So, I knew some things about this book going in. I knew its author had written it when she was in her early twenties and that it was published when shSo, I knew some things about this book going in. I knew its author had written it when she was in her early twenties and that it was published when she was 25. I knew the book’s basic thesis was that most women who say they’ve been raped by someone they know (as opposed to the stranger-jumping-out-of-the-bushes-with-a-knife scenario) are either lying about or misinterpreting their experiences, and their “speaking out” about these (misrepresented) experiences (at Take Back the Night marches, or anywhere else, really) leads to an “atmosphere of fear” on campuses, where women don’t feel safe walking alone at night, and men become afraid to have sex with anyone without getting their express consent first. I knew Roiphe didn’t have a lot of evidence to support her points. I knew that her own publisher had felt that the book was reprehensible, but that it would get a lot of attention. I knew that, for all the attention the book did get, it actually hadn’t sold that many copies, and I knew that in the intervening years Katie Roiphe hadn’t become any kind of go-to authority on campus rape--or on anything else, for that matter. How mad could I really get about a book that didn’t have much of an impact on anything, I wondered. I decided, going into this, that instead of being disgusted, I was going to try to be amused.
What I didn’t know was exactly how poorly this book was going to be argued. I mean, sure, she offers no documentation of any kind to support anything she says (well, she offers a little, but I already knew it had been handily taken down by Katha Pollitt in her New Yorker review of the book). But it wasn’t just that—the book is illogical and contradicts itself over and over. It accuses so-called “rape crisis feminists” of hyperbole but is insanely hyperbolic itself. Roiphe quotes writers she disagrees with and then restates their arguments, but it’s perfectly clear, just from the brief quotes themselves, that she’s misconstruing these writers. I read this with pen in hand, prepared to call out anything disingenuous, but I didn’t expect the book to be as covered with marginalia as it quickly became. A sampling: “Illogical,” “Hyperbolic,” “Contradictory,” “Weak,” “I don’t buy it,” “What?”, “Please,” “WTF,” “JFC,” “Shut up,” “You’re a mean bitch.” The book also reads like a senior thesis or a long editorial for the campus newspaper—in other words, the writing’s not very good.
As others have pointed out, Roiphe wrote this from a position of privilege: She grew up in a wealthy, intellectual New York family, went to a fancy private school, then to Harvard, then to Princeton for grad school, which was where she wrote this book. She clearly feels that her experiences on Ivy League campuses are applicable everywhere—at religious colleges, for example; at small private or state colleges in conservative parts of the country; at urban campuses; rural campuses; at campuses with big athletic programs. If you want to get hammered while reading this (probably a good idea), just take a drink every time she says “at Princeton,” “at Harvard,” or “at Wesleyan” (one of her sisters must have gone to Wesleyan). She never questions her own assumptions or the limits of her own experiences; she never brings up privilege except in service of this point: “Who else besides these well-dressed, well-fed, well-groomed [Princeton] students would expect the right to safety and march for it?” Uh … what?
Roiphe also shows a lack of compassion for others that’s practically pathological. She thinks most women who say they’ve been date-raped are lying, yes, but she also criticizes the women who she believes really have been raped, saying the way they talk about their experiences (feeling “violated” or “defiled,” for instance) “frames those experiences in archaic, sexist terms.” Hard to believe rape victims don’t spend more time worrying about whether their own feelings are archaic and sexist, isn’t it? (No.)
In a completely misguided chapter, Roiphe attempts to show that campuses have become like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (with Roiphe as Alice, of course) in their bizarre focus on all things postmodern, deconstructionist, poststructuralist, feminist, and multicultural. (This was an easier argument to make in the 1990s, but of course, the way things were at Harvard and Princeton doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the way they were at most colleges.) How does Roiphe make her argument? By describing some of her fellow students—feminists who wear thrift-store clothes, for example, even though they come from wealthy families. Feminists who wear extremely stylish clothes, who I guess spend too much time on their appearance to really be feminist? (Not clear.) A feminist who shows a lot of ambition regarding finding a good job after graduation. (?) Poor, misguided male feminists. The clear intent here is to show how ridiculous these people are, but what I saw was a group of young people trying to figure things out, like most of us did in college. Roiphe’s sense of superiority is almost unbearable. She often depicts herself arguing with these people, or bringing up contrary points in class, and the clear implication is that she is a lone voice in the wilderness, crying out for reason and being shouted down at every turn. Of course, this didn’t stop her from going on to Princeton after she graduated from Harvard, so it couldn't have been that bad. The main conclusion I reached from this chapter is that Roiphe is mean, petty, and has a well-developed superiority complex, and it’s from these qualities that this book arises.
I bought this book back in the early 1990s, when it first came out. I don’t really know why I bought it, except that I was a women’s studies minor in college and thought I should be keeping up with current arguments. But again, I knew what the book was about, and that made me reluctant to take it off the shelf and dive in. I’m glad I waited until now to read it—back then the book would have completely enraged me, but I might not have been able to see through her shoddy arguments so handily. Now, seeing through her arguments was easy, and although the book made me angry, I wasn’t quite as worked up as I would’ve been at 22 (good thing, too, because my blood pressure isn’t quite what it was back then either). Like I said, I now know this book didn’t really change anything. I’m pretty surprised by the positive reviews on Goodreads—don’t people recognize poor arguments when they see them? This book makes many claims, but in the end it proves nothing.
3/27/15: This book was much, much worse than I was expecting, and that's really saying something because I was expecting it to be totally awful. A TL;DR review is forthcoming....more
Imaginary conversation between David Shapiro and his publisher:
Amazon Publishing: Hey, David. So glad I was able to get you on the phone. Listen, I he
Imaginary conversation between David Shapiro and his publisher:
Amazon Publishing: Hey, David. So glad I was able to get you on the phone. Listen, I hear you have a Tumblr with over 30,000 followers and that you are, in particular, very popular with other Brooklyn hipsters like yourself. This is exactly the sort of buzzy project we really need to launch our trade publishing program! How about you write a novel for us?
David Shapiro: [Thinks for a minute.] I don't know if I'm qualified to write a whole book. Before my Tumblr I never really wrote at all, just term papers for high school and college. And as you can see, the writing on my Tumblr is really amateurish. If I did try to write a novel, I doubt it would be any good.
Amazon: Good? What does "good" have to do with it?
The whole time I was reading this novel, I kept thinking of a song Ani DiFranco released in 1995. Called "The Million You Never Made," it was about how major labels kept wanting to sign her and she kept turning them down, preferring to stay independent. The particular lines that kept running through my head were: "Yeah, I'd like to go to all the pretty parties/Where all the pretty people go/And I ain't really all that pretty/But nobody will know." In other words, if there's enough hype surrounding someone, you can get people to believe anything. You can get them to believe you're pretty even if you've never been considered pretty before. By the same token, you can get people to believe you're a good writer, even if you're actually no kind of writer at all. Or that seems to be the hope, anyway.
In this heavily autobiographical novel, the main character, David Shapiro, starts a Tumblr that, mainly through luck, gains a small but relatively significant following. Based on this following, he is featured in the New York Times and Washington Post, which increases his following to the aforementioned 30,000 and enables him to participate in "blog readings" in Brooklyn. Then one day (spoiler alert!) he posts his usual morning entry but is unable to come up with a topic for his usual afternoon entry. So he decides to end the blog. That's it. Oh, and along the way he dates a couple of girls and gets really angry with one of them for being accepted to the prestigious MacDowell colony, because it means she'll be out of town for two months and he won't have anyone to have sex with. Asshole.
Now, of course, a good writer can work with even as unpromising a topic as this one. And that's where the wheels really fall off, because David Shapiro isn't a good writer. He just isn't. I guarantee that if you had led David Shapiro's life, you could have written about it at least as well as he did, and many of you could have written it better. Much better. The writing is flat and unskilled and although there are a couple of funny moments, it's hard to tell if they're intentional. In fact, nothing about this novel seems intentional: While I was reading it and marveling at how terrible it was, I actually wondered if Shapiro was making it intentionally terrible to make some sort of statement about millennials. Of course, I think if a reader has to ask herself that question then something has probably gone horribly wrong anyway, but in this case I was giving Shapiro too much credit. This novel is just plain old terrible.
To be fair, Shapiro seems to realize he's not a good writer. On his Tumblr, he indicates this book took two and a half years to edit, which makes me wonder what kind of nightmare the first draft was. He also says You're Not Much Use to Anyone is his "first and last" book, and that he is now going to law school, which his parents begged him to do throughout the novel, and which is apparently what he really wanted to do all along. Now that sounds like an interesting idea for a novel: Someone who's never wanted to write before lucks into a popular Tumblr and a book deal, which makes him the envy of all his Brooklyn hipster writer friends, but in the end he decides it's not for him and he'd rather take the more conventional route of law school. That inner struggle, and the reactions of his various friends, could make for really interesting reading. Of course, the catch-22 is that you'd need an actual good writer to write it.
Honestly, this book shouldn't have seen the light of day. I'm angry that I spent this much time thinking about it, but if I can save any of you from the mistake of picking this up, it will have been worth it.
I received this book via a First Reads giveaway here on Goodreads.
10/28/14: Y'all, this book was terrible. Full review to come....more
5/9/14: I tried to read this book nearly two years ago and gave up after about 50 pages--the writing was unbelievably terrible and the sex scenes, wha5/9/14: I tried to read this book nearly two years ago and gave up after about 50 pages--the writing was unbelievably terrible and the sex scenes, what I read of them, were totally lame. I didn't give it a rating at the time because I didn't finish the book, but I've since realized that if I don't give it one star I won't be doing my part to help drag down its cumulative rating. So here it is. You should be ashamed of yourself, America.
8/10/12: I admit it: I tried to read this to see what all the fuss was about. After about 50 pages or so I just couldn't take anymore. I can't imagine ever finishing it....more
I have no idea why an author would make a narrator so incredibly unlikeable. Her rabid materialism is offputting, she mouths off to everyone, she juveI have no idea why an author would make a narrator so incredibly unlikeable. Her rabid materialism is offputting, she mouths off to everyone, she juvenilely makes insipid puns on the names of people she doesn't like. She dislikes other characters for no apparent reason. She rips off jokes from Clueless, among other places. She's a registered Republican who knows nothing about the issues; a PETA member who gets sanctimonious about animal testing but still eats meat. She insists that the slaves had it good in Gone with the Wind, and she's not joking. She gets in a racially motivated fight with a black woman and is a total asshole about it.
Don't get me wrong, I like light entertainment as much as the next person. But there's a difference between light entertainment and trash, and the trash is where this book belongs....more
Hmm . . . (sigh). This is obviously a huge bestseller, and many people seem to love it. I didn't. I'll agree that some of the religious info was interHmm . . . (sigh). This is obviously a huge bestseller, and many people seem to love it. I didn't. I'll agree that some of the religious info was interesting, but, because it's a novel, I didn't know what was actually true and what wasn't. Further, all of the information absolutely got in the way of the story he was trying to tell--it came to a screeching halt at times. All the descriptions of architecture didn't help move the story along, either. Plus, the characters were cardboard cutouts.
I'm no snob--I like a good page turner as much as the next person. But this book definitely wasn't one!...more
It's tough to know where to begin. First, this is ultmately a cynical work, written, or at least published, to make a lot of money in the wake of theIt's tough to know where to begin. First, this is ultmately a cynical work, written, or at least published, to make a lot of money in the wake of the success of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Second, I would much prefer that hacks like Bach write nonfiction treatises rather than novels, because they can't write fiction at all, and have no respect for the form of the novel. It's excruciating and uninspiring--dulling--to read. No wonder Bach thinks we'll eventually move past language.
Third, there were a few good ideas in there, but the whole thing was just so freaking silly. Like a children's book.
Ugh. If you just want to publish a book because you think it's a good way to make money, this is the guide for you. If you want to actually write wellUgh. If you just want to publish a book because you think it's a good way to make money, this is the guide for you. If you want to actually write well and care about the work you're doing, stay away from this book....more
I had to read this for class about 20 years ago and was amazed at the level of self-deception required to actually believe in this stuff. "Illusions"I had to read this for class about 20 years ago and was amazed at the level of self-deception required to actually believe in this stuff. "Illusions" indeed....more