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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Fifty Shades of Awful

April 20, 2012 13 comments

I heard about it on Twitter, which should have given me pause. But since I had an hour to kill and a handy new e-reader on which to burn money, I thought I would flaunt 2012 technology in my face, and download Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, right away, to see what all the fuss was about.

It’s a hot mess, that’s for sure, but not the kind I was hoping for.

This novel, which women are gushing about and apparently buying since it’s on the New York Times Best Seller list, is best described as a poorly written Harlequin romance that tousled with sadomasochism in a back alley (or in Christian Grey’s red room, whichever.) It’s Danielle Steele’s alter ego. It’s Twilight gone wrong. It does for literature what porn does for the film industry – which is to say, extremely little.

Taken at that level, if that’s all you’re looking for, it has its fair share of sex scenes. My greatest disappointment was that the characters having the terrific, “mind-blowing” orgasms – as they are often described (does that mean anything to you?) are, how can I put this delicately; dumb. Thus, the dialogue, and the email correspondence that we must endure is more painful than the positions Christian puts Anastasia through.

I love being taken new places in literature, and within the confines of an S&M relationship is definitely new to me. I thought I might learn something. Stop snickering. Not just a few new moves; I was hoping to get a glimpse into why people get off on getting whipped. It’s the inflicting pain thing that I stumble with, the line (or, in my case, the mile between) where agony becomes pleasure. The protagonist (I can’t use the word heroine, I just can’t), Anastasia, is as perplexed as I am about this, but is so desperate to keep Christian that she bends over backwards (and sideways, and stays on her knees, and gets tied up, etc.) in order to keep him.

Here is the very likely, believable scenario: Christian Grey is a young, enigmatic, billionaire, who meets and is bedazzled by Anastasia Steele, despite her being a clumsy, virginal, poor, insecure college student. She has a habit of biting her lip, which drives Christian mad with desire. This either leads to his eyes darkening, or alternatively causes him to look at her with hooded eyes.

A small aside here: have you ever been driven mad with desire by someone chewing on their lip? Have you ever noticed someone’s eyes changing color simply because they are turned on? And by hooded eyes, does the author mean half-closed? If the answer is yes, and you don’t have a problem with eyes being hooded, you might in fact enjoy this book. But beware, it happens repeatedly.

The kicker, the most unforgivable aspect, is that James tries to use Anastasia’s favorite book, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, as a metaphor for her twisted relationship with Christian. As though Tess and Anastasia can have anything in common, besides youth and breath. If Anastasia were to be dragged dramatically to the guillotine, she would likely grace us with her usual eloquent answer to everything, “Oh, crap.” Or might it call for her more earnest reaction of “Double crap?”

I can only wonder. I certainly won’t read the other books in the trilogy to find out.

‘Gosh Darn It, Go To Sleep Already’ Just Doesn’t Have the Same Ring

December 5, 2011 8 comments

My timing is always off. By the time I was done with strollers, luxury all-terrain vehicles were gliding past me on trails. When I was done with maternity clothes, everyone from Michael Kors to Old Navy were in the business, and the tents of my gestation were replaced with sleek skinny jeans. So it was no surprise that I happened across a parenting book that finally spoke to me, just as my children are leaving their glorified toddler years: Go the F*** To Sleep, by Adam Mansbach.

The storm of controversy that followed its release occurred months ago, but I am not particularly well versed in news that doesn’t constitute traffic and weather. In keeping with my poor timing, I’m wading in.

This brilliant book perfectly chronicles every night of my life for the past twelve years. And if you happen to be one of those people who say to me, “Oh, I never have any trouble getting my child to sleep.” Or worse, one of those parents who coo, “My baby has slept through the night since the day we brought her home.” Or someone who has an endless amount of patience, or a prude, then this book isn’t for you.

But for the rest of us mortals, who labour each day to clothe and feed children whose limbs don’t want to be covered and whose mouths don’t wish to devour nutrients; bedtime is a ritual which puts us tantalizingly close to the person we once were, yet hovers out of reach as our children put us through a marathon bedtime session. By the time I’ve finished with the agonizing task, I’ve not only put my children to bed, but myself as well.  The carefree, fun-loving interesting person I was before I became a nag remains in hibernation.

You see, the idea of laying down with my offspring to quietly whisper words of wisdom from Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, or Sandra Boynton, until their eyelids droop shut and I tiptoe out of their bedroom sounds magical, but rarely ends with the ‘eyelids drooping’ detail. Every night starts this way, but ends up with me wearing down the carpet between their bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen as I go through the motions of appeasing their every whim and desire they can come up with in order for their eyelids to remain wide open.

I approach each night with both a sassy verve and forlorn sense of hope that tonight, by God, will be different. Tonight my children will not beg for one more book, one more hug, one more snack, one more bathroom trip, or complain of growing pains or monsters under their beds or being hot or cold. Each night I am disappointed.

I come by this honestly. Eating and sleeping were not my strong points as a child – singing and dancing, yes, basics of life –  not so much. I remember fighting sleep with every scrawny scrap of my being, so I’m particularly good at empathizing for the first twenty minutes of nocturnal attempts. After that, my patience fades and is replaced by fury. As Adam Mansbach suggests so eloquently, “A hot crimson rage fills my heart, love. For real, shut the f*** up and sleep.”

From the fury, I typically spiral down to self-loathing and personal failure, which again is perfectly and poetically encapsulated in one line: “My life is a failure. I’m a shitty-ass parent. Stop f***ing with me, please, and sleep.”

Like any book worth its salt, and life itself, it doesn’t have a tidy or neat ending, but a more realistic one that is repeated in my household – even still – on a nightly basis.

I weep with love for my children as they lay sprawled in their beds or curled around their teddy bears. I breathe in their sweet aroma and fall in love with them all over again at the sight. But getting them to that spent state takes indefatigable stamina that I can barely muster, night after f***ing night, and finally some angel of mercy has recognized this.

Adam Mansbach, I never seem to bump into parents like you, but wish I did. Thanks for keeping it real, and giving us something to laugh about – it sure beats screaming in isolation. This book is like a giant, group hug for parents who, in pursuit of smooth bedtime transitions, taste defeat nightly.

Alzheimer’s or Not, She’s Still Alice

May 18, 2011 6 comments

Alice is a fit and healthy fifty year-old Harvard professor when she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Still Alice is a first hand account of someone diagnosed with this disease far too young, and like any first hand account it educates us about perspectives. Smart and instantly likeable, as Alice goes through the stages of her disease so does the reader. Her loss of lucidity is evident as you are treated to the inner workings of her mind.

As Alice says in a lecture at an Alzheimer’s convention in one scene, just because they are living with this disease doesn’t mean the rest of the world should write them off.

“My yesterdays are disappearing, and my tomorrows are uncertain, so what do I live for? I live for each day. I live in the moment. Some tomorrow soon, I’ll forget that I stood before you and gave this speech. But just because I’ll forget it some tomorrow doesn’t mean that I didn’t live every second of it today. I will forget today, but that doesn’t mean that today didn’t matter.”

And so this book is not only a great read, a personal journey of a beautiful character and her family, it also educates us about a terribly shattering dementia. I love learning as I read, it’s my favorite form of multi-tasking.

Life is no fairytale, and if diagnosed with this disease, it would be almost impossible to see any light. Yet the author manages to bring a touch of grace to a tragic situation. Relationships can evolve in curious ways, as happens to Alice. Without sugar-coating, this story illuminates that Alzheimer’s is not an ending, but rather a challenge which forces you to live your life differently.

In her first novel, incidentally written at Starbucks while her child was at school, Lisa Genova has created a touching story about a woman who endures this hurdle with dignity. She fights to hold on to the person she is, and lives in the moment as best she can.

I couldn’t put this book down, and when I did I was in a hurry to get back to it. The best books leave us with lessons learned in life, albeit through someone else’s experience. From Alice we learn to persevere, to enjoy the good, and to love hard.

And of course that lesson that never gets old – to live in the moment and for the moment.