Thursday, November 29, 2012

November 29: Some Books

I have about 600 books on my to-read list. Usually I'm reading at least two at a time, sometimes three or four. Lately several people have asked me what I like to read, so I'm going to list a few of my recent favorites, plus my least favorite book -- the one I wish I'd never read.

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: What an amazing first novel. Stockett is a masterful storyteller, and a courageous one. She found a way to tell the stories of a group of black maids in such a way that she could do it in her own white woman voice and still lay down an authentic, heart-ripping tale of racism in the South just as the Civil Rights movement was bursting into flames.

The movie is riveting too, and worth watching more than once. But this book is a story about the writing of these stories -- how convfuckingvoluted is that? -- and it deserves to be read. This one's a classic.

2. Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I'm halfway through the third book in this trilogy, and I've found all three hard to put down. If you like post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, you'll probably like these.  I believe they were written for the young adult crowd, so they're short because we all know teenagers can't read adult-length novels. Like Harry Potter, for example. They could have been one book, but it's a win/win for both the publisher and the movie-makers.

Some critics say both the books and the movie that's based on the first book in the series are a knockoff of Battle Royale. Possibly, but so what? The books are a good read, and I look forward to watching the movie after I'm finished reading. I just don't give a shit if the idea is similar to Japanese movie. 

Some people find the violence against teenagers difficult to read, but it's typical of this genre. If you think that might bother you, don't read them. This story is supposed to be disturbing though. Every story needs tension.

3. Afterwards: A Novel and Sister  both by Rosamund Lupton. I read Sister first and liked it so much I read the only other novel of Lupton's my local library has for Kindle. I almost wish I'd checked out the hard copies though, because I even love the covers of these books.

Both of these books are written as first person narratives, with the narrator talking directly to another character in the book. The only other writer who did it as well is Lionel Shriver in We Need to Talk about Kevin. (If you haven't read that one, I highly recommend it. I guarantee it will stick with you for a while. The book is much better than the movie.)

But back to Lupton's books. Both are mysteries told to another character in the book by the narrator. In Sister, a woman is trying to solve her sister's murder, and she tells the story by telling it to her dead sister. In Afterwards, a woman who is in a coma leaves her corporeal body and tells the story of the arson that put her there to her husband as the mystery is being solved.

As usual, describing the devices has not one fuck to do with the stories. Lupton is another competent, engaging storyteller. Her pacing is perfect. I cared and worried about the characters as the narrator struggled to make sense of each mystery. These books probably won't be made into movies, but they could be.

4. The Post Birthday World. Speaking of Lionel Shriver, I also read her latest because I'm in love with her and I want to have her baby.

Shriver always takes risks, and this one is her riskiest. She tells the story of a married woman who goes out with a friend's husband for his birthday and kisses him. Or she doesn't. At the point of the kiss, Shriver alternates chapters so the story unfolds from the kiss and alternately it unfolds as if she didn't kiss the man.

Sounds crazy, right? It took me a couple of chapters to understand what she was doing. Believe it or not, in Shriver's hands this shit works. The ending is brilliant. And I learned a lot about snooker.

If you want to know what great writing looks like, read anything Shriver has written. Anything. Her grocery lists are probably fascinating.

5. 50 Shades of Grey by E L James. Oh dear god do not read this trilogy. Don't  even read the first one. This is the worst writing that's ever gone viral in the literary publishing world. Where the fuck was the editor on this one? I know this is Twilight fan fiction, but that's no excuse. I don't even see the link to Twilight here, so who gives a fuck what it was originally supposed to be.

The writing is so immature .... my god. It looks like a young woman with no sexual experience wrote down her crazy fantasies for a group of other young woman who also had no sexual experience, but they encouraged her to keep goin. I give her credit for having written three whole novels, but the three of them combined are the novel she should have put in her bottom drawer.

I have nothing against the content .... OK, that's not true. No 21-year-old woman has her first orgasm from some guy just playing with her nipples. I'm pretty sure I remember that happening. But then again, just reading this book made me feel stupid, so I'm not sure. But that's not all. James shows no understanding of human behavior and motivation. And she really pissed off the BDSM crowd with her portrayal of Christian Grey, dom to the masses.

There is good erotic fiction out there. I've read it, and I've even published some. I'm not sure why so many women were turned on by this, but here's my advice to them: Use your vibrating toothbrush to clean your teeth and buy yourself a fucking hitachi. Grow up. This shit isn't erotic and you don't know what erotic is. (If you're one of those people, no offense. Let's talk.)

I could tell you so many things I don't like about this book. The labored literary devices. The soap opera pacing. The trite descriptions. If you've already read it, I'm sorry. Your brain shrank. If you haven't read it, be glad you didn't get sucked into the craze.

I read it because so many younger women were asking me what I thought of it. I even got into conversations in the bathroom at karaoke about it. So I was going to put together a discussion group to talk about why the writing was horrible or why Christian Grey was horrible or why everything about this book is horrible. It never happened. And now I'm stuck with the entire fucking trilogy in my bookcase.

The one bright spot that came from Fifty Shades is this video of Ellen Degeneres reading selections from the book. Love you, Ellen. Sorry you read even that much of this book.

OK, those are a few of my recent reads. Not all of them. What have you been reading? Anything we might be interested in? Want to buy a boxed set of 50 Shades of Shit for cheap?


  1. More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby is a compilation of his essays on books. His writing is so brilliant he almost had me convinced to read Austerity Britain!

    Also recently loved Where'd You Go Bernadette? and The Healing.

    1. Thanks, Deb. I'll add those to my list.

  2. I try to keep my brain as free from literary pollution as possible, especially since it's still tender and recovering from falling into the toxic waste dump called "The Bridges of Madison County" many years ago.

    1. Oh, c'mon. Bridges wasn't that bad, was it? It was a sweet little love story. And it took place in the next county over from the one I grew up in. 50 Shades makes Bridges look like something Tolstoy might have written if he'd ever heard of Iowa.

    2. It was horrible. Not the plot; the purple prose and the author's disgusting love affair with himself-as-male protagonist. The book started drowning in Male Fantasy Narcissism and "I am your god, your Sun, here to awaken you. Drown in me" dialogue after the first half, and there was no redeeming it. I literally hurled it against the wall when I was finished, got up, picked it up, threw it again, and then carried it out to the kitchen and tossed it in the trash along with the slimy peels and old coffee grinds. I do believe that's the ONLY book I've every thrown away in my entire life.

    3. Hah! Here's a review snatched from Amazon. I think we had the same reading experience: "Waller is not a good writer. He is not a bad writer. He is the worst writer ever. Since the day when Sumerians first scratched symbols on clay tablets there has not been a more banal, insipid, nauseating writer than this guy. To say that he can't write is incorrect. Oh, he can write. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this dreck. He's not like those thousands of monkeys hammering away at typewriters for all eternity trying to write the complete works of Shakespeare. No, Waller actually had the INTENT to write this abomination.

      There are paragraphs in this book too horrible to mention, sentences that will leaving you gasping and grabbing blindly for something sturdy to cling to. The sheer incompetence is awesome to behold. I can't give examples of how bad it is because I would end up transcribing the entire book. How he was able to write this book without becoming becoming paralyzed with shame is beyond me. Well, if you have no shame..."

    4. I will admit I read it many years ago. I might have the same reaction you did to it today. However, I still contend that it's not as bad as 50 Shades. It just can't be. That one is just plain clumsy.

  3. The Time Traveler's Wife is one of the better convoluted storyline works I've read. Most such works annoy me since the device so often gets in the way of the storytelling...but when it really works, it really works. I'll be checking out some of these -- as soon as there's a free spot on my groaning shelf of books-I'm-currently-reading-don't-touch-them-I'm-really-going-to-finish-them-sometime. No-really.

    1. We talked about that book and I was going to pick it up at the used book store. Then they closed before I could. I'll get hold of it one of these days.

  4. Thanks for sharing your list.
    I didn't jump on the 50 Shades bandwagon, and after reading what you've written, I'm glad I didn't. So many people loved it. I think that's kind of a sad commentary. I saw Ellen's take on it though, she's so funny!!

    My list is more introspective-oriented. Well, I make a list, and then sometimes I get to it, sometimes not. And, now, with more space, I might bring in more fiction and simply more good writing.

    My list (primarily from Oprah's Soul series - don't laugh) is currently:
    The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer
    A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink
    Reality Broken, Jane McGonigal
    Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav
    A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson (I read this in the 80's/90's and I'd be interested to see what I think of it now.)

    1. I've read a couple of those, Sue. I read so much non-fiction online, reading fiction feels like eating chocolate. The only non-fiction book I'm reading right now is Brene Brown's _Daring Greatly_. I want to write more about that book in a separate post though.

  5. Ooooh! Daring Greatly sounds intriguing!
    Going to look up the title now! :)

    1. She has a Ted talk on the same topic. You should watch that too.