Listened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thoug...moreListened to this as an audio book, and it was read by the author. For someone who makes his living primarily as a writer rather than an actor, I thought his delivery was not too bad! I'm a sucker for funny, and this was funny, so naturally I liked it.
[Mormon reader friends: His gayness, profanity, and references to various body parts may offend you, although they quite delighted me ...](less)
(NB: I'm a hard grader, so 3 stars from me is good.) This was a memoir about an Ivy League college graduate who moves to California after graduation a...more(NB: I'm a hard grader, so 3 stars from me is good.) This was a memoir about an Ivy League college graduate who moves to California after graduation and enters the world of pornography as a young filmmaker. (I read it as an ARC giveaway.) It was a surprisingly gripping read - it drew me in more quickly and kept my attention more handily than any of the fiction I've read lately. There were also quite a few places where it made me laugh, too, which is big - being funny in a book is not so easy, so I'm always excited to come across a writer who can pull it off.
A person's views of this book will undoubtedly be shaped by their opinion of porn, so to get that out of the way, I don't have strong views about porn one way or the other. I have no moral objections to it as long as it only involves consenting adults, recognizing that "consent" can be a murky concept. My objections are more likely be on aesthetic grounds than moral ones, e.g. absence of storyline, nonexistent acting, lack of originality, general tackiness, etc., and in this I share the views of the author, at least initially - he starts out by wanting to do porn "artistically," from the standpoint of college-boy postmodernist irony.
I think the author does a good job of bringing sincerity and honesty to his subject. He doesn't pretend he's aloof from all the sex and sleaze or that he's not getting turned on by it, but he brings enough critical distance to it that you can feel and believe his frequent bouts of disgust and revulsion. We share his ambivalence and get alienated right along with him. By the end of the book, like him, the reader is grateful not to be a porn mogul. And somehow while treating the subject with humor and frankness, he humanizes people who otherwise might easily become caricatures. In some good ways, the book reminded me of David Foster Wallace's highly amusing essay on the porn industry, "Big Red Son." The difference being that Wallace keeps a much greater ironic distance as a nonparticipant, while Sam Benjamin wades right into the muck and splashes around in it, sometimes gleefully.
Benjamin (and presumably his editor) also deserves credit for keeping the narrative focused and avoiding the trap memoirs often fall into, viz., wandering boringly through real events without shaping them into a well-formed dramatic arc. There is detail without dullness; porn itself is often dull, but this story about making porn is not. There was enough tension to keep me engaged as a reader, wanting to find out if and how Sam would ever leave the porn world and how his relationship with a "normal" girl would turn out.
So what kept me from giving the book four or five stars instead of three? I guess just that after a while the subject matter was a little depressing, and none of the characters were all that likeable. (Sorry, Sam. After White Liz you were the next least unlikeable, but you still kinda creeped me out.) I just got tired of all the grossness and vulgarity - the ick factor was not to be denied. But on the whole, I liked the book because because it was interesting and funny and highly educational, which is most of what a nonfiction book should be.
If you don't have a strong stomach, I don't recommend this book. But for those who do, and who enjoy humorous tales of the weird and wacky, or simple human interest stories, this could merit a place on your shelf. And obviously all the more so for anyone who's curious about the porn industry's strange, slimy underbelly. I think those concerned with women's issues and gender relations could find a lot worthy of discussion here, too - Benjamin succeeds at drawing a complex, if sometimes heart-wrenching picture of both men and women who may or may not be exploited and may or may not enjoy it.(less)
Really enjoyed this. Reminded me very much of Laurie Colwin's wonderfully written tales of sympathetic infidelity, set in the freewheeling seventies....moreReally enjoyed this. Reminded me very much of Laurie Colwin's wonderfully written tales of sympathetic infidelity, set in the freewheeling seventies. It really was a different time. Funny to think America has grown so much more conservative in the last couple of decades. Like Colwin's books, this one combines intricate and intimate realism with bucketloads of charm - though Duberstein is more charming, and definitely funnier.(less)
This is my 4-year-old daughter's new favorite book. She loves those crazy, crafty, party-animal squirrels, and wants me to read it over and over and o...moreThis is my 4-year-old daughter's new favorite book. She loves those crazy, crafty, party-animal squirrels, and wants me to read it over and over and over (and over) again.(less)
This is a really, really funny book - a collection of humorous spoofs on the erotic short story genre. The author has a truly mind-blowing gathering o...moreThis is a really, really funny book - a collection of humorous spoofs on the erotic short story genre. The author has a truly mind-blowing gathering of euphemisms for the organs and acts of procreation, and my vocabulary was greatly expanded after reading it. It also had me giggling uncontrollably for hours straight. Warning: Anyone who is easily offended will probably be offended by this. (less)
The story of Jesus as you've never heard it before, from the viewpoint of Christ's best bud, Levi who is called Biff. I was really skeptical going int...moreThe story of Jesus as you've never heard it before, from the viewpoint of Christ's best bud, Levi who is called Biff. I was really skeptical going into this whether I would like it - it looked just plain silly and ridiculous - but I'm so glad I gave it a shot, because it has now earned a spot on my top-favorites shelf. LAMB is far from being just goofy humor, but tells a serious story that weaves in a fantastic amount of interesting historical detail along with plenty of smart, sharp comedy. Another cool thing about the book is that it manages somehow to be simultaneously totally irreverent and yet surprisingly respectful to both Christianity and Judaism, not to mention Zen Buddhism ... though the ancient Hindu goddess Kali isn't portrayed quite so flatteringly ... Believers and unbelievers can both enjoy this equally, I would think - and it's thought-provoking as well as fun. Just an all-around awesome achievement as a book.
Religiously conservative readers be cautioned though - there is some swearing and PG-13 sexual content.(less)
A novel about four very different suicidal people who meet by chance on the top of a building they were all planning to throw themselves off of.
I do a...moreA novel about four very different suicidal people who meet by chance on the top of a building they were all planning to throw themselves off of.
I do a lot of long drives, and audiobooks are expensive, so whenever I'm visitng my parents in Tucson, Arizona, I go to Bookman's, the local used bookstore chain, where my mom always has vast amounts of credit, and try to find a few new audiobooks. Usually the pickings are slim - few books are even published in CD format, mostly bestselling fiction and boring-looking nonfiction, and even fewer end up at the used bookstore. But I picked out this one because the author name was familiar - I'd been meaning to read some Nick Hornby at some point. But the premise sounded deeply unpromising and I was pretty sure it'd be a boring, depressing, overly literary listen, so I stuck it somewhere in the middle of a 3-foot-tall stack of unread books in my apartment, and there it sat for months. Until I unearthed it right before another car trip, having run out of other things to listen to, and resignedly put it into my car CD player.
Happily, it turned out to be a new favorite book. It was funny, heartwrenching, entertaining, full of sharp, hard truths at every turn, suspenseful, wise, and compassionate, took a lot of courageous risks, and yet didn't take itself too seriously. The ending was satisfying, believable, and uplifting without being expected or cliche or neat or sentimental. I want to say it was close to perfection, but then it occurs to me I can't say that, because it was too humbly written to be trying for perfection. It's a flawed book in the way that a very loveable, brave, funny person is flawed, that is, forgivably, delightfully, and unpredictably.
This was my first Nick Hornby book, if you hadn't gathered, although I had seen the movie version of About a Boy, which I liked and which made me want to read the book. So apparently, I am very late to the Nick Hornby party. Anyway, I'm in love. The best authors make you fall a little in love with them, and the best writing, I think, is an act of charm and seduction. So that's another piece of evidence that this book is up there with the best.
I was surprised to see so many negative reviews, and reading through them, my sense is that many of the bad reviews come either from (1) people who felt that the book was not highbrow or "literary" enough, and (2), those who have read a bunch of other Nick Hornby books and felt that this one didn't measure up to the quality of the others. For the first group, I think that their failing to appreciate this book is possibly a sad personal failing that amounts to little more than snobbery. But then, I'm a literary pragmatist, rather than a literary essentialist: If a book works for me, I consider it good. I don't have some pre-conceived ideal in mind of what a good book should be, which I measure the books that I read against. As for the second group, I guess I can see how, set against a backdrop of fantastic writing, anything that falls short of the best Hornby you've read might pale by comparison. But heck, it just makes me happy that there's a lot more Hornby out there still for me to read, if people think the others are even better!(less)
A comedic novel that jumps back and forth between nineteenth-century Icelandic people playing tetherball and modern-day literature professors being pu...moreA comedic novel that jumps back and forth between nineteenth-century Icelandic people playing tetherball and modern-day literature professors being pursued by geriatric dead-author-appreciation societies, all against the chaotic backdrop of a midwestern community college perpetually running short of chalk. Wonderfully zany and wacky, reminiscent of Daniel Pinkwater (an old favorite young adult/childrens author), but more romantic, and written with grown-up readers in mind.(less)
A series of linked abusurdist erotic vignettes, with strong doses of surrealism and humor.
So this is a sex book, make no mistake. From reading formal...moreA series of linked abusurdist erotic vignettes, with strong doses of surrealism and humor.
So this is a sex book, make no mistake. From reading formal book reviews beforehand I had the impression it was a novel with a plot, but it's not really that - though characters and places and concepts recur, there's no real extended story arc, it's more a series of delightfully absurd short stories. In a twisted kind of way, it reminded me of Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories From Wayside School, if the characters were all adults and were really, really into phalluses and fellatio and porn. As erotica, it's interesting because there's kind of a light, bubble-gum tone throughout - there is no particular darkness or sense of risk or danger here. It's very playful and unserious. I think it's rare that erotic writing can manage to be both arousing and funny, or arousing and light in tone, yet somehow I think House of Holes does it.
I found the writing wonderfully inventive and clever, and it was a pleasure to read. Just a lot of fun. I would recommend this to folks who are urbane and not offended by explicit references to human anatomy or variegated sexual practices. This is basically thinking persons' porn, without being too thinky.(less)