I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
I’ll say it again, complete with cursing (and I don’t take that lightly): I enjoyed the hell out of this book.
As a woman. As a writer. As a mother. As a working mother. As a person that struggles with eating. As a human being with thoughts and hopes and feelings.
At the risk of sounding completely cliche, Shonda Rhimes? My spirit animal.
I’ll preface this review (will it be a review? More like nonsensical gushing, I fear . . .) by stating that, prior to picking up Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, I knew little about Shonda herself. If you are similarly unfamiliar, she is the powerhouse behind Thursday nights on ABC: creator, head writer and executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” as well as “Private Practice.” She is also executive producer of “How to Get Away with Murder” and “The Catch,” produced by ShondaLand.
Shonda is, in her own words, an FOD: First Only Different. She is an African-American woman who has achieved tremendous success as a blockbuster writer and producer — doing what she loves and is clearly exceptional at: making TV “look like the rest of the world.”
I tend to go into motivational-type memoirs with a skeptical eye, but had a hunch I would like this one: and I did. I loved it. Shonda is personable, engaging, inspiring — as a person and a writer, of course, but also as a mother. With three daughters looking up to her as well as a powerful job, the pressure of doing everything well would crack anyone. Can we do it all?
To hear Shonda tell it: well, no. In one of my favorite chapters in Year of Yes, Shonda admits that excelling in one area of her life (work) often makes her feel like she’s failing in another (home), and vice versa. Over and over again. She gives a powerful analogy about once obsessing over Whitney Houston, wanting perfect hair like Whitney’s — trying anything and everything to achieve that signature look, but still failing.
Years later, a stylist confides not even Whitney had Whitney hair: it was a wig.
Shonda talks about how, in acting like we have it all together and not discussing our struggles, we’re doing a disservice to other women. That’s a wig. It’s OK to admit we need help. Shonda’s comes in the form of one Jenny McCarthy: not the actress, but her wonderful nanny by the same name. She freely admits that, without Jenny, she could never keep all the plates spinning.
Yes of Yes arrived at the perfect time for me. Almost a year into motherhood, I’ve struggled with my quick return to work and how to similarly stay afloat with so many responsibilities pulling at me from all sides. After one poorly-timed (but not malicious) question about whether I “feel bad” dropping off my son at daycare each day, I needed Shonda. I needed Shonda to tell me I can do this. That I’m already doing it.
Not perfectly — because no one does, regardless of what they’ll tell you. But I’m trying, and that’s enough.
As a writer, I related deeply to Shonda’s stories of life “in the pantry”: when she was perfectly content to sit amongst the canned goods, staging elaborate battles between the vegetables and sealing herself off from the world. The youngest of six children, Shonda grew up in a loving family outside Chicago and has a close relationship with her siblings: especially sister Delores.
It’s a comment by Delores that sparks Shonda journey: “You never say ‘yes’ to anything.” It was muttered on a Thanksgiving morning, setting off a series of changes that resulted in saying “yes” to the things that would normally scare her. Public speaking was on the list, of course, but so was considering her diet. Morbidly obese at the start of the “Year of Yes,” Shonda realizes she had been putting food on top of feelings: saying “yes” to “fatness,” trying to ease her unhappiness by eating.
She doesn’t play up the weight loss as instrumental to her evolution, but shedding more than 100 pounds will certainly do that to a person. But far more than the physical weight, she says, was the weight of all the difficult conversations she hadn’t wanted to have: with a boyfriend about why she didn’t want to get married (ever, to anyone); to toxic friends she didn’t realize only wanted to see her unhappy. It’s only when begins asking hard questions — of others, but also herself — that she truly transforms.
By the end of Year of Yes, I felt altered with her. I thought of the ways I’d been mistreating myself, both through overindulgence and misplaced guilt about motherhood. About why I write and why I need to write, and why it’s OK to say I want to work and be a working mother.
Maybe I don’t need Shonda to validate my feelings, validate my choices, but I sure feel better having her as a part of my tribe. She mentions her “ride-or-dies” quite frequently — the people she can count on for anything. And she admits that one is technically fictitious, but very real to her: Cristina Yang of “Grey’s Anatomy,” a character written by Shonda and portrayed by Sandra Oh.
So Shonda, if I may be so bold, I’d like to add you to my ride-or-die list: a friend I feel I can always look to for support, guidance and motivation. Your Year of Yes found me at the moment I most needed to hear it, and listening to this book on audio — read, of course, by the author — was an amazing experience. Thank you.
5 out of 5
Pub: 2016 • Goodreads • LibraryThing • Amazon • Author Website
Audio book borrowed from my local library
9 thoughts on “Book chat: ‘Year of Yes’ by Shonda Rhimes”
This has been on my TBR list since it came out- I am so glad to hear that you did the audiobook and that she read it! I am super picky about audio, but I listen ~on my way to work~ ! Great review, and I don’t even mind the gushing, because it was real and authentic!
Hi there, looks like a fab book! It would be great if you added your review to the Books You Loved: April collection over at Carole’s Chatter. Cheers
I just got this from Audible and listened to about 30 minutes of it before I had to put it on the back burner for a library audio that was due soon! But I definitely plan to go back. Even those first thirty minutes were inspiring!!
YES. My best friend and I had a mini-book club for this book a few months ago. It was awesome! 🙂
Wow, I’ll definitely have to read this one. It sounds like I could really relate too. Thanks for the recommendation.
I am often dubious of celebrity memoirs, but I’ve read so many raving reviews of this one. On my tbr list it goes!
Must read this. Have been on a autobiography binge lately. Loved the review and glad to see you’ve found another good one! 😊
I loved reading this book! It was very inspiring to be a doer.
With every review I read of this book, I feel more eager to read this book. It’s exactly the kind of book I have been looking for this year – something inspiring, something that tells me to live in the moment, something about cannot-do-it-all. Will be adding this to my list.
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