‘Seriously…I’m Kidding’ by Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres’s third book, Seriously…I’m Kidding (Grand Central), is a series of slice-of-life vignettes that are lighthearted and uplifting. It seems to be this book’s mission to leave a permanent grin on the readers’ face (which may make you want to avoid reading this in public).

Talking is clearly what Ms. DeGeneres does best, and here she attempts to translate her easy manner of speech into prose. The writing’s colloquial tone makes Ellen the writer sound exactly like Ellen the talk show host, undoubtedly instilling a sense of familiarity into the book that fans of her show will appreciate. Some chapters read like an opening monologue, peppered with punchlines and one-liner zingers. The prologue addresses the reader directly: “Dearest Reader, Hello. How are you? That’s great to hear.” This breaking of the fourth wall occurs frequently, often to call attention to the fact that you are, indeed, reading a book. In a chapter on decision-making, she quips: “By a show of hands, who has a hard time making decisions?  You know what, I just realized I can’t see you. This is a book!”

Seriously…I’m Kidding is a suiting title that practically mirrors the tone of each paragraph. Just when you think things are about to get heavy, we slip into a joke. It’s as if veering a conversation away from seriousness is an art form that Ms. DeGeneres has perfected. She knows when to pull back when dispensing nuggets of advice, preventing herself from falling into the trap of cliché, self-help preachiness. We’re ultimately reminded to not take things too seriously.

The chapters take the form of a meandering stream of consciousness, bounding between a random assortment of topics that range from being on time to the secret of life (it’s kale). The book is as focused and capable of continuous trains of thought as Ms. Degeneres’s animated aquatic character, Dory the fish, and sometimes feels like having a friend on Facebook who publishes every menial, passing thought that springs into their head. This lack of focus is justified in the first chapter when, admittedly strapped for ideas of what to write about, she decides that the book will contain a little bit of something for everybody. One chapter is composed as a Tweet, another made up of reenactments of sounds (on paper) that she thinks are funny; chapters as lists, coloring book pages, and text messages all appear here. Clearly a lot of fun went into writing this book.

This is not a typical celebrity book by a typical celebrity author. If you’re looking for juicy tidbits about Ms. DeGeneres’s personal life then you will be disappointed by Seriously…I’m Kidding. She understands that personal stories are likely what many readers will be looking for, and yet chooses not to share, directing the reader to the internet and gossip magazines for that kind of information. Instead, she adopts a Seinfeld-like approach of extracting humor from life’s banalities, like guests who always arrive late and people who don’t thank you when you hold the door for them.

This book insists that all you need to be happy and successful is love, kindness, and a positive outlook. If there’s anything you do learn about Ellen DeGeneres from reading this, it’s that she’s a fountain of inspiration and cheerfulness. It seems her purpose in life to spread happiness. It’s not really possible to read this book and stay in a bad mood, which I think is the point. This book does what it’s meant to do well—using humor to brighten the reader’s day.
Seriously…I’m Kidding
By Ellen DeGeneres
Grand Central Publishing
Paperback, 9780446585026, 256pp
September 2011