Author: Jane Borden
Genre: Humor; Memoir
Publisher: Broadway/Crown (Random House)
Pub. Date: March 1, 2011
Jane Borden is a southern Debutante who moved to New York City after college and eventually ended up living there for over ten years. Her family members back in North Carolina, and her upbringing there, are the ultimate stereotype of genteel southerners. I Totally Meant To Do That is Borden's part memoir part commentary on her experiences straddling these two very different cultures and as she contemplates, after a decade of living in NYC, if 1) she can officially be considered a New Yorker (after all, what is a New Yorker, really?) and 2) if she should stay in the big city or return to her roots in North Carolina.
Based on the plethora of positive blurbs from the likes of Amy Poehler, Ed Helms, and other funny folks, plus the fact that Borden has worked as a contributor for Saturday Night Live, I expected this book to be laugh-out-loud, belly rollicking, hilarious. I was engrossed in the first chapter right away, laughing as she described the illegal knockoffs industry in Chinatown and how she worked as a spy to find fakes of her clients' knockoffs so the authorities could be alerted. I was amused by the chapter in which she described her naivete and the way she obviously stuck out -- trying to make eye contact with everyone she passed on the street so she could smile at them. And I loved the chapter where she compared finding a roommate in NYC to rushing for sororities. I've never done either, but I could still relate it to my own life and I thought "so true!" I also found interesting the chapter where she tries to define what makes one a New Yorker. (I don't agree with what she was told). I thought this following quote was an interesting way to describe New York. Though she's comparing it to purgatory, which is sort of different, the point she ultimately makes is one I can relate to regarding my thoughts about the city.
At home, I would either be a member of a congregation or not, in an exclusive club or not, at a political fund-raiser or not. Inaction is still an action. Not so in New York, where I don't have to be one thing or the other. Living in purgatory is not about being free to make whatever choice you want; the city offers something more profound, a third option: immunity from making choices at all, and therefore from the judgments accompanying them. Purgatory is Paradise. (p. 131)After about the first third of the book, though, I sort of lost interest. This book really started to seem more about a reflection of her southern roots and the southern lifestyle. The big city really could have been any big city. For those looking for a read about NYC, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this. While Borden continued to make some references to the city and to the comparisons, I felt that was more of a springboard to discuss, in depth, the southern counterpart which I couldn't relate to. And by the end, I felt a disconnect from the book as Borden tried to figure things out for herself.
So now I'm all confused again. Here or there -- which is home? Or, rather, the true task is to discern which of the two is more of a home than the other. I'm Southerner by default. But I'm also a New Yorker. Right? I love this city... don't I? Sorry. Why am I asking you? I'm all mixed up, so much so that I sought counseling from a chintzy etiquette paperback. (p. 215)I will say, though, that part of that disconnect likely stems from the fact that I am so far removed from her southern background; my life experiences and outlook are so different that I'm sure that hindered what turned out to be a different aspect of the book than I was expecting.
If you're a southern, country girl who has moved to a big city, or really if you're a southerner in general, you may enjoy this book. But, unfortunately, it wasn't the belly rollicking NYC story that I was hoping for.