Be forewarned: this week’s books will never be considered “classics.” They are not the kind of books that will make you super introspective. Nor are they the type of books that will make you think about things in a new and different light.
These books are the kinds of books you read when you’re in need of a book that is quick and easy and not too thinky. They are pure fluff (presented in order of least to most fluffy). One book is written by a comedian about dating. One is a short YA book full of lists and bullet points and other “creative” stylistic choices. And the last is a book that was made into a popular (and equally trashy) TV show. It also has the distinct honor of being a book that is included on a List Challenge entitled “Books You’ll Never Brag About Having Read.”
Needless to say, these are not books that I would suggest you recommend to your book club (if you’re looking for a great book club selection, check out my post from a few weeks ago that featured reviews of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing and The Truth According to Us, either of which would be a fabulous choice). But if you are looking for a book that is super light, won’t change your life, and is mindless fun, these books will fit the bill just fine. Happy fluff reading!
* * * *
Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Published June 16, 2015
288 pages (Kindle e-book)
Why I read it: I think Aziz Ansari is a funny dude. I love his stand-up specials (he, along with the likes of Louis C.K., is one of a small handful of people whose stand-up actually makes me laugh out loud), and I adore Parks and Rec.
In his most recent stand-up special (“Live at Madison Square Garden” on Netflix), he does several segments about dating and relationships in today’s modern times—where texting and online dating rule the day. Here’s a bit he does on texting:
Ansari’s latest stand-up routine is a thinly veiled promotion of his recent book, which he wrote with sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Surprisingly, the book has been well received (from The New York Times: “A sprightly, easygoing hybrid of fact, observation, advice and comedy.”) and was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June 2015. The combo of the funny stand-up and the good reviews had me intrigued.
What it’s about: I am not a huge fan of comedy books generally (for further proof of this fact, you can see my reviews of Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s books), but this book isn’t a comedy book of the self-important memoir variety. In fact, it’s not a memoir at all (although it is sprinkled with some funny personal stories about Ansari’s dating/texting history). Instead, it’s a book that Ansari wrote after conducting lots of research (focus groups all over the country, a subreddit forum, and international interviews in Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Paris) about romance in today’s tech-fueled dating world.
My husband and I have been together for over a decade. We met the way lots of people met a decade ago: we were introduced by a mutual acquaintance in school. We got to know each other by hanging out (mostly as part of a large group of friends) in bars and restaurants and as part of a softball team for our law school’s tournament (important aside: our team was named Nuttz about Buttz, and we were our class’s championship team). Back then, Internet dating was still stigmatized, texting existed but wasn’t prolific, and neither of us even had a Facebook page.
Dating in this day and age (I love how OLD I’m making myself sound right now) is a totally different game. I have a great friend who is single and keeps me apprised of all of the latest dating apps and sites. He introduced me to the swipe-right magic of Tinder and Hitch (an app that provides you a pool of prospective dates from the friends of your Facebook friends). He’s had dates and girlfriends from every site and app you can name (from match.com to OkCupid). This friend’s love life is totally foreign to me, and, therefore, I find it absolutely fascinating.
And that friend’s dating habits are exactly the kind that this book is all about. The book is largely research based. There are charts and graphs sprinkled throughout the book. There are lots of hilarious anecdotes (including actual text conversations) from focus groups that Ansari and Klinenberg held. There are interesting tidbits from interviews with prominent anthropologists, sociologists, and social scientists. There are lots of fun facts about marriage, dating, and relationships spanning decades (a few examples: “OkCupid alone is responsible for around forty thousand dates of new couples every day,” “Tinder reported that it was processings two billion swipes and generating twelve million matches a day,” and “between 2005 and 2012 more than one third of couples who got married in the United States met through an online dating site.”). And the international dating stuff (especially in Tokyo, where marriage, sex, and dating rates are plummeting . . . but where there are also places like Soapland, “where a guy lies on a waterproof mattress and a woman covers them both in soapy water and slides all over him”) is fascinating (although could have been more thoroughly fleshed out).
In contrast, the “comic relief” (little jokes and quips and one-liners and silly, photo-shopped pictures) that Ansari seeks to infuse into the book serves as a distraction and detraction. Here’s an atrociously unfunny example: “[N]early 70 percent of LGBT couples meet online. (BLT couples—bacon, lettuce, and tomato couples—are inanimate objects and are not engaging in romantic pursuits.).”
Despite the bad jokes, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s a fun, quick read that made me feel really, really old. It is an interesting look at a dating world that I am thrilled and relieved not to be a part of.
* * * * *
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Published March 31, 2012
305 pages (hardcover)
Why I read it: Early this past summer the movie adaptation of this book was released to rave reviews. It received the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The previews made it look quirky and fun and (dare I say?) touching:
I wanted to see the movie . . . but I don’t like to see movie adaptations of books before I read the books on which they are based. So I had to read the book!
What it’s about: The titular “me” is Greg Gaines. Greg is “pasty and chubby and completely insane in social situations.” He is a senior at Benson High School in inner-city Pittsburgh. Benson, like most high schools, is divided into cliques and groups (the stoners, the theater kids, the gangbangers, the smart kids, the church kids, “Middle-Class African American Junior Sub-Clique 4c,” etc.). Greg works hard not to belong to any of these cliques and groups. He likes to be liked by all, hated by none, and have no real close friends.
Earl is Greg’s closest friend (but Greg prefers to refer to him as a “coworker”). Earl is black, comes from a very dysfunctional family (his mom has locked herself in her third-floor bedroom, where she is perpetually drunk and participating in chat rooms), is extremely short and looks very young, and has a “default mode [of] Pissed.” Earl and Greg have known each other since elementary school and have been making films together for years. Their films are usually odd adaptations (like sock puppet versions) of weird and obscure movies they have seen and admired.
The “dying girl” is Rachel Kushner. Rachel is a girl Greg knows from Hebrew school. They were never really friends, but when Greg’s mom finds out that Rachel has leukemia, she forces Greg to spend time with her to cheer her up. Rachel finds Greg funny. And, after Earl shares their films with Rachel (much to Greg’s dismay), she loves those, too. So, when Rachel’s hot friend Madison asks Greg to make a movie for Rachel before she dies, Greg has no choice but to agree.
This is a YA book that is clearly written for a YA audience. Stylistically, it’s reminds me a bit of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (as opposed to YA books like The Hunger Games that aren’t written in a distinctly YA style and can be read and appreciated by a wider audience). It is written in a very accessible, easy-to-read manner—there are lists and bullet points and chapters written in screenplay format. It’s a short 300 pages that reads very, very quickly.
Nevertheless, the book isn’t silly or vapid. It is really funny. The dialogue is great (Earl’s voice stands out—it is sharp and distinct, riddled with profanity and slang, and really funny). The characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they are well crafted and unique.
And, despite the fact that it’s a YA book about a teenager dying of cancer, it’s nothing like that other YA book about a teenager dying of cancer (I’m looking at you, The Fault in Our Stars). It isn’t sweet or romantic, and you won’t go through a box of tissues reading it. Sure, the subject matter is sad . . . but it’s a realistic look at how an anti-social, dorky teenage boy might deal with the emotions surrounding such a situation. Sometimes Greg handles it with humor, other times he suffers through it in tears. Sometimes he handles it maturely and positively, other times he says completely insensitive and inappropriate things.
Are all adults going to love this book? No, many would find it a little too young. But lots of kids (middle schoolers and up) would enjoy this book a lot.
Side note: I still haven’t seen the movie (it’s not available for rent or On Demand yet). If you’ve seen it, let me know how it is!
* * * *
by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Published April 1, 2002
199 pages (Kindle e-book)
Why I read it: In addition to having no shame in reading and enjoying some pretty terrible books from time to time, I also have no shame in watching and enjoying some pretty terrible TV shows. I am a sucker for trashy reality shows like MTV’s Are You the One? and FYI’s Married at First Sight. And I’ve been known to binge-watch terrible shows on Netflix like the Sex and the City prequel, The Carrie Diaries.
Long story short, last year, I binge-watched all six (progressively more terrible) seasons of the CW’s glorious hit Gossip Girl. And, you know what? I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed it immensely. So, when I was trying to decide what kind of mindless (dare I say trashy?) books I could read in the middle of the night while half asleep, this seemed like a perfect choice.
What it’s about: If you haven’t watched Gossip Girl, you’ll get the gist if you check out the pilot on Netflix. In short, it’s about super obnoxious, ridiculously rich kids in Manhattan. They party excessively, they all sleep together, and they scheme against each other. And, meanwhile, their exploits and adventures are documented on a website by an anonymous insider known only as (you guessed it!) Gossip Girl. People send in tips to GG, letting her know the latest rumors, where the most popular kids have been spotted, the trouble everyone is getting into, and who’s hooking up with whom. The book and the show are largely very similar (but be prepared for some slight differences in tertiary characters like Rufus, Jenny’s and Dan’s dad, and Erik, Serena’s brother).
Look, I’m not above reading some objectively terrible books (clearly). I will readily admit that I read (and unabashedly enjoyed) all four books in the Twilight series. I’ve read multiple books in the Pretty Little Liars series. But this . . . this is a whole new level of terrible.
Is it quick and easy and mindless reading? Yes–to the extreme. In that sense, the book served its purpose well for this half-asleep reader in the middle of the night. But, otherwise, the book has no redeeming qualities. It is a tamed-down version of the television show. Some of the plot lines (I use that term generously) are similar, but in the book they lack the sordid excitement and genuinely deplorable behavior that are exhibited on the T.V. show. Honestly, I expected it to be the other way around (the show was on basic cable, after all!), so this was a huge disappointment. The characters come across as flat and boring. The splendor of the Upper West Side does not shine through.
There are roughly one billion (give or take) Gossip Girl books. Suffice it to say, this is the only one I will read.