To write her new book, Lindy West went where few women have dared to go before—deep, deep in to Adam Sandler's oeuvre.
The 37-year-old author watched Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, Little Nicky, The Wedding Singer, and more for a rigorous meditation titled, "Is Adam Sandler Funny?" West found the work exhausting, but she's thorough when it comes to her research process. "That was a part of the book that sounded like it was going to be really fun. Because watching Adam Sandler movies and making fun of them is fun," she tells Glamour. "But if it's for work, it's the last thing I want to do, so I watched them in big marathons." (We thank her for her service.)
West's latest book, The Witches Are Coming, excavates the corners of her brain. Her obsessions, irritations, and child heroes. Often, she does that with a test case, like Sandler, who stands in for general white male averageness. In another chapter, Joan Rivers becomes a symbol of how women can be broken into complicity. And the movie Clue serves as a launchpad to discuss superficial representations of women on film. The specificity is the genius. "I think it would be easy to dismiss [the book] as making broad generalizations based on analysis of too narrow a sliver of culture," West allows. "But I tried to choose things that resonated with me."
Still, even as West claims a modest area of focus, in fact the book's preoccupations are vast and sometimes a delightful surprise. Topics include not just Sandler or Rivers, but also Goop, Grumpy Cat, her viral hashtag, #ShoutYourAbortion, and the creation of her hit Hulu show, Shrill. (Let the countdown begin: Season two premieres on January 20, 2020.) Parts also pick up where West's 2017 New York Times op-ed, "Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You," leaves off—eviscerating the men who dare to evoke the phrase "witch hunt" in the face of their overdue reckoning. Witch hunts, book readers will learn, is something West has been thinking about for ages.
"I had this thought about the term 'witch hunt' [while writing for Jezebel]," she explains. "That witch is a term that's been traditionally used to discredit women, but as soon as men are feeling a little bit sad, then women become the witch hunters and men are the witches, being victimized. I was like, 'Is there a way to turn this on its head?' I remember pitching it, and my editor was like, 'That's a little too spicy. I don't think we can say that.'"
Flash-forward to Donald Trump's election and a cultural upheaval or two, and the pitch was published in the same newspaper that broke the first allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Her editor at the Times green-lit it in an instant. West credits Jezebel and other feminist publications for helping to mainstream not just that level of snark (welcome in 2017), but also an honesty about, as she puts it, "how bad our reality actually is."
In The Witches Are Coming, West points to the fact that mere acknowledgment is an insufficient, but still essential, kind of progress. One of the best sections of the book invokes her person experience pitching Shrill to television executives. (Shrill, first published as a book in 2016 and later adapted for Hulu, premiered last March. It stars Aidy Bryant.) West details in her new book how it felt to push for the show as a plus-size woman in a business still obsessed with thinness. "I remember going to all these meetings and having this anxious feeling, wondering if the chairs in the conference room would be too narrow for me to fit comfortably in," she says. "That's an anxiety I have all the time, everywhere I go, but there's some extra stress involved because Hollywood is the place where a lot of these insecurities came from for me. This is the world that has taught us that there's only one acceptable body type."
West wrote The Witches Are Coming and new episodes of Shrill at the same time. "It was just like having two full-time jobs. I just would go home from the writers' room and then start my other job. Then work until bedtime," she says. West fueled herself with Coke Zeros and dill pickle–flavored sunflower seeds to survive, although she concedes that there was also "a lot of crying."
"I have two stepdaughters who just turned 16 and 18, and I was gone for five months this year," she says. "So I missed half of their two years of high school. Which is really hard and really not sustainable, and I'm going to have to figure out some way to do this career and also be present for my family."
"It's been the hardest thing I've ever done, for sure," she continues. "Fortunately, I'm really proud of how the show turned out, and I'm really proud of how the book turned out." The process might not have been perfect, but West can at least say this: "I did it."
Lindy West's The Witches Are Coming is now available wherever books are sold.
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Originally Appeared on Glamour