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Praying to Spirits

Chelsea Handler's new book is not for the faint of funny

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"I was having a hard time learning the lesson of why it's not a good idea to live with friends. Along with not drinking and driving, not having sex on the first date, and always carrying a tampon, this was yet another example of me learning lessons the hard way."

So starts chapter nine, "Re-Gift," of comedian Chelsea Handler's second book, Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea, which landed at No.1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List only to be knocked out of its spot by Barbara Walters' new memoir. Who better to be pushed out of No. 1 by than Barbara Walters?

"Yeah, who better?" Handler replied. "It was either her or Clay Aiken."

Handler, a veteran stand-up performer, hosts the E! channel nighttime talk show, Chelsea Lately, a show that includes irreverent one-on-one interviews with the likes of ex-supermodel-still-crazy Janice Dickinson, American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, Disney channel sweetheart Raven Symone and MTV's pint-sized celebrity, Tila Tequila. The show also features laugh-out-loud segments in which Handler and guest comedians make fun of tabloid-worthy celebrity behavior. Handler also acts on In The Motherhood, an online-only sitcom based on real-life motherhood experiences with fellow funny females Jenny McCarthy and Leah Remini.

In Are You There Vodka?, as in her stand-up and her talk show, Handler broaches subjects that aren't themselves taboo, but treats them in a way that is the polar opposite of politically correct. She calls little people "nuggets," describes plans to while away an evening with her vibrator, and writes, "... I was taking my father, or as I affectionately like to call him, 'Bitch Tits,' to Costa Rica ..."

She shamelessly describes her fondness for vodka, a night spent in a California women's correctional institution, and why she considered not sleeping with a man she nicknamed Big Red: She was "taken aback by ... the boldness of color and length" of his pubic hair.

Handler said she's as surprised as anyone that the book reached the top of the Times list.

"The first week, I was No. 1 and I couldn't believe that," she said. "It was perfect timing because it came out a week before Barbara Walters' book, so I got that week in ... And Barbara Walters and I obviously have a very similar writing style," she said in her inimitable sarcastic tone. "She stole my signature move and slept with a black guy, which is how I made my first book [My Horizontal Life, about one-night stands]. She was a day late and a dollar short."

Born in New Jersey, the beautiful, blonde Handler is the youngest of six children raised in a half-Mormon, half-Jewish family. She explores issues associated with growing up in such a household and, much like a David Sedaris novel, the autobiographical Are You There Vodka? is laid out in vignettes and offers a clear glimpse into who Handler is and why.

She explained that she wrote her first book more as a novel because at that time she "wasn't a known personality ... no one was really familiar with me ... I had to have some kind of hook so people would be interested in reading the book in the first place.

"The first book was great to write because I didn't go to college so to even publish a book is hilarious," she said. "All of my brothers and sisters are attorneys and nurses and accountants. They were like, 'You got a book deal?'"

After the first book, she received a number of offers to pen a second one.

"This time, I wanted to put in my homegrown feelings," she said, "and kind of explain why I am the way that I am. As if anyone's interested."

Clearly, someone is. By Handler's accounts, the book has sold over 100,000 (I have had three requests to borrow my copy). The first book just sold over 100,000 in three years.

"It's the thing I would have to say I'm most proud of," she said.

Proud she should be. Handler honestly opens up about things many of us would be too embarrassed to talk about with even our very best friends, and her willingness to expose her very human side adds a charming and approachable dimension to Handler. Her name may not be followed by "attorney at law," "CPA" or "RN," but she's clearly as successful—and hardworking—as the lawyers and accountants in her family.

Handler can hold her own in the arena of late-night, talk-show television, in the world of publishing and in the midst of a large half-Mormon, half-Jewish family. Even if she does call her father Bitch Tits.

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