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How Sassy Changed My Life [Paperback]

Kara M Jesella


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Book Description

April 17 2007
For a generation of teenage girls, Sassy magazine was nothing short of revolutionary--so much so that its audience, which stretched from tweens to twentysomething women, remains obsessed with it to this day and back issues are sold for hefty sums on the Internet. For its brief but brilliant run from 1988 to 1994, Sassy was the arbiter of all that was hip and cool, inspiring a dogged devotion from its readers while almost single-handedly bringing the idea of girl culture to the mainstream. In the process, Sassy changed the face of teen magazines in the United States, paved the way for the unedited voice of blogs, and influenced the current crop of smart women's zines, such as Bust and Bitch, that currently hold sway.

How Sassy Changed My Life will present for the first time the inside story of the magazine's rise and fall while celebrating its unique vision and lasting impact. Through interviews with the staff, columnists, and favorite personalities we are brought behind the scenes from its launch to its final issue and witness its unique fusion of feminism and femininity, its frank commentary on taboo topics like teen sex and suicide, its battles with advertisers and the religious right, and the ascension of its writers from anonymous staffers to celebrities in their own right.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (April 17 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571211852
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571211852
  • Product Dimensions: 27.2 x 21.3 x 1.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #357,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In the late '80s and '90s, when teen fare was homogeneous, Sassy magazine,a teen cult favorite,was the cool new kid on the block, speaking to girls on their level, giving them an in to alternative pop culture while acting as confidant and wise dispenser of advice. New York–based writers Jesella and Meltzer were part of the Sassy demographic and decided that a "love letter" to the publication was in order. The result is a behind-the-scenes, warts-and-all look at the magazine's office culture, including sections on the glossy's coverage of feminism, celebrity and girl culture. Struggles with advertisers, publishers, religious conservatives and other detractors are described in detail (in a very us-against-them tone), allowing insight into how editorial content was developed. Much of the book is written in a cooler-than-thou tone, often at the expense of every other teen magazine on the market and of the typical American girls who read them. This attitude arguably contributed to Sassy's demise in 1996. In the end, the book—written in a style reminiscent of the magazine itself—is a testament to a publication that changed the face of teen media. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Around the time you read that a publicist for Tiffani Amber-Thiessen once accused Sassy magazine of 'terrorist tactics,' you realize that this book isn't simply a smart and funny ode to a smart and funny magazine; it's the record of a short-lived insurrection against a powerful social code, one that tells young women what they're supposed to think and how they're supposed to act."—Alex Ross
***
"There are people—and I'm one of them—who define their adolescence as pre-Sassy and post-Sassy, who found a respite from the dominant culture of proms and mall-crawling in its pages, and who mourned its death like it was that of a best friend. For us, Jesella and Meltzer offer up some much-needed closure, as well as an engaging snapshot of a time when teen culture was full of vivid, inspired, yet-to-be-co-opted cool."—Andi Ziesler, editorial/creative director of Bitch magazine

"A page-turning romp through the secretive and cut-throat world of teen journalism. Sassy was the one magazine that attempted to subvert the usual diet of mind control and hypnosis employed by its establishment peers. And while she may have destroyed herself in a fit of confused self criticism, she left a generation of precocious women in her wake."   —Ian Svenonius, The Original "Sassiest Boy in America" (not to mention former front man of Nation of Ulysses and author of The Psychic Soviet)

"In its brief life, Sassy offered teenage girls a new way of seeing themselves—and their parents, perhaps, a new way of understanding them. It was very much a product of its historical moment and, as this insightful narrative suggests, Sassy, like all truly significant magazines, clearly helped shape the social realities of its time."  —David Abrahamson, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University

"Sassy really did change my life. If I hadn't read the magazine as a confused pre-teen, I doubt I’d be the person I am today and I doubt I’d have started Venus Zine. I always wanted to know what really happened behind the scenes at Sassy and now I do. This book provides the inside scoop on the rise and fall of one of America’s most important publications."  —Amy Schroeder, editor and publisher Venus Zine
 
"It's a rise-and-fall narrative of a departed magazine that tapped into the zeitgeist, a tale of a particular cultural moment, and of daring that has since become commonplace. Its progenitors have gone on to more prominent planets of the media universe, and yet they long for those halcyon days. No, it's not Spy: The Funny Years, but rather next season's media self-obsession: Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer's How Sassy Changed My Life." --Women's Wear Daily
 
"Sassy was always more than just a teen magazine--it was a beacon for outcasts, feminists, and the rest of the people who went on to create the early 90s indie culture. How Sassy Changed My Life is just as interesting, opinionated, and funny as its subject. Read it and weep again for a magazine that, for many of us, is a long lost friend."  --Jennifer Baumgardner, co-author of Manifesta and author of Look Both Ways

"An entertaining and thought-provoking look at one of the most influential magazines of the 90s. I felt like I was back in those cramped offices, surrounded by the funniest, sharpest women in New York."  --Blake Nelson, author of Girl and Paranoid Park

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gone, but never forgotten April 21 2007
By Edward Aycock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In the summer of 1991, I was 19 and staying with relatives for a few months. A cousin five years younger than I was a subscriber to "Sassy" and she had several months of back issues on the hall bookshelves. One day at a loss for things to read, I picked up a random issue ... By the end of the summer, my cousin would notify me when she'd received a new issue and I'd rush to read it. I had no idea that I was only one of many males who also read Sassy, nor could I have foreseen that such a great magazine would have such a short life. I have a sister who'd read Seventeen but I never had any interest in that; it was too dull. What I liked about Sassy was why so many others loved it: it treated young women as though they were young women not a demographic, Sassy didn't talk down to its varied readers, it featured more than blondes on the cover, didn't have a "girls only" feel about it, and it was damn funny. The editors weren't a nameless, faceless mass but were people just like us who acknowledged that everybody was in this struggle known as life together, that life sometimes really blew, so once a month, why not just talk about what we could do to make it that much more bearable. I remember thinking Jane Pratt's "Letters from the Editor" were hilarious, and the Sonic Youth story when they went shopping at the downtown flea market being so cool - oh god, they like Sonic Youth too!

Times unfortunately changed and advertisers balked, as they're wont to do and Sassy tried to become more of a Stepford Teen Mag. Then it folded.

"How Sassy Changed My Life" is a great chronicle of the rise, fall and legacy of this one of a kind magazine. It's a fun walk down memory lane, as well as a rather sobering look at how the advertisers would loves us all to live in a world where we all wear rose-colored glasses. Sassy refused to pander and sadly went away, but it's never been forgotten. This book is a wonderful love letter not only to the magazine, but a bygone era. I wish there had been photographs or excerpts from the magazine itself besides just the cover photo. Perhaps this will spur a best of Sassy compendium. That would be very welcome.

I'd love to think that if enough people read this book, or seek out back issues on eBay, that somebody will try to make their own cool magazine. In these days of more advertising control than ever as well as the electronic age, it may not even happen but I'm glad this book will show a younger generation what they missed out on and what they could, in one form or another, have again.

PS If you are unaware of the control advertisers have on media, please look for a copy of Gloria Steinem's eye-opening essay "Sex, Lies and Advertising" which is collected in her book "Moving Beyond Words." That will add some context to why magazines can struggle with including "controversial" content and will put Sassy's demise into perspective.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A celebration of the magazine which influenced a generation of liberal, activist young women May 20 2007
By Jessica Lux - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The central thesis of How Sassy Changed My Life is that the one-of-a-kind teen magazine created a club of kindred spirits during its short 6-year tenure, and that it has had a lasting effect on a generation (or two) of American women. Authors Jesella and Meltzer write "Upon meeting a fellow Sassy fan, we feel like we understand something essential about that person: their life philosophy, what their politics might be like, what their artistic preferences are, what they were like in high school, what kind of person they wanted to grow up to be. (By contrast, we find non-fans of a certain age slightly suspect.)"

Since this title is about how Sassy changed our lives, it is necessary for me to reflect on my own Sassy readership. I picked it up for the first time at age eleven, when the magazine was just two years old. My best friend and I were immediate converts, and even created our own short-lived dozen-wide-circulation `zine in the Sassy tradition. I have all my Sassy back issues. When the magazine was sold to the owners of Teen magazine in 1994, the editorial staff was fired, and the name was repackaged as standard bubblegum fare, I never knew why my magazine died such a horrible death. I cancelled my subscription to the "Stepford Sassy" and every time I got a renewal notice, I would write an angry letter about my disgust with the new magazine (my boyfriend at the time could never understand why I had such passionate distaste for renewal notices).

Finally, the story of the rise and untimely death of Sassy is told, in this fine collection with chapters about the conception of the magazine, its rise, its relationship to the competitors, the lives of the staffers, the feminism of the publication, and its catastrophic fall from grace.

Sassy was the first magazine in which I read bylines, in which I reflected on what I knew about the writer of each piece, and how his or her personality and life experience played into the end product. Sassy poked fun at the celebrity worship and body-flaw fixing so central to other teen magazines. It talked frankly about sex in a voice completely opposite from that of your curmudgeonly gym teacher. Jesella and Meltzer's book is not only a delightful trip down memory lane, it also reveals important behind-the-scenes tensions and political maneuverings, as well as the cultural significance of the periodical. Highly recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and nostalgic look at Sassy April 18 2007
By Susan Johnston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book examines the back story of Sassy magazine, but also puts it into context with zines, indie music and other teen movements of the late 1980s to early 1990s. Thoroughly researched and written with a touch of Sassy sarcasm, this book belongs on the shelf of any Sassy fan.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once Upon A Time July 26 2007
By William H. Kelsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Long, long ago (not really, just the early 1990's, but it feels like forever!), there was the most fantastic teen magazine ever: SASSY!!! For girls like myself (this is William's wife Jen writing, by the way, in case anyone is wondering "Huh?") who were not the upper class WASPs of America with money to burn, perfect tans and bleached hair and New Kids lust, Sassy was such an amazing outlit for our social, political, and emotional frustrations. I was a girl who didn't gave a darn about 90210, Debbie Gibson, Prada, Calvin Klein, social conformity, and Sassy really helped to open up a whole nother world. The staff at Sassy became like our cooler older sisters in the hip underground: they knew all of the cool bands, fashions, actors, etc before the mainstream media had a clue. Also, I must add, that Sassy was the first place where I had read about Wicca which is now my spiritual path in life. In a time which I was an outcast demiJew interested in paganism and Buddhism but forced to going to a very Conservative Catholic school full of the standard cheerleader types (their solution to life was just to follow whatever nonsense the nuns and their parents proclaimed, no matter how braindead, and never to think for themselves), Sassy was literally a Goddess send where I finally felt connected.
On another note, I was very happy to see that they added a bit about how many girls felt alienated by the ultra- underground and alternative aspects of Sassy. Towards the end of the magazine, it seemed to me (and after reading, I'm glad I'm not the only one) that if you liked any song that managed to get on the radio, any show that had appeared in TV Guide, or wanted to dye your hair with Clairol instead of funky Kool Aid colours, then you were deemed terminally uphip (I remember as if it were yesterday how they trashed my then favourite band Roxette). I think that that exclusiveness, rather than any boycotts about the sex columns, were the cause of Sassy's demise. Still, it was an amazing magazine and so uplift and often soulsearching for its readers and sadly no magazine has come close to filling that void for today's young women (although B*tch is great. Check it out if you can).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great concept falls a little flat Feb. 2 2009
By superkid268 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really think that this book could have been really amazing: the concept was great and the subject was really well-researched. Some sections really shined, but (honestly) others fell flat. I think that there was a lot of emphasis placed on the editors and writers of the magazine and their lives and opinions - and while I believe that they made Sassy WHAT it was - a stronger emphasis could have been placed on story-lines or quotes from specific pieces. The same goes for images in the book - there were no photos or illustrations. If the work was solely a history or analysis piece, I could expect that. But, while the writers have a strong amount of written content, part of the book SHOULD read as a celebrated tribute, and incorporate a visual aspect (photos of staff, photos of fans, ect). There were also several cultural references (one that comes to mind - Liz Phair) that may have been significant for some readers, but that could easily be lost on some readers. But, it is only very slightly disappointing - I did enjoy the book. Any former Sassy reader will.

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