You can read Stassi Schroeder’s new memoir-advice hybrid Next Level Basic in about the amount of time it takes to watch three episodes of Vanderpump Rules without commercials. Depending on the season, your time will be about half as well spent. (This is praise.)
Vanderpump Rules is a force. The Bravo reality show expertly catalogues the whims and trysts of a group of not-quite-young people in Los Angeles and features the sort of dramatic arcs usually reserved for television shows much more high-brow and boring. Fans who consider themselves “smart” would be eager to tell you something like “it is the greatest philosophical text of our generation” but, self-conscious hyperbole aside, it genuinely is very good. It’s so good that its cast of former (and, in some cases, current) waitresses and bartenders has been able to use the show’s momentum to propel themselves into a variety of seemingly aspirational gigs: makeup lines, movie roles, international DJing, part-ownership of a bar, a rumored internship in social media for a Florida hockey team. It makes sense that Vanderpump Rules’ resident smart person (the one who’s not Ariana, that is) would claim space in the literary world as her personal spin-off.
The show’s current season has given us a few peeks into Stassi’s life as a writer. In an early episode, she puts on a collared shirt (her “writer” outfit, she explained) for a Skype call with her team at Gallery Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. In a more recent episode, she called her editor before the whole cast left for a vacation, and pleaded to extend her manuscript deadline just a little bit, clearly understating the issue. On the show and in interviews she’s talked about how the concept of writing a book (apparently her publicist’s idea) was a difficult hurdle to get over, telling W, “I was like, ‘What the fuck would I write about?’”
What the fuck she wrote ended up being, functionally — and I say this with affection — a rambling personal blog about her various likes and dislikes, most often presented in list form. “Embarrassing AF Fashion Phases That Helped Me Find My Look,” “Best Hot Dogs on the Planet,” “Top Twelve Ultimate Dealbreakers.” The lists are usually preceded by three or four pages of cheerleading about how you should just like whatever you like — Kir Royales, the movie Frozen, taking selfies — even if what you like is considered, yes, “basic.” Each chapter ends with a “Takeaways” section that says what the first few pages said, but shorter. (There isn’t much Vanderpump gossip to be found in the book, though there is a pretty good story about how Stassi and Jax almost became scientologists.)
Next Level Basic, to its great credit, does the not-easy task of translating Stassi’s on-screen personality to text; you genuinely can hear her on the page. This admittedly often leaves you feeling like, why am I reading this person ramble at me about why ranch dressing is good (an extraordinary amount of the book is about ranch dressing), but it frequently enough allows for some truly funny moments.
Her writing has the unrestrained voiciness of early-aughts blogging and it is, oddly and surprisingly, somewhat refreshing to read.
In “Ultimate Dealbreakers,” a list of qualities she doesn’t like in guys, she cites a few generally agreed upon things (“PEOPLE WHO ARE RUDE TO SERVERS,” “MALE GYM SELFIES”) before listing: “PEOPLE WHO LOVE NATURE.” The timing, maybe you’ll have to take my word for it, is excellent. In another section she writes about her favorite musicals (Evita, Moulin Rouge!, Hamilton) and stresses that if you love musicals, you should not be ashamed to love musicals. “On that note,” she says, “the only musical that I do think sucks is Rent.” Haha. What a funny little chunk of writing: the only musical that I do think sucks is Rent. (She explains her dislike of Rent stems from the fact that when the movie version came out, “everyone suddenly thought they were musical theater scholars.”)
The book is peppered with hedging that I like to imagine was inserted by an editor frightened of legitimately promoting, for example, mass murder. A list called “Stassi’s Favorite Serial Killers” — which includes Ted Bundy (“At one point he kept a bunch of severed heads in his apartment, and he escaped jail twice. Like WHAT?!”); and Jack the Ripper (“He put in the bare minimum of serial killing and became the most famous one of all”) — comes with an asterisk: “*Take the word ‘favorite’ with a grain of salt, please. I’m not trying to glorify these mass murderers!”
What Next Level Basic amounts to is a more palatable, book-length version of the way some indulge in their worst tendencies under the guise of “being themselves” or “wellness” or “feminism.” If we’re going to jettison our shame and accept ourselves for who we are rather than try to become something better, I think it’s at least more admirable to proclaim one’s sincere love for ranch dressing than neglect one’s relationships and call it self-care, or whatever. The takeaway here is: Like the stuff you like, because who cares. You can decide for yourself whether that mantra needed to be a book written by Stassi from Vanderpump Rules, but you have to admit it’s not a bad way to go about things.*
*Unless the one of the things you like is murder, in which case don’t!