Category Archives: popular lit

Fifty Shades of Grey – DRINKING GAME RULES

50 shades of greyThis book is so exuberantly, hilariously flawed that it requires a drinking game.

Drink every time:

  • Christian Grey acts like a stalker with poor impulse control.
  • Ana thinks, Oh my.
  • A stray Britishism pops up.
  • Ana’s subconscious [sic] or inner goddess requires slapping.
  • There’s gratuitous product placement.
  • You cringe on behalf of Christian’s servant-people.
  • Someone name-shouts during orgasm.

Chug when:

  • Someone’s mouth “forms a perfect O.”
  • A tampon is pulled.

Finish your drink when:

  • “Rectifying the situation” is used to refer to relieving someone of their virginity.
  • An actual, full-length legal contract appears in the text.

In a nutshell: Young, bookish Anastasia Steele meets 27-year-old business tycoon Christian Grey.  He has a dark past, majorly taut abs, a BDSM playroom in his fabulous penthouse, and a purported fear of intimacy that melts on contact with Ana’s magical vagina.

I was going to make a list of flaws, followed by a tally of the merits, but then I kept moving the flaws to the merit column because the flaws are so awesome, just like the pancake makeup in the Twilight movies.

–         The writing pulls the neat trick of setting the bar so low that I fist-pumped in triumph every time E.L. James did something right, such as understanding the distinction between “figuratively” and “literally.”

–         There are SO MANY ERRORS.  How can this e-book cost $9.99 when there’s well-written erotica available for $0.99?

–          Safe sex, yay!  James gets kind of Pavlovian with the ripping sound of a condom package, and I salute that.

–          Christian Grey, who probably owns a sweatshirt emblazoned “Byronic anti-hero,” is cold and distant but blows his game by saying dipshit things like “I’m like a moth to a flame” and “You beguile me.”  Not to mention, “I want you to meet my mother” right after they Do It for the first time.  HAHAHA HAHA HAHAHAHAHA, this book is awesome.

–          Despite the busload of flaws, I think the romance works.  Ana and Mr. Rochester Grey have very different neuroses, but of the same vector length, which is one of the keys to relationship success.  She’s judgmental and street stupid, he’s emo with a bad temper; they so totally deserve each other!  Win!

–          The meet-cute portion of the story is a delicious, delicious festival of cringe.  Remember how teen magazines used to have reader submissions where people would write in with tales of personal humiliation?  Ana is EPIC in her ability to fuck up in front of Christian.

–          Ana has two cartoon characters that provide windows into her interior life (because first-person narration isn’t enough, what?), which E.L. James refers to as Ana’s subconscious [sic] and Ana’s inner goddess.  Like the Microsoft paperclip that used to pop up in Word, they manifest for no reason and grow more irksome each time.  (Ana’s inner goddess mimes her feelings by doing a hula dance, hiding behind the sofa, or swooning onto a fainting couch.)

–          The British have invaded Seattle!  Although purportedly narrated by an American girl, this story is speckled all over with charmingly misplaced Britishisms.  It’s amateur night at the editing desk.  No, who are we kidding, this novel wasn’t edited by anyone.

–          I don’t know what’s less believable, that Ana has never masturbated or that she doesn’t have a laptop or email account in 2011.  See note above re: editing.

–          This dubious book has the dubious distinction of  having the most true-to-life contractual negotiation I’ve ever read in my fiction-reading career.  The Dom/sub contract appears in its entirety (except Schedule C – Food), including subsequent markup rounds.  Ana comments on legal drafts more astutely than most junior attorneys I have known, which just…I don’t know.  She didn’t catch the redlining errors, though, so I’ll have to mark that on her next performance review.

–          I don’t know much about the theory and practice of BDSM, but even I can tell E.L. James doesn’t know a damn thing.  Some people are rightly offended, but honestly I can’t take this fuckwittery seriously enough to be offended.  It’s like being upset about bad science in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  Btw, it’s labeled BDSM, but the kink factor is totally mainstream, like the “spicy” Chinese food in the food court at the mall.

In conclusion, this book is optimized for drinking games, preferably in conjunction with a dramatic reading with friends.  I mentioned the name-shouting during sex, right?  It would only take 5 people to do a full-cast rendition (Christian, Ana, Ana as narrator, Ana’s subconscious [sic], and someone to mime Ana’s inner goddess).

The Help (Kathryn Stockett) 2*

the helpPeople seem to have a lot to say about this book, but I am far too bored to say very much.  Briefly:

1. It’s boring.  I eventually skipped all but Minnie’s chapters (the only interesting narrator and also the only interesting plot arc), so you could say I read [1/2 +1/3 = 5/6] of this book, which is ½ too much.

2. Everyone is pretty noxious except for (a) black people and (b) white people who literally have To Kill a Mockingbird on their nightstand.  Eyeroll please.  I wasn’t around in the 1960’s, but I’d guess that non-racists then were pretty much like non-meat-eaters now: highly uncommon outside of intellectual bastions and sometimes irritatingly self-righteous.  (You know that future generations will judge us harshly for the factory farms.)

3. I cannot suspend my disbelief.  Celia, the upjumped cracker girl, can’t even conceive of treating Minnie as anything other than an equal?!  I don’t pull out the interobang often, but I pull it out here.  Nobody clings to racial hierarchy more than poor members of the dominant ethnicity – it’s the only thing they have.  How can Stockett grow up in the South and not notice that phenomenon?

4. The lavender-and-gold cover design just makes me think “urine-soaked wedding,” and I cannot deal.

In conclusion, why are we even talking about this book?

True Grit (Charles Portis) 4*

true gritThis book is adorable.  Amongst drunken gunslingers and filthy outlaws, here’s skinny little Mattie Ross bossing it up.  She’s a 14-year-old girl with a sense of entitlement you usually see on a 40-year-old CEO.  From the way Mattie makes unhesitating business decisions, you’d think she’d been running the family farm even before her father was murdered.  True Grit is half adventure tale, half black comedy, as Mattie, a federal marshall, a Texas Ranger, and an assortment of murderous train robbers talk past each other because no one has the cognitive capacity to deal with Mattie.

The most hilarious part is that Mattie won’t shut up about her lawyer.   If she likes someone, no matter how bloody the situation, she tells them she can refer them to a good lawyer.  If she doesn’t like someone, she says this:

I said, “I don’t like the way you look.”

Quincy stopped his work.  He said, “Are you talking to me, runt?”

I said, “Yes, and I will say it again.  I don’t like the way you look and I don’t like the way you are cutting up that turkey.  I hope you go to jail.  My lawyer will not help you.”

I love it!  Now let’s watch Mattie beat a sophisticated businessman into a whimpering pulp.  Atticus Finch could learn a thing or two from this kid:

I said, “I want three hundred dollars for Papa’s saddle horse that was stolen.” Continue reading

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (Helen Fielding ) 4* out of 4

If you take Bridget Jones, add a double shot of MacGyver, and serve on the rocks with a little umbrella, you might get Olivia Joules.  She’s brave.  She’s competent.  She may be entirely silly.

She’s at a cosmetic launch party when she meets a handsome stranger who reminds her of Osama bin Laden…

She keeps her Rules for Living in her carry-on bag:

1. Never panic. Stop, breathe, think.
2. No one is thinking about you.  They’re thinking about themselves, just like you.
3. Never change haircut or color before an important event.
4. Nothing is as bad or as good as it seems.
5. Do as you would be done by, e.g., thou shalt not kill.
6. It is better to buy one expensive thing that you really like than several cheap ones that you only quite like.
7. Hardly anything matters: if you get upset, ask yourself, “Does it really matter?”
8. The key to success lies in how you pick yourself up from failure.
9. Be honest and kind.
10. Only buy clothes that make you feel like doing a small dance.
11. Trust your instincts, not your overactive imagination.
12. When overwhelmed by disaster, check if it’s really a disaster by doing the following: (a) think, “Oh, fuck it,” (b) look on the bright side and, if that doesn’t work, look on the funny side.  If neither of the above works then maybe it is a disaster so turn to items 1 to 4.
13. Don’t expect the world to be safe or life to be fair.
14. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Gregory Maguire) 4.5*

I read half of this in a bookstore years ago, then finally circled back last week.  For comparison, I could only stomach one chapter of Wicked.

The story opens in the Netherlands as the stepmother and stepsisters arrive penniless and desperate.  None are beautiful, and the older sister is fat and retarded.  They happen upon a Dutch painter who wishes to paint an ugly girl…

Like the chiseled print block of a fine woodcut, this story is deeply textured and keenly observed.  It’s hooked to the track of the Cinderella story yet has its own moral dimensions.  Maguire sketches his people lean and sharp, while tulip mania makes and breaks fortunes.

Terry Pratchett Hitlist

Here they are, in order of publication.  So far the trendline shows that Pratchett gets better as he gets older, which is always nice to see.

1 The Colour of Magic 1983 Rincewind
2 The Light Fantastic 1986 Rincewind
3 Equal Rites 1987 The Witches, The Wizards Excellent.
4 Mort 1987 Death Boring.
5 Sourcery 1988 Rincewind, The Wizards
6 Wyrd Sisters 1988 The Witches Pretty boring with random references to Macbeth.
7 Pyramids 1989 Miscellaneous (Djelibeybi)
8 Guards! Guards! 1989 The City Watch Meh.
9 Faust Eric 1990 Rincewind
10 Moving Pictures 1990 Miscellaneous (Holy Wood), The Wizards
11 Reaper Man 1991 Death, The Wizards The Death books appear to suck.
12 Witches Abroad 1991 The Witches
13 Small Gods 1992 Miscellaneous (Omnia), The History Monks Pretty boring but readable.  Completely unrelated to everything else.
14 Lords and Ladies 1992 The Witches, The Wizards I started it two days ago and can’t recall what it’s about, therefore it probably sucks.
15 Men at Arms 1993 The City Watch
16 Soul Music 1994 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards
17 Interesting Times 1994 Rincewind, The Wizards
18 Maskerade 1995 The Witches
19 Feet of Clay 1996 The City Watch
20 Hogfather 1996 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The Wizards
21 Jingo 1997 The City Watch
22 The Last Continent 1998 Rincewind, The Wizards
23 Carpe Jugulum 1998 The Witches
24 The Fifth Elephant 1999 The City Watch Sam Vimes in Uberwald, diplomacy ensues.
25 The Truth 2000 The Ankh-Morpork Times, The City Watch Fun!
26 Thief of Time 2001 Death, Susan Sto Helit, The History Monks, The Witches
27 The Last Hero 2001 Rincewind, The Wizards, The City Watch
28 The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents 2001 Miscellaneous (Überwald) Hooray!
29 Night Watch 2002 The City Watch, The History Monks Has lots of Veterinari but otherwise a bit meh.
30 The Wee Free Men 2003 Tiffany Aching Tiffany may be the best YA hero ever.
31 Monstrous Regiment 2003 Miscellaneous (Borogravia), The City Watch, The Times Charming little romp about girls in the army.
32 A Hat Full of Sky 2004 Tiffany Aching, The Witches Not as good as The Wee Free Men, but what is?
33 Going Postal 2004 Moist von Lipwig A fine piece of Ankh-Morpork
34 Thud! 2005 The City Watch
35 Wintersmith 2006 Tiffany Aching, The Witches Lovely. Tiff is growing up!
36 Making Money 2007 Moist von Lipwig The first Discworld book that I really liked, and possibly still my favorite.
37 Unseen Academicals 2009 The Wizards, Rincewind  Charming.
38 I Shall Wear Midnight 2010 Tiffany Aching  Wonderful.

These are, obviously, just my opinions.  Feel free to go crazy in the comments!

Update:  Terry Pratchett says, “I now think that Nation was my best, but Nation is in fact not a Discworld book, which surprised a lot of people.” (See video at 5:55.)  I agree that Nation is wonderful!  See my review here.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) 2*

Memoirs of a Geisha is about as cheesy as you’d expect of a book where the main character is a beautiful Japanese girl with blue-gray eyes.  I mean, for serious.  It’s like Big Trouble in Little Kyoto without any kung fu.

In all seriousness, the Japanese economy is the best developed character in this book.  Handwoven kimonos cost more than a policeman’s annual salary, and our blue-eyed girl wears them every day even though she’s dirt poor and enslaved by debt.  Golden is at his best when he describes kimonos: the way they look, the way they feel, how much they cost, and what relationship they create between the giver and the receiver.

The overall feel is of a stylish anime film where every character can be summed up in 5 words.  In any case, when I get a house, I’m going to invite my friends to dress their finest, bring a poem, and come to my moon viewing party.

Warning: The ending is among the worst endings I’ve ever read.  Ever.  Readers are strongly advised to abandon ship at least 100 pages before the end.