book-a pair of pink and lime-green plaid-stockinged legs poised like the limbs of some exotic bird instantly pique your interest-even a twinge of sympathy (which for me quickly dissipated as I plunged into an account of the author's formative years-a classic candidate for "Nanny 911" if ever there was one).

The book begins with a letter from Lancaster's child self to Mattel, demanding compensation for their unsatisfactory products. It begins a pattern of solicitation that runs throughout the book; exhorting jeans from actress Brooke Shields, money from male relatives at a family party, Scout badges from her unwitting elders to decorate her sash. Lancaster guides us through three decades of her life-her transition from a happy-go-lucky Methodist church to the brimstone of the Baptists, her sorority years, the acquisition of her first business suit-each episode framed by her addiction to fashionable clothing and her supercilious attitude to her fellow man.

You can meet the author at her book signing and '80s-themed party at the Borders bookstore in Fox Point on May 30 at 2 p.m. Those sporting '80s regalia may escape the author's derision.

Also this week, Literacy Services of Wisconsin Inc. hosts its annual Literacy Luncheon, with guest speaker David Maraniss headlining the event. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author's latest book, Rome 1960, lends that year's sporting event a Homeric significance, infused with the politics and passions that gripped the age. The luncheon takes place at the Italian Community Center on June 1 at 11:30 a.m. For tickets and information, call Nick Lyons at (414) 344-5878.