Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes


Title: Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person

Author: Rhimes, Shonda (Author’s Website)

Genre: Memoir, Self-Help

Bibliographic: Simon & Schuster, 208 pages, Hardcover List Price $24.99, Paperback List Price $16.00, Audiobook CD List Price $29.99, Digital Audiobook List Price $20.99, ISBNs 9781476777092, 9781410486745, 9781476777146, 9781476777122

Publication Date: November 10, 2015

Rating: ★★☆☆☆/♥♥♥♥♡ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors: Amusing, inspiring

Why I picked it up: I had never heard of Shonda Rhimes, and then suddenly this book was everywhere. I still wasn’t going to read it, but then a few people from  my book club decided to get together to go see her speak and I thought I should try it.

S.I.A.S.: Shonda Rhimes explains how one offhand comment completely changed her outlook on life.

Summary: On Thanksgiving morning 2013, Shonda Rhimes — creator of TV’s Grey’s AnatomyPrivate PracticeScandal, and How to Get Away with Murder — was bragging to her older sister about the prestigious invitations she’d received but didn’t plan to accept. Her sister was unsurprised. She muttered “you never say yes to anything,” knocking Shondra for a loop and inspiring her to say Yes more. For an entire year, Shondra was committed to saying “yes” to everything that scared her — public speaking, appearing on television, dropping what she’s doing and playing with her children.

The book explains all the different things she’s said yes to in the last year and a half, her plans for saying yes in the future, and how the word “yes” has changed her life (and could change yours).

Evaluation: This book is currently very popular, and I can see why some people love it, but ultimately this is not the book for me. I listened to the audiobook, which had an extremely informal tone — Shonda clearly wants you to feel as though you’re listening to a friend telling a story, and in fact makes several references to the fact that she and the reader are friends now, now that the reader is so acquainted with the details of her inner life. I know that Shonda Rhimes is a talented writer, due to the success of her television shows, and it’s clear that her extreme chattiness is a choice rather than a shortcoming. It sort of reminded me of Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy, and so I might recommend it to people who enjoy that style. She does repeat herself quite a bit, which got annoying after the first three or so chapters.

That said, I did find this book enjoyable to listen to. Television production isn’t the focus of the book, but I found the sections where Shonda discusses her work to be fascinating. She assumes that the reader has some level of familiarity with her shows (or at least Grey’s Anatomy), but as a person who had never heard of Shonda Rhimes and has never seen any of the shows, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything by  not knowing the characters and actors she was discussing.

I would recommend the audiobook over the print edition, for sure. The informal tone of the writing can come off as a bit condescending in print, if the negative goodreads reviews (which are in the minority) can be believed. Furthermore, my favorite feature about the book is only available in the audio edition: on three occasions, Shonda includes the text of a speech she gave during her year of yes. In the audiobook, rather than reading those speeches again Shonda has included the original recordings, allowing the listener to hear the audience reactions. This is a pretty cool feature, and it made me want to look up the speeches on YouTube so I could see her reacting to the audience.

Significance: Shonda Rhimes is what makes this book significant. Throughout the book, she refers to herself as an F.O.D. — which stands for First, Only, Different — because there are no other black women in television creating content at the same level as she is. As a self-help book, there isn’t much content here that can’t be found elsewhere, but the sections where she talks about her life are more interesting.

Readalikes: Yes Man, by Danny Wallace. The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. Laughing with Lucy, by Madeline Pugh Davis.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why does Shonda decide to commit to the year of yes? Has one comment ever changed the course of your life?
  2. Shonda eventually expands the concept of “yes” to identify the yes in every situation — are any of Shonda’s yeses things that you would have said no to? Which ones, and why?
  3. What does Shonda learn from her characters? Is it reasonable to have a fictional person on your “ride or die” list? Is learning from characters you created ultimately learning from yourself?
  4. How do Shonda’s friends and family help her succeed in her year of yes? Would it have been possible without a support network?
  5. How does Shonda’s sense of humor and general good attitude impact the year of yes? Do you think her personality changed substantially over the course of the year?

Lists and Awards: New York Times Bestseller. Publishers Weekly Bestseller. (According to the publisher)

Professional Reviews: Publishers Weekly. Kirkus. Los Angeles Times. Washington Post.

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