I'm not ashamed to admit that I loved 50 Shades of Grey.
Sure, I laughed to my husband about the terrible prose and ridiculous characters. And then I w...moreI'm not ashamed to admit that I loved 50 Shades of Grey.
Sure, I laughed to my husband about the terrible prose and ridiculous characters. And then I waited till he fell asleep to read the next chapter. I complained to my girlfriends about the heroine's "Inner Goddess." And then I picked it back up on the sly and kept right on reading. In fact, for two weeks of my life that I'll never get back, I utterly neglected the "TBR" pile on my nightstand, ignored my book club's current book, stopped reading about project management for work, and kept leafing through 50 Shades of Grey to find out what new, um, entanglements Ana and Christian would find themselves in for the evening.
In case you've missed all the buzz, let me fill you in. 50 Shades of Grey is a juicy little piece of erotica that's been cropping up all over popular culture lately, from Good Morning America and The View to the New York Times bestseller list. It's Twilight for the boudoir — gorgeous but insecure young woman falls for impossibly handsome, brooding gazillionaire. But instead of fangs, this guy's got handcuffs, a dungeon, and a 10 page NDA contract he makes all his girlfriends sign.
The fun thing about 50 Shades of Grey is that it is so "girl next door." It's such a far cry from old school erotic classics like The Story of O, Venus in Furs, and Story of the Eye, but that's kind of what makes it so fun. Anastasia isn't some new wave French girl or a 19th century German dominatrix, but a 21st century American woman who could be your college roommate. She grapples with the modern woman's dilemma of wanting to have her cake and eat it, too — she wants a strong, sexy guy to protect her and take control, but she wants him to do his half of the housework, too.
And the thing is, it works. If you can make it through the first six chapters, which are a little dull, the heat turns way up and Ana and Christian become blank canvases for all your little daydreams. The plot is sorta vanilla, but the romantic scenes between our heroes rank at roughly 65,000 on the Scoville scale. Dr. Oz has said it’s helping women save their relationships. Sherri Shepherd from The View can’t get enough of it. And even Kristin Wiig has made the case for why anyone who likes a little heat in their fiction might not want to miss 50 Shades of Grey.
The only thing that drove me crazy is that the story ends on a complete cliffhanger. But not to worry, gals and guys — there's a second and third book in the series, too!(less)
The last time I wrote about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France. This is not that kind of lightn...moreThe last time I wrote about “lightning rods,” we were talking counterrevolutionary icons in Marie Antoinette’s France. This is not that kind of lightning rod.
Helen DeWitt’s newest book has gotten juicy reviews, and with good reason. Because this is a family-friendly review, I’ll describe the plot as delicately as I can: a salesman tries selling Encyclopedia Britannica and Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and fails. Then he tries selling something a little more risqué -- “Lightning Rods” -- to small companies, and viola: success! As another reviewer has said, “let's just say it's about an innovative solution to a workplace challenge and that this innovation is controversial.” It’s these risqué bits that have gotten Lightning Rods so much attention, and sure enough, the story is shocking and fun for those who enjoy that kind of thing. But the last laugh’s on the reader, because these parts of the story are written in such a matter-of-fact, utilitarian way that they don’t ultimately satisfy in the way you might expect. As the leading lady, Elaine, would say, “It’s a lot like going to the toilet.”
And that’s the point. Lightning Rods is not really meant to titillate, but rather to satirize the absurdity of a corporate sales culture in which the weirdest things slide in the spirit of turning a profit. The story follows the same arc as those nineteenth century American novels that have scrappy little shoeshine boys pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to make a living in the land of opportunity. Sales! Progress! But, asks Lightning Rods, what happens when we stop talking about shoes and start talking about other, more morally ambiguous, stuff? DeWitt especially shines when she deadpans about the techno-rational focus groups, test cases, and scientific studies (with baboons!) that we use to justify obviously terrible sales choices.
Finally, Kansas readers will appreciate DeWitt’s Kansas City vignette, in which the protagonist, Joe, travels to the Big K to open up his second office. There he sees a dwarf on a bus reading John Foster Dulles (“JFD”), and has this epiphany about Kansas:
"Joe was wondering why it was that Kansas had never acquired a reputation for being strange. If somebody can go around calling John Foster Dulles JFD and nobody bats an eyelash you have to ask yourself what are the rest of them like? And no sooner had he asked himself why word hadn't gotten out than the answer came to him, just like that. The reason nobody knew about it was that normal people never came to see what was going on."
Lightning Rods is not DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, and it’s not Nicholson Baker’s classic erotic workplace novel Vox, but it is a pretty perfect little piece of corporate satire. Recommended for anyone who needs a little break from office culture.(less)
Hang on while I slip out of my tight-lipped, shush-ing librarian persona, and into my sexy librarian persona! Dr. Laura Berman, the author of It’s Not...moreHang on while I slip out of my tight-lipped, shush-ing librarian persona, and into my sexy librarian persona! Dr. Laura Berman, the author of It’s Not Him, It’s You!, is most well-known for her TV appearances on Oprah and Dr. Oz, as well as for her own radio show on Chicago’s Oprah Radio. What I really like about Dr. Berman is that she offers a fresh take on the relationships and self-help genre, encouraging women and men to approach their relationships from a holistic perspective that includes both emotional and physical intimacy, with a little extra emphasis on the physical. She is candid, warm, and affirming about the subject, although readers may want to be cautioned that It’s Not Him, It’s You! is fairly explicit and includes intimate illustrations.
In her latest book, Dr. Berman has a special message for women: “Firstly, you must decide to take full responsibility for your relationships and for your life. Secondly, you must decide to stop blaming your partner or others for everything that goes wrong in your relationship.” It’s empowering advice, shored up from her years of first-hand experience helping couples in therapy. Via multiple-choice quizzes, illustrations, and short, readable chapters, Dr. Berman addresses modern topics such as Internet dating; the balancing act between family, career, and intimacy; and shifting domestic responsibilities between women and men at home. She even offers a primer on psychological issues that can be destructive to relationships, and suggests ways to seek treatment for these issues.
Her writing style will probably appeal to fun-loving women who like going out with their girlfriends, and whose special guys enjoy catching the game with their pals. In this way, It’s Not Him, It’s You! tends toward what I think of as a “classic” guy-girl relationship. But even if this doesn’t describe you or your relationship, Dr. Berman offers at least one take-away I think we can all benefit from: sometimes you just have to forget about those dirty dishes, slip into a hot bath, and simply enjoy the person you’re with. It's the key to taking charge of your life and creating "the love and intimacy you deserve"!(less)
I LOVED Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady! I seriously considered giving this one five stars -- this was one of those rare instances when half-sta...moreI LOVED Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady! I seriously considered giving this one five stars -- this was one of those rare instances when half-star ratings would have come in really handy.
So I differ from Florence King philosophically on several points (e.g. I'm neither a Monarchist nor a Republican), but you don't necessarily have to agree with someone to appreciate her, right?
King is one of the most hilarious and titillating authors I have ever read, and she is unapologetic about her feminist viewpoints. Which always sends my heart into palpitations. I love it when King interrupts herself during a totally comic episode to throw down a razor-sharp feminist critique. Being a highly intelligent and ambitious woman seeking academic accolades in 1960s Mississippi, King had many such critiques!
Ah, and then she falls in love. . . and her razor-sharp tongue turns to mush. King's recantation of falling in love with Bres, the beautiful but aloof queen of the Classics Department, is so sincere, astonishing and beautiful ~ it really speaks to how love can transform even the most curmudgeonly among us.
My only complaints about King's style are that every once in awhile the comic tone falls a little flat, and some of the character types are too broadly drawn. Hmmm, not to mention the floral 1980s Nora-Roberts-esque cover art. Although who knows, maybe you enjoy telling people that you're reading a smutty romance novel. (Oh, did I not mention the smuttiness?) Add "brilliant feminist critique" to the description and that pretty much sums it up!(less)
Here is a book that is so misogynistic, yet so true, that I don't even know what to do with it. Except love it. The hero Sebastian Dart suffers, rejec...moreHere is a book that is so misogynistic, yet so true, that I don't even know what to do with it. Except love it. The hero Sebastian Dart suffers, rejects a socially conventional masculine role, searches for the lost mother, lover, nurturer, becomes destructive, inflicts pain. Donleavy wants you to think that he's a funny guy, but don't buy it. He's so sad, so vulnerable; he's in pain, too.(less)
Maybe the trouble is that I had too many expectations about what this book would be before I ever picked it up. I thought I would be reading another d...moreMaybe the trouble is that I had too many expectations about what this book would be before I ever picked it up. I thought I would be reading another dreamy narrative of an adolescent girl, full of her own warmth and sensuality. And I suppose that's what I wanted to read. In some ways "The Lover" gave me this -- the narrative is wholly unconcerned with beginnings and ends, or any linearity in between; and she is haunted by so much in her young life: a murky, barely-revealed conflict between her two brothers, her realization of her own mother's madness, her desire for a beautiful classmate at the girls' school...
But while I lose myself inside the dreams of H.D., Colette, Chacel, Woolf ~ I felt completely detached from Duras, like I was on the outside looking in at this strange, cold and hard little French girl in Vietnam. And why should I expect a 15 year old girl to be warm and sentimental? I suppose I admire the lack of sentimentality in other female writers, like Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, Flannery O'Connor. But they're so wry and cheeky, whereas Duras just seems distant and, in a way, arrogant. Anyway, in spite of its occasional beauty, The Lover left me simply strange and cold.(less)
Oh, this book was so deliciously saucy! I think I might have even said "oh my!" out loud a couple of times. It's been awhile since I've read a good pa...moreOh, this book was so deliciously saucy! I think I might have even said "oh my!" out loud a couple of times. It's been awhile since I've read a good page-turner, and I was just eating this up. The story has a real kind of "swagger" to it!
The first two sections of the book, as Nancy leaves her sea-side town to go to London and grow into herself -- her identity, her desires, her sexuality -- are so bold, and unlike anything I have ever read before. Her love story with Kitty felt so true and honest -- you feel the humiliation of an awkward teenage girl, burning up with all sorts of confusing desires. And the next episode with Diana is just so bizarre and titillating... a "secret society" of Sapphists! I was loving it.
But by the last section I think the story kind of devolves into a contrived, cliched story that rings hollow, and that was really disappointing because the first part was so wonderful. But the good parts were SO good that I still have to enthusiastically recommend this.(less)
So sometimes you pick up a book thinking, "Wow, this is going to be really awesome and trashy!" and then you're just disappointed. Well, this one did...moreSo sometimes you pick up a book thinking, "Wow, this is going to be really awesome and trashy!" and then you're just disappointed. Well, this one did not disappoint. Unfortunately, Robbins brings out the big guns too early (the "Nevada Smith" fugitive-cowboy-turned-hollywood-movie-star story is too good to be true) and then he just keeps recycling the same characters over and over for the next 500 pages.(less)
I was sitting in the coffee shop in Vermont reading this book when I suddenly felt the top of my head crack open, my heart dropped down into a deep bl...moreI was sitting in the coffee shop in Vermont reading this book when I suddenly felt the top of my head crack open, my heart dropped down into a deep black cavern that was inside of me but not actually a part of me, and I felt so small and scared and lonely but I understood all about love, too. The loneliness it made me feel gave me the courage to confront some truths. This is a pretty special book to me.(less)