I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 2

My new year’s resolution for 2020 was to read a minimum of 52 books, half of which were not dragon erotica. Since my library teens still have to read the classics and I never actually read any, myself, I decided those 26 titles would be undoubtedly considered classics. I’ve surprisingly enjoyed most of my choices, as evidenced by my review of the first seven, here. So, I present, books 8-13.

8. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy ⭐

I’ll be blunt. I have never before finished a book I hated as much as Anna Karenina. I am so tired of people who loved this book telling me that I just didn’t understand or read it thoroughly. Classics are almost as bad as politics in that, if someone doesn’t agree with another person, they must be less intelligent or not know all of the facts, because we’re all arrogant assholes, incapable of respecting different opinions. Not only did I read this book, I also read many analyses on this book, to make sure I fully understood it, after these insistences. I did and I still hated it. If you love this book and consider it the greatest work of literature ever, I respect that, but you might not want to read further.

Anna Karenina tells the story of Russian socialite, Anna’s, affair with Vronsky, some dude she saw for four minutes on a train and for whom she decided to throw away all of her social standing and clout, cuz feeeelz, despite knowing the society she lives in and the consequences of an indiscreet affair. Women are stupid that way. s/ As Anna falls deeply in love with Vronksy, her husband, Karenin, essentially demands discretion or divorce. Selfish cow that Anna is, she denies both and nearly dies birthing Vronsky’s child. Karenin forgives Vronksy, which embarrasses him and he tries and fails to kill himself. Ultimately, Anna and Vronsky run away together, with Anna forfeiting her son, because she is a horrible, wretched person and ultimately being shunned by society, no matter where she goes, while growing more and more insecure of Vronsky’s affection. Finally, in the best scene in both the terrible book and the terrible movie, she throws herself under the train and I have a new fandom: the train from Anna Karenina.

Alongside this story, we read the tale of Kitty, Levin, and farming. Kitty, Anna’s young sister-in-law is also infatuated with Vronksy, so certain that he’ll propose to her that she turns down the good and honorable, if provincial, Levin, only to have her heart broken, when she realizes that Vronsky never had any true intentions toward her. Over the next year, she spends time in grief and self-reflection, mourning her mistake, and because she’s a very good girl, Levin comes back and asks her to marry him again. She says yes and they move to the country, where there’s farming and tilling and plowing for entire chapters, in a needlessly drawn out symbolic message of “idleness and city life bad, hard work and rural life good.”  Kitty ends up happy and Anna ends up dead. The end.

This book is 864 pages long, so the above summary is of course oversimplified. I’ve read that the book isn’t supposed to be about likable characters and I get that. I liked The Great Gatsby, because it was beautifully written about awful people. This wasn’t. Anna Karenina is the kind of classic that makes people hate classics, because everyone claims it’s amazing.

Why is Tolstoy above reproach for the writing tropes we mock today? Let’s start with the instalove. There was no explanation for Anna’s affection for Vronsky. I get it, she wasn’t really given the chance to choose her path, but poor women weren’t either, and many of them remained faithful, even after four minutes on a train with another man. Her husband wasn’t abusive or cruel. Despite the ridiculous arguments I had on Reddit about this book, there is zero evidence that Karenin mistreated Anna. He even raised her illegitimate child. He was kind, if distant, and she had literally every thing she wanted. She was doing pretty damned good for 19th century Russia, so when she threw it all away, I needed a reason… besides boredom. If Tolstoy had written a compelling love story between Anna and Vronksy, I could’ve felt a lot more for Anna, torn between her head and her heart. However, she literally throws away everything, including her son, for this man she barely knows and we’re never told why. Even if it was adventure and excitement, which I don’t buy considering her unexplained obsession with Vronsky, she didn’t do anything with Vronsky she couldn’t have done with Karenin. No. It was instalove and vaginal tingles and that’s just as stupid as when modern romance novelists do it.

As for Kitty and Levin… I don’t hate their storyline, but I’m often told that this book was feminist and are you fucking kidding me?!?! There is not a single point, in this book of 732 characters, where Tolstoy introduces a woman who is more than one-dimensional. His lead females are The Madonna and The Whore. Kitty keeps her legs closed and her eyes down and gets the life she wants. Anna follows her passion and ends up under a train. Even the female side characters are vapid and shallow hens. This book is not feminist, no not even for the time period, in part because we get no compelling reason for Anna’s actions. She’s just a bitch in heat, as far as Tolstoy is concerned, a slave to her baser nature. The fact that society treats her differently than her lover doesn’t even garner much feeling, because she was the one who was married. While her brother was treated differently for his affair and that might have had some merit with different telling, the execution of this tale just painted a picture of a horrible woman I was glad to see die, as opposed to a woman caught up in a double standard. If the reason this book was empowering was Kitty’s personal growth and self-improvement, Louisa May Alcott told that story much better, and much more quickly, in Little Women.

Then there was the length. So much of this book is filler, dragging out a poorly told story about awful people, that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I’ve read long books. I’ve read books about horrible people. I’ve read long books about horrible people. I’ve mentioned several times that I love Steinbeck, but his filler is interesting or pivotal to the storyline. Tolstoy is just in love with himself and takes full advantage of a lack of more entertaining pastimes to ramble on about nothing for almost 900 pages, because the people of the 19th century couldn’t discreetly download alien erotica for a better time.

So there you have it. I hated everything about this book, aside from the Kitty/Levin plot, which was still simplistic and preachy. I hated the characters, the writing, the oversimplified themes, the Poor Little Rich Girl plot, the length, and my favorite character, by far, was the train. I’m glad I read this title halfway through the year, because this is truly the kind of classic that makes people hate classics. I give Anna Karenina a single begrudging star.

9. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway ⭐⭐⭐

Yes, I Googled “shortest classics” again. However, I surprisingly enjoyed this audiobook, which was only two hours and some change. It told the depressing story of a fisherman who meets his ultimate opponent, the marlin that will bring him glory, only to hook him but fail to reign him in, as he’s pulled further out to see. Eventually, both the old man and the marlin face defeat, as the man makes it to the shore, his glorious catch mostly devoured by sharks.

That’s pretty much it. There’s not much more to the summary of a two hour book, nor was there a way to avoid that spoiler, but it was well-written and engaging, as it painted a picture of ultimate futility. Honestly, it’s brevity was what I liked most and not just because I wanted to check another book off my total. It made for a more exciting story and a more relatable protagonist. It was a simple tale, told simply, with no forced happy ending. I give The Old Man and the Sea three stars.

10. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Upton Sinclair’s, The Jungle was assigned to me in my high school AP U.S. History class. If I recall, I read about half of it, before the English teacher everyone hated ruined the ending for me and I quit. I do remember thinking it was boring and depressing and that the names were all very confusing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it, this year. Y’all, this was one of my favorite books. While the Lithuanian names were indeed a bit confusing, I listened to the audio, which substantially mitigated my troubles and I’d highly recommend the same, if you have similar struggles.

The Jungle tells the story of Jurgis Rudkus, who starts off as a brawny, hardworking immigrant, eager to support his family. Despite overcrowding of immigrants wanting a job in the Chicago meat packing district, Jurgis finds work immediately, as a strong and hardy man, as do the other members of his large family. Despite their dreams and willingness to work for them, however, the Rudkus family is doomed from the start, by the sheer number of every day villains, waiting to take advantage. I can say little more about the plot, without ruining the story for you, but I found Jurgis and his family to be compelling portrayals of immigrants done wrong, who can therefore never catch a break. The only criticism I have of this story is that the last chapter reads as Upton Sinclair’s personal Socialist manifesto, which really didn’t fit the tone of the book, regardless of my political opinions.

Speaking of which, I am a Capitalist. I consider our system flawed, of course, but I also think it’s the only political system that will ever work in the United States, agreeing with Theodore Roosevelt that “Radical action must be taken to do away with the efforts of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist.” That being said, the political themes of this work didn’t turn me off until the end, when they became overtly preachy. Before that, they were both organic and historically accurate. The turn of the 20th century was a dark time to be alive and anyone who says we haven’t come a long way isn’t paying attention, as The Jungle is largely credited with the creation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, due to the deplorable and stomach-churning conditions outlined in this book, despite Sinclair’s intent to call attention to the absues of workers. In time, however, that has clearly improved, as well, since pickle factory workers no longer lose their feet. I give The Jungle four stars and warn the reader that there really is no happy ending.

11. The Pearl, by John Steinbeck  ⭐⭐⭐

For me, John Steinbeck is the author I love, while completely understanding others’ distaste for him, as he’s often overly wordy and descriptive. This was a novella, however, so I got all the bleak joy of Steinbeck in just a couple of hours.

The Pearl tells the story of poor pearl diver, Kino’s, discovery of “The Pearl of the World,” that one pearl that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams, just when he needs it most. His fortune almost immediately turns sour, however, with the doctor he needs trying to overcharge him, market buyers trying to swindle him, and even blatant thieves coming after him.

As Kino and his wife, Jauna, escape into the night to find somewhere to sell the pearl, tragedy strikes and Imma just give you the #deadbaby trigger warning. Kino and Juana make their way back to their home, realizing that the pearl was never a blessing, but a curse as Kino heartbrokenly flings the pearl back into the ocean, scorning mans greed and inate evil.

Have you ever read those stories about people who win the lottery, only to have it completely destroy their lives? That’s essentially The Pearl, as Kino’s world is torn apart by finally acquiring the riches he’s spent his life seeking. No amount of wealth can overcome the doctor’s racism and avarice. His community and friends turn against him. Strangers chase after him, bringing the ultimate tragedy down on him. It’s not a happy tale and doesn’t have a happy ending, but I enjoyed the bleak symbolism, despite occasionally feeling that the better path would be obvious, even to Kino. I give The Pearl three stars.

12. Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Not a single person has recognized this title, when cited, but Alas, Babylon is a classic post-apocalyptic novel, set in 1959, during the Cold War. The premise sees the scales tipping, when through a series of unfortunate events, the Soviet Union perceives a first strike and attacks the United States, wiping out all power and communication in fictional Fort Repose, Florida.

Randall Braggs is living an aimless life when his older brother, an Air Force Intelligence officer, warns him that the world is essentially about to end and sends his own family to Florida, in hopes of securing their safety, while he stays behind in Nebraska, knowing he won’t make it, himself. Randy finds himself the keeper of his grieving sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, in addition to a band of townspeople, including the spinster town librarian (fuck you, Pat frank), the Black farmers up the road, his girlfriend and her family, and the local doctor after “The Day,” when the entire state has become a contaminated zone. Throughout the book, the group faces many threats, from lack of food, to illness, to highwaymen, as they try to survive the aftermath the blast.

I won’t lie and tell you that this book necessarily holds up well in 2020. At times, it’s both racist and sexist. Though Randy is considered a “progressive” in his rural township, in the context of Alas, Babylon, that just means that he considers Black people to be humans, ranking slightly above women. I do not have a hard time putting these things into context, for the day they were written, but I could certainly understand if they weren’t someone else’s cup of tea, so consider that a trigger warning of sorts.

Aside from the above, Alas, Babylon is a great read. Where many modern post-apocalyptic media leans too heavily on clichés and tropes of the genre, such as the diabetic and the prepper uncle, this one stars a protagonist who has very little warning of the coming blast and actually regretted some of the preparations he forgets. Since many of the men are recent veterans of the 1950s, their survival instincts are far more organic than that of Rick Grimes. The struggles they face are ones few would consider today, such as a lack of salt and their solutions are clever, without reaching. Jake hates when I read this stuff, because I always want to order bugout bags and that backpack you can put your cat in for travel, but if I could find more titles like Alas, Babylon, I’d devour them. I give Alas, Babylon 4 stars.

13. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley ⭐⭐⭐

I think I mentioned, in my last post of reviews, that 2020 was the wrong year to read a bunch of weird political dystopian novels, but I must say, Brave New World was probably my favorite of the genre, due to it having so many parallels to modern day society, while still managing to be delightfully bizarre.

The book begins with world building, as we see different classes of society being conditioned from birth to appreciate their lot in life, from babies being trained to fear sunshine and flowers to older children learning acceptance and docility through “sleep learning.” These things are a stretch for modern civilization, but Huxley then goes on to describe a society that encourages children to experiment with one another sexually and derides adults who practice any sort of monogamy, including playing favorites with one of their many lovers. The concept of parenthood and pregnancy are ones of shame and disgust, as are aging and religion and it is the societal norm to dose oneself with Soma to rid the mind of all negative thoughts and emotions.

Upon threat of being sent to Iceland for his vocal criticisms of World State, our protagonist Bernard takes a trip with his favorite gal, Lenina, to visit the “savages” on a New Mexico reservation. There, they feel disgust for all they see as these people value religion and actually repair their clothing (shudder). It’s here that Bernard and Lenina discover a woman from their own society, who was abandoned years ago and committed the disgusting and shameful crime of birthing a child. They return to London with her and her now-grown “savage” son in tow and all hell breaks loose.

I read Brave New World in college and it remains my favorite dystopian novel. Both U.S. political parties like to compare the other to 1984, but I find that to be much more far-fetched than the general societal norms of Aldous Huxley’s world of mandatory promiscuity, waste, and assumed drug use. Meanwhile, there are just enough weird quirks, like the engineered classes of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons to keep this book firmly in science fiction territory, as opposed to relegating it to the more political fiction of Orwell or the symbolic story of We. I give Brave New World three out of five stars.

I’m Reading 26 Classics, So You Don’t Have To: Part 1

At the beginning of this year, I set a lofty new year’s resolution, as I tend to do. Last year’s resolution was to finish 52 books, in an effort to end my habit of beginning seven and maybe finishing two. I accomplished that goal… barely. I literally finished listening to Little Women on New Year’s Eve, at double speed, but I did it. So, this year, I decided to take it up a notch. Not only would I read at least 52 books, half of them would inarguably be titles of substance, meaning not werewolf/mafia/motorcycle club/time travel/alien romance novels. Since my library teens still have to read classics for school and my one and only act of rebellion in high school was to put more effort into not completing assigned reading, than it would have taken to actually read the books themselves, I decided that all 26 books would be classics. It seemed an overly ambitious way to make myself better at my job, of course, but then a pandemic hit, freeing up an awful lot of time for me to read 26 classics, so you don’t have to…

  1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dracula was my first classic of the year and, if I’m honest, I was dreading my entire project at this point and wasn’t enthusiastic about a book that is essentially a compilation of diary entries and letters. I don’t even like graphic novels, because the writing style takes me out of the story. Fortunately, however, I was able to download the audio for free, from work, and that completely removed the distraction. While I was confused, at times, as to why something was being shared, I did find that all of the pieces ultimately lined up into a genuinely scary tale. Jonathan Harker looking out his window to see Dracula climbing the side of the castle was quite possibly one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It was refreshing to experience horror without gore or smut, despite the many trashy movie adaptations, with all their genitalia. I give Dracula five stars and it’s easily one of my favorite books, now.

2. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve never loved stories told through weird mediums, like court documents or interviews. It’s done in non-fiction for transparency and in fiction, to better resemble non-fiction, but I don’t enjoy either. I find it really difficult to get into a story, if I’m still putting together the puzzle while reading. Maybe I’m just lazy, but I feel like that’s the author’s job, before publication. That being said, it’s ironic that my first titles, of such a lofty goal, were both written in this style.

When I started In Cold Blood, I assumed it would be dry, as was the way of most non-fiction of the time. I had also had dental surgery just a few days before, so I was high as a kite when Jake came home for lunch and found me sitting on the couch, crying.

Jake: “What’s wrong?”
Me: “Nothing.”
Jake: “That’s not true. You’re crying.”
Me: “They were just all so scared! Even the dog was scared and then all of his owners died and it doesn’t even say what happened to him!”

While I wouldn’t recommend reading this one on hydrocodone, I can attest to it being not only engaging, but truly disturbing, as you’re made to empathize with two vicious murderers. In fact, only after I’d finished this title, did I discover that Truman Capote was actually somewhat obsessed with the killer, Perry Smith. Some speculated that he held romantic feelings for him, while others theorized that he saw himself in the man. That’s… even more disturbing, so kudos to Capote for taking it to the next level. Simply for the slow pacing that is unavoidable in most non-ficion, I give In Cold Blood four stars.

3. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding ⭐⭐

Lord of the Flies has always sounded fascinating to me. Just the concept of an utter breakdown of society amongst young boys, who aren’t as strictly indoctrinated into social constructs of acceptable behavior, sounded thrilling and I never understood why all of the teens I worked with hated it. Color me surprised when I, too, was driven far more insane than the main characters, by my complete and utter boredom.

Y’all, nothing happened throughout most of this book. The first 10% of the story revolved around establishing a rudimentary society of gentlemanly norms, while the next 80% depicted the destruction of said norms, and the last 10% revealed the consequences. The beginning of the story was interesting, as young boys scrambled to build a way of life and a hierarchy that closely resembled the only one they knew. About 10% out of the next 80% was engaging, as the carefully constructed society devolved, while the other 70% was largely internal monologue. The final 10% woke me up, with an exciting chase scene and a surprising twist. Despite the rousing ending, however, over 2/3 of this book was simply filler and a failed attempt at suspense. While I enjoyed the concept, the execution left me wanting… three more stars. Two disappointed stars for Lord of the Flies.

4. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck ⭐⭐⭐⭐

If I were hard-pressed to name a favorite author, who doesn’t turn out cozy and predicable romances, it would be John Steinbeck. I understand that people dislike him for being too descriptive, but unlike certain contemporary authors (here’s looking at you Diana Gabaldon and Stephen King), Steinbeck is actually good at it. Like Tolkein, Steinbeck isn’t wordy, because he’s in love with himself, but in love with the world he’s creating, specifically his characters. Can that be tedious, regardless of his motivations? Sure, but I love good characterization so much, I find I don’t mind. Of Mice and Men, however, hit a sweet spot, managing to have deep characters, despite its novella length.

When I told friends that I was reading this story, many of them shared that the ending made them cry. Judging by reviews online, that was Steinbeck’s intent, as he painted a rather dated picture of the plight of Lennie, a man who was likely on the autism spectrum. In 2020, however, I felt little for Lennie and all sympathy went to George, because I know several people on the spectrum… and zero of them are psychotic. I know, I know, he was a big guy, who didn’t realize his own strength, and was misunderstood. That’s the story described by George, anyway, as he recounts all the jobs and plans that haven’t worked out and all the times he had to take Lennie and run, because George is the real MVP. His life could’ve been so much simpler, were he to have Lennie committed to some sort of home, but he was loyal and acted as his protector, through all of his mishaps… until the very end.

I realize that Steinbeck meant for Lennie’s final actions to be an accident, a tragedy beyond his control, but I don’t accept that, with the understanding we have for special needs people, today. I’ve met too many of them, in my line of work, to believe that murder is such a small step, regardless of strength. Lennie had severe anger issues and was truly dangerous. He got what was coming to him. My heart went out only to George, in the final scene, as he bestowed such heartbreaking mercy on his lifelong friend. I give four stars to Of Mice and Men, despite feeling very differently about the characters than basically all of mankind.

5. Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I admit it. There was a month, where I Googled the shortest classics, so I could more easily accomplish my goal and Metamorphosis was one of them. Unlike most of the titles I’ve chosen this year, Metamorphosis is a symbolic, artistic piece and I loathe that stuff. As a teen librarian, I spend all of April, National Poetry Month, ranting about how poetry is stupid. I’ve been known to declare that it’s not art, if I can do it. I’m simply too direct for metaphors and beautiful prose, so I figured an art piece wouldn’t be my jam and researched what it was supposed to be about, before reading. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Knowing that Kafka intended this novella as an allegory for his relationship with his father, painted a portrait that was both haunting and heartbreaking. Even Kafka’s mother and sister apparently had their limits on their affection for their source of income. He was a meal ticket and when he wasn’t that, he was an insect. Four painful stars.

6. We, by Yevgeny Zamyat ⭐⭐⭐

This might not have been the year to read a bunch of disturbing political classics, now that I sit here in terror, sporting my foil hat, beneath my bare lightbulb; but I’m a sucker for classic dystopian and I’ve always wanted to read the source material on which virtually all of them were based. We tells the story of One State, a supposed utopian society made of steel and glass, removing any and all sense of privacy from a totalitarian state. There are no individuals, only parts of the whole, as is reflected in the one and only pronoun: we. The only delineator for each of these parts is a letter/number combination, as we see in the spacecraft engineer, D-503. Society’s laws and rules are based entirely on mathematic formulas and emotions and dreams are considered a sickness, of which the consequence is death.

Y’all, I think one of the reasons I love these books so much, is that they’re all so very bleak. No one gets a happy ending in a world of government corruption, far surpassing anything we could imagine in our modern society. In this regard, We is no different than the books it inspired and I quite enjoyed the overall plot, as D-503 rebelled against his beloved One State, with the help of a beautiful woman, I-330, in a tale as old as time. Much like Eve, I-330 offered D-503 the curse of knowledge, inducting him into Mephi, an organization plotting to overthrow One State, despite the risk that they could both be destroyed by the Benefactor’s Machine. I won’t ruin the ending for you, since no one has actually heard of this book and I genuinely enjoyed the story, but I can attest to it being a somewhat confusing read.

Perhaps because it was translated from Russian or due to the fact that it’s literally 100 years old, We wasn’t a leisurely read. Much of the story is told in prose and imagery, to the point that the reader is not always entirely sure what’s happening and what’s metaphorical, a disruption only compounded by the use of invented terminology, along with words that have simply fallen out of fashion in the last century. There was some definite rereading required and that made for a tedious experience. I’d ultimately recommend the book, but it’s by no means light. The juice is still worth the squeeze, however and I give We three stars.

7. Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I tried and failed to read this book about 10 years ago, when I was going through my divorce, and that was probably for the best, because this is not a book to read when you’re already depressed. Flowers for Algernon was another title that was told entirely through first person journal entries and medical reports, so I’m thrilled that I spent the last couple of years training my brain to comprehend audiobooks. People often judge the quality of an audiobook by the reader, but unless it’s either really good or really bad, I rarely care. The narrator for Flowers for Algernon, however, was fantastic. As the book progresses and simple-minded Charlie Gordon undergoes the same procedure as test subject mouse, Algernon, the narrator becomes noticeably, but gradually, more articulate. As Charlie surpasses his colleagues, his voice becomes more arrogant, espousing scientific jargon and passing judgement on everyone around him. As he sees Algernon failing and his own mind begins to degrade, he sounds frantic with terror and humiliation. This is a good book, but an excellent audiobook and quite possibly one of the few that left me near tears… at least without a dog dying. Five devastating stars.

A Librarian’s Reminder of Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting the Fifty Shades Series

Fifty Shades Freed is officially in theaters. This means, of course, that bloggers and reviewers are rushing to be the first and cleverest to insult the series and anyone who enjoys it… despite the fact that there exists no comparable male term to the literary genres of “chick lit” or “women’s fiction” or the film genre of “chick flick.” I can give my professional word that the former is not because men only read weighty historical tomes, either. So, in the spirit of such sexism, I remind you of the ways you tend to offend women, as a whole, by insulting the Fifty Shades of Grey series.

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Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and I once showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, itself, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”

I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:
Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien twins who formed their penises into one giant penis. One of the most well-read women I’ve ever met has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I also devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch The Bachelor or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people had to Google “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

hqg-4111
Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

fiftydollars

When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my psychotic ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books, Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.
Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active must be asexual or worse, somehow abnormal. Until two years ago (exactly, oddly enough), I not had sex in six years. Furthermore, I’d only kissed five people, ever, and that includes a stranger who pecked me on the cheek on New Year’s Eve. I am not asexual, far from it. I was just never interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I saw no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut, perhaps more so.


Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While literary Christian Grey sure wasn’t my dreamboat (I found his movie persona far less abrasive), I can tell you that when I was treading water in a dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it wasn’t so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together, to take charge, to be assertive. While I’ll admit that for an America drowning in debt, financial freedom might be it’s own fantasy, I’m still not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is the sole appeal of the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience. This article suggests a somewhat circular logic for the over 30 bracket, in particular: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends (not television trends, which explains the dated Carrie Bradshaw reference). This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new and it’s unsurprising that it’s a fantasy growing in popularity, in a society full of over overgrown frat boys who couldn’t be assertive or successful if their futures depended on it, which they do.

Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice… and it’s a complete double standard, because no one shames men for fantasizing about winning the lottery and becoming wealthy beyond their wildest dreams through no effort on their part. At least the women fantasizing about Christian Grey and the like also dream of love.

Note: I was known, at one time, to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.
Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call shenanigans. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the spine injury. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What year is it? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You, with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them, because adult women are allowed to be sexual too.

  • I originally posted the this blog on March 5, 2015. It has been updated for currency.

The Top Three Worst and Best Women of Fiction

In the last fifty years or so, we ladies have focused a great deal on female empowerment. I don’t want to call it feminism, because that term seems to mean so many different things to different people. No, the idea to which I refer is something much simpler: women matter and their choices are their own. So, throughout the years, numerous efforts have been made to depict strong women in media. Some of these have been Rant of Rage abhorrent, while others have become the product of my obsessive fangirling: i.e. the only reason Gail could ever tell you who Buffy and Angel were… and Nathan and Haley… and Jamie and Claire…

That girl stuck by my side even after I made her play the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game… and described in detail my plans for who would be together in my Sims game. There were charts. To be fair, though, she did talk about politics an awful lot for a fifteen-year-old girl. I cannot unhear those National Youth Rights Association tangents.


Pictured: not us

So, not only is it a librarian job requirement to be able to name strong female leads (or pathetic attempts at them), but it’s also a side effect of my media tunnel vision. I present to you, the worst and best women of fiction.

*** Spoiler alert if you’re unfamiliar with any of the titles… duh. ***

THE WORST

Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City


She’s horrified that someone doesn’t love her as much as she loves herself.

I graduated in 2006, from a Southern suburban high school. Like any misfit in overalls, a turtleneck, and ribbon-laced combat boots, I found common misfit ground with the three gay guys in my graduating class. At the time, this pretty much required me to have seen every single episode of Sex and the City; therefore, I am fully informed in my loathing of Carrie Bradshaw. Now, don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not anti-Carrie because of her sexual freedoms. In fact, Samantha was probably my favorite of the four characters. No, my issue with Carrie was her absolutely unforgivable selfishness.

Gail and Malik have always defended Carrie in this argument, insisting that her impossible self-absorption was the point. I get it. Real women are flawed. Miranda is a workaholic. Samantha is emotionally unavailable. Charlotte is painfully idealistic. None of these compare, however, with the utterly horrifying extremity of Carrie’s self-absorption. For example, there was the time she…

1. … cheated on her boyfriend, ultimately breaking up with him on her friend’s wedding day.
2. … got angry with her boyfriend for insisting she stop seeing the man with whom she cheated.
3. … threw a tantrum when one of her best friends wouldn’t loan her money after she’d spent years proving she was bad with money.
4. … knowingly slept with a married man, then confronted his now ex-wife for telling people about it, after causing her to fall down the stairs and break a tooth.
5. … became so focused on the materialism and fame of her wedding that she completely ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort over both.
6. … blamed one of her best friends for her having been left at the alter, despite having ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort.

These are just the plot points I remember from ten years ago, but they certainly qualify as evidence that Carrie Bradshaw was an absolutely disgusting and offensive portrayal of a woman who chose to forgo the suburban soccer mom path.

Andrea – The Walking Dead


This gif is just so watchable, because she’s tied up and gagged.

One of the best things about the current apocalypse craze is the chance to see some badass heroines. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want her daughter to look up to the brave and selfless Katniss Everdeen? That gal had moxie, y’all. Sadly, however, some of the efforts toward a strong female lead have fallen far short… as with Andrea.

When I first started watching The Walking Dead, I knew little about the fan preferences, such as the fact that the audience violently hated both Lori and Andrea. Just a few episodes in, however, I was confused. Why was everyone so sympathetic to Andrea over her loss? For realz, yo, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Every person in this camp has lost everyone they’ve ever loved in the last thirty days. Rub some sand in your vagina and get on with life.

As the show progressed, it was painfully obvious that the writers wanted Andrea to become the fan favorite she was in the comics… and failed. Instead of holding her own with the men, as guardian of the camp, she accidentally shot a member of her own team, got left behind after the zombie attack, and ended up solely dependent on Michonne for protection, putting her and everyone in their makeshift family in grave danger, because of Andrea’s idiotic decision-making skills. By this point, I can only assume the writers had given up hope on “Team Andrea” t-shirt sales, because they killed her off, despite the fact that her comic book character is currently alive and well. Personally, I don’t think she went painfully enough. I wanted her eaten from the feet up for being such a weak and selfish representation of a woman in crisis.

Robin Scherbatsky – How I Met Your Mother


Stab her. Please stab her now.

Robin, Ted’s obsession in How I Met Your Mother, was originally driven, confident, straight-forward, and disinclined to pursue a traditional family life. She was initially a decent portrayal of a woman who didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but knew exactly what she didn’t want. As the series moved along, however, she quickly became overly brash and masculine, calling to mind the 1990’s ball-busting career woman stereotype, in an ugly gray power suit. You can’t be successful and feminine. You have to burp in public and eat ribs in your sleep.

Despite everything she claimed to want, Robin ended up repeatedly dating Ted, a man who clearly specified that he had completely different goals in life. She met a few men along the way, always ending things for horribly insulting reasons, and eventually ended up dating and even marrying/divorcing one of Ted’s best friends. For realz? You’re breaking up the band, Yoko! In addition to mistreating the people closest to her, we even got to see Robin’s outright abuse of a friend, as she treated her like a hated slave for comic relief.

Ultimately, in a show with only two leading female characters, one of whom was an artistic, sweet, kindergarten teacher, who married her college sweetheart, it was just insulting to women to see the only portrayal of a career-minded single gal as a flighty, self-absorbed, butch, bitch. I won’t even mention the fact that The Mother was just a stand-in for her, making the entire series a complete waste of time, as Ted does eventually end up with her.

THE BEST

Endora – Bewitched


She doesn’t need a man to make her drink.

When I was little, I watched an unhealthy amount of television, particularly during the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer event. I am pretty sure that I was the only eight-year-old who not only watched every single episode of Bewitched, but considered it an absolute favorite. In hindsight, however, I will say that I couldn’t have chosen a better woman to look up to than Endora.

By today’s standards, Endora was independent, diabolical, and unafraid to speak her mind. The fact that her character existed in the 1960’s however, makes her an even more impressive heroine. She was all of the above and she was powerful in a way no other character was, male or female. She was more powerful than Samantha, Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur, Cousin Serena and even able to go head to head with her own husband. Furthermore, despite the understanding of the time, that a woman essentially becomes her husband’s property, Endora never let go of her insistence that Darren was attempting to quell a natural part of her daughter. She was willing to concede to her daughter’s wishes (mostly), but at no point did she back down and tell Darren that it was acceptable to stifle Samantha. She was relentlessly mischievous and meddlesome, often stealing the show in a time when women weren’t usually able to do so.

Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series


I’d have totally practiced those spells, in secret.

As a librarian, there are a lot of reasons I despise most of the reading programs implemented in American schools. One of the primary reasons, though, is that I was assigned a 9th-12th grade reading level in the 6th grade and was only allowed to receive credit for books at an 8th grade level and higher. Translation: I could read Harry Potter with the other kids, but I couldn’t get any credit like the other kids. Well, Hermione Granger is absolute proof that there’s more to be had from reading than an improved vocabulary.

I desperately wish I’d read the Harry Potter series in middle school, reading points be damned. Not only was I obsessed with magic, even then, but I’d have benefited a great deal from knowing Hermione Granger. School always came effortlessly to me, pretty much until graduate school and I’ll tell you right now, that doesn’t make you the most popular girl in the 6th grade… especially if you’re willing to announce it to the room in true Hermione Granger style. I have never been willing to deny my intelligence and will, to this day, quote Professor Snape and admit that I am “an insufferable know-it-all.” I mean, it’s pretty much a job requirement now. Not only was Hermione smart, she was also loyal, brave, more than capable of overcoming That Awkward Stage, and she could throw a decent punch. More than anything, though, I needed someone to tell me that it was cool to be smart, as opposed to punishing me for it by not allowing me to read Harry Potter for credit.

Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Gaia Moore – Fearless)


If I try this, I will accidentally stab myself and die.

I was actually pretty torn on this one. I wanted to say Gaia Moore, from Francine Pascal’s Fearless series. She was a seventeen-year-old badass with no fear and an inability to relate to her peers and coupling my inability to relate to my peers with no fear would have been the shit. You, my readers, likely have no idea who that is, though. Instead, I’ve chosen a heroine that was both similarly and equally significant to me: Buffy Summers.

At fifteen, I climbed on the Buffy Bandwagon pretty late in the game, just as the series ended. It started with watching a few episodes before school and quickly morphed into saving my pennies to buy all of the seasons on DVD and constantly quoting it to Gail as she read The Communist Manifesto in our Pre-AP English class.

“Does this sweater make me look fat?”
“No. The fact that you’re fat makes you look fat. That sweater just makes you look purple.”

Buffy Summers was the perfect representation of a woman who could be both feminine and strong. She was a babbler who said the wrong thing a lot, hung out with the misfits, and just really wanted to be normal, despite having a pretty rocky home life. At fifteen, I related to that in a huge way. Not only that, but Buffy never pretended to be less than she was. Not once did that gal hand over a pickle jar that she could damned well open herself. Buffy taught girls to be proud of what they bring to the table and to own it, even if the boys quail. She was also an endlessly selfless character, giving up all hope for a normal life to save people. Furthermore, she was just a generally good friend, daughter, and whatever the hell she was to Giles. Sure, she was kind of a shitty girlfriend, but even that was a lesson that sometimes, love doesn’t go the way you want and life goes on… because Joss Whedon is kind of an asshole.

quote-q-so-why-do-you-write-these-strong-female-characters-a-because-you-re-still-asking-me-that-joss-whedon-277715

Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting Fifty Shades of Grey

Provocative title, isn’t it? Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and in my last entry I showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted as of late, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”


I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien king. One of the most well-read women I know has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I’m also reading The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen; and I devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people just Googled “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

fiftydollars

When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books (spoiler alert: it ain’t good), Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.

Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active is asexual or somehow abnormal. I am 27 years old and I have not had sex in five years. Furthermore, I’ve only kissed five people, ever. I am not asexual. I’m just not interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I see no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut.

Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While Christian Grey sure isn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that in the current dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it’s not so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together. Regardless, I’m not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is what appeals to the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience, particularly the over 30 bracket. This article actually suggests a somewhat circular logic: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends. This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new. Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice.

Note: I have been known to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call bullshit. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the broken spine. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What is this, Amish country? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, but with with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them.

Fifty Inappropriate Comments on Fifty Shades of Grey… Give or Take

My father and I, we have… weird boundaries. I mean, one of my most popular posts was titled Looking at T*ts with My Dad. It’s not that we don’t also have a traditional, supportive daddy/daughter relationship. It’s just that he’s the man who gave me my flare for inappropriate humor and general conversational finesse.

Grandmotherly coworker: “My lips are so dry, they’re sticking together.”
Me: “That’s what she said!”

So, naturally, this led to the worst conversation anyone has ever had.

Me: “I have to go to Hobby Lobby after this to get supplies for my party this weekend. I’m having a Fifty Shades of Grey Goose party. We’re going to drink every time it’s stupid.”
Dad: “Lena and I actually went and saw that the other night.”
Me: “No. Stop talking.”
Dad: “Well, just to see what the big deal was, you know.”
Me: “Well, yeah. That’s why we’re going to watch it: to mercilessly mock it.”
Dad: “Well, you know, honestly, that movie wasn’t half bad.”
Me: “I can’t… unhear this.”

Dad: “All’s I’m saying is, when you watch it, go into it with an open mind.”
Me: “What?!? NO. I’ve read the books. I know the story and it’s awful. I am not watching Fifty Shades of Grey with an open mind… especially not at my dad’s insistence.”
Dad: “Well, Lena’s read the books and she said they were bad, but everyone’s talking about how those books are [air quotes], abusive and [I shit you not, more air quotes] offensive to women, but when he takes her to his playroom, he tells her ‘I’m fifty shades of fucked up.’…”
Me: “I’m pretty sure my ears are bleeding. This is, literally, the worst thing that has ever happened to me, listening to you quote Christian Grey.”

Dad: “… but she signs his contract anyway. The whole thing is between consensual adults. How is that abusive?”
Me: “Dad, the reason people call it abusive isn’t because of the BDSM – which is a term I should never use with my dad, by the way – but because of the way he treats her. At least in the books, he has to know her every move and he’s extremely…”
Dad: “Controlling?”
Me: “Yes.”
Dad: “Yeah, but she allows it.”
Me: “Dad, you seriously just defended all abuse!” 
Dad: “Well… huh… yeah. I guess you’re right.”

Me: “Thanks for lunch, daddy. Next time, I’ll tell you all about my favorite erotica.”

My daddy/daughter relationship is not the only unconventional one in my life.

Gramma: “What’s a flogger?”
Me: “It’s a handle with beaded strings and people hit each other with them, in bed, because it’s sexy to hurt. I bought some cord, pink glitter beads, and decorative tape. Then I hot glued them to wooden dalrods for party favors.”
Gramma: “But what are you guys gonna do with ’em?”
Me: “I don’t know… get drunk and hit each other with them, probably.”
Gramma: “That seems like a lot of effort.”
Me: “Yeah. They’re a lot more involved than I thought they would be. I actually have to get back to making my sex toys, now. I love you Gramma.”
Gramma: “Okay, hon, I love you. Have fun.” 

As for the party, we were all pretty drunk, but I did have the presence of mind to record some of the better comments, between people who were more or less strangers before that night. It’s amazing what Jello shots will do for one’s inhibitions when it comes to homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey.

Pin the P
Catherine won Charlie Tango… a four dollar helicopter I spray painted.

Gail: “That’s really classy, Belle.”
Me: “Hey. I am Grace Fucking Kelly.”

::Opening Credits::

Catherine: “What the fuck is up with her bangs?”
Me: :showing photo on phone:
cotc

Me: “Wait. Why does he ask if she’s a Girl Scout? She’s cutting rope. Does he just have really low expectations of The Girl Scouts?”

Catherine: “Yeah, cuz there’s totally a dial tone on a fucking cell phone.”

Reba: “Ew, no! That’s Elliot?”
Gail: “He looks like a 90’s drug dealer.”
Me: “He looks like an extra from The Craft.

::Sex toy Camera pan:: six people raise and shake homemade floggers “FLOGGERS!”
Me: “Shit. Is the window still open?”

Gail: “It’s not lovemaking, if there’s a contract.”

Me: “That… that’s literally a scene from Twilight! They’re even in a meadow!”
Gail: “Are they going to play baseball now?”

Reba: “Wait. Is this the scene where she’s just been running and now they’re gonna have sex?”
Me: “Yeah and she’s just been sitting around in her workout clothes making vaginal cheese.”
Reba: “Ewwwww! NO! BELLE!”
Gail: “It’s like FETA!” 

Gail: “Taking leggings off of yourself isn’t exactly the easiest and sexiest activity.”
Me: “‘It makes me so hot when you put wet clothes on me.'”

Carla: “I wonder if he had to learn to braid hair for this role.”
Me: “Maybe he already knew how, because he has a daughter.”

::Every single sex scene:: “MY DAD SAW THIS MOVIE!!!!!! I CAN’T!!! I JUST CAN’T!!!”
Gail: “What do you think they did after they got home from the movie?”
Me: “I don’t love you anymore, Gail!”

Gail: “I still think the most pressing question of the night is, where in the world was this movie shown in Russian for six minutes, the rest in English, with all the text in Spanish?”

The fun didn’t even stop after everyone went home.

carla chat

Remember the news stories about firemen preparing for an increase in calls from people attempting the dangerous things done in Fifty Shades? I confess. I tried one myself.

Facebook status: I tried to take off my shirt the way Christian Grey does. I got lost and confused. It was terrifying. People don’t undress that way.

For realz, y’all, I nearly removed my own scalp.

party

That’s a decorate-your-own-tie cookie. Obviously. Bee tea double ewe, tough to explain the leftover cookies at work.

My Scottish Highlander Time Travel Adventure Romance Satire: Why I Don’t Write Fiction

I think the thing that makes me such a great blogger is my dependability. I never just randomly disappear for weeks on end. Oh, wait…

Chiefly, my reason is that I desperately need a new computer. Every time I start to write a blog, this one spits popups at me and growls. Also, I got really into this book series… hashtag librarian woes, y’all.

Speaking of which… while Gail and I align on many levels, our literary tastes are not one of them.

As you can tell, this doesn’t stop me from making references she wishes she didn’t understand. After all, fair’s fair and if I have to read her NPR transcript, via text message, she’s gonna know the outline of my latest novel. This month, I’m stuck on the Outlander series.

Yeah… that about sums it up.

Kidding. There’s actually a lot more plot to this one than my typical werewolf porn. I mean, they had to have some basis for the Starz series. Essentially, though, it was the first in what became a slightly obscure genre (Amish romance is a thing y’all) of Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance novels. I kid you not. There are many, many knockoffs of this series and they usually focus much more heavily on the romance (sex) than the rest. This one, however, has sparked a great deal of conversation between Gail and I, for two reasons…

1. Deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old who not only knew all of the shippers for Roswellian fandom, but also the rules of chat room role play games. I will talk Gaily’s ear off about a new obsession.
2. Even the fandom I adore gets over-analyzed and mocked by me, because everything in this world is funny.

While neither Gail nor I have grown up in any true luxury, we both came to adulthood in Shetland, a middle income Southern suburb. We graduated high school in 2006, with dial up internet connections, cell phones, and three-minute microwavable pasta. So, in my chatter over my latest series, Gail the Mailman and I, Belle the Librarian, have been discussing just how very poorly we’d do in 18th century Scotland.

11-7-14 1

Naturally, this has led to plans to pen a Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance satire… because we bring the party. It’s actually been great fun trading ideas back and forth.

dancing

 

Braxley Engel’s Unsexy and Disappointing First Person Narrative of a Venture Through Time, by Belle Roquemore and Gail Frederickson. I think a catchy title is key.

Chapter 1: How I almost died of exposure.
For realz yo, it was 65 degrees out today… in mid-November. I feel confident stating that 18th century Scottish winter wear does not have the word “PINK” emblazoned on the butt in rhinestones. 

Chapter 2: Why doesn’t anyone speak English?!?!
There actually is no universally accepted criteria for differentiating between dialects and languages. However, over 30% of Scotland speaks Scots today and no one can quite decide if it’s a language or a dialect.* It’s pretty reasonable to assume that if 2014 Braxley woke up in 1743 Scotland, she would be fucked.

Chapter 3: Wait… what the hell is my backstory?!?!
If the destruction of the personalized keychain industry wasn’t enough to make you reconsider that ridiculous damned baby name with all of its x’s and apostrophes, perhaps this will! All silly first names that aren’t actually names aside, most Americans know very little about their origins. Sure, Braxley knows that Engel is German, but does she know that Germany was Prussia? Furthermore, can she speak the language? Also, that accent doesn’t exist yet.

Chapter 4: Why is my warrior so hideous?!?!
Folks, we dose our water with fluoride for a reason. We also lose a lot fewer limbs these days. Aside from such trivial matters as teeth and arms, though, the average height of a Scottish male in the 18th century was 5’3″.* That’s like, ignore his eHarmony message short. That’s like, stand on my feet while we slow dance, short. That’s like… hope I don’t have any 5’3″ male readers, short. Not to mention, while I lack a Wikipedia article on it, I’m pretty sure 18th century warriors weren’t shy about farting and scratching their asses.

Chapter 5: Where’s the soap?
What’s toothpaste? Who’s Tampon? You guys, you’re out of toilet paper! Where are the razors? Oh my stars, what is that smell?!?! What’s 18th century for “dick cheese”? I need to buy some nail clippers. Oh, look. Pubic lice. 

Chapter 6: Why am I wearing an entire winter wardrobe?!?!
18h-century-dress-Lacma-2
Imagine traveling in the heat… or rain. Also, that tickle in your throat? It’s a rib. 

Chapter 7: Um… I bring nothing to the table.
How dare they treat me this way!?! I have a Master’s in Library and Informat… um… FINE! I also have an in-depth knowledge of 20th century liter… oh.

Chapter 8: Everything is just so… hard.
The other night, I got home from both jobs (where I sit a lot, in air conditioning) and was too tired to cook, so I went to bed without eating. EASY MAC EXISTS, y’all. Poor Braxley and her expectation of only wearing an outfit once before having it clean and dry in about two hours, while she watches TV. 

Chapter 9: I have some nutritional concerns.
Where are the bananas? How do I make bread out of flower, water, and this rock? Why is the water green? Should we really be eating cat? Do maggots count as protein?

Chapter 10: All my pets are food.
Why is the dog on a spit?!?! 

Chapter 11: He won me in a card game?!?!
What dowry? Of course I have no dowry. I don’t need a man to arrange a marriage for me! What do you mean middle-aged?!? I’m only 27!

Chapter 12: Wait… how do I fake virginity?
Fish bladder full of blood. Google it. It was a thing. Just don’t overdo it. The scene from The Shining is going to look awfully suspicious. 

Chapter 13: Marital rape… and punishment.
1993. That’s when it was illegal for a man to rape his wife in all 50 states.* Furthermore, there are still some mighty creepy corners of the internet using the phrase “Domestic Christian Discipline”. I shudder to think what 200 years ago felt like. 

Chapter 14: Woot. Scurvy.
What’s an orange? You know what else sounds fun? Smallpox… and plague.

Chapter 15: At least I won’t live past 40.
It’ll probably be due to the rampant STD’s, but at least Braxley won’t have to look at that scabby, pussing torture device again. Ooh! It could be because the baby tries to come out sideways. That’s always fun. This is all, of course, only if she can keep her mouth shut about time travel and they don’t burn her for a witch. 

Who wouldn’t buy this book?!?!

Psh. Nothing’s too trivial for citations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height
https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/sexual-assault-issues/marital-rape
http://www.nber.org/bah/spring06/w11963.html

Shelving the Stereotypes: When I say I’m a librarian…

When Gail and I go to a bar, there’s always this great moment where she says she’s a Mail Carrier and I say I’m a Librarian. We are both fully aware that we sound like we’re making up sexy alter egos and she’s just really bad at it. I’ve had high school acquaintances, dates, and even attendants in high-end shops assume I am joking when I say I’m a librarian. They aren’t being rude. I’m just 26 and they’re visibly waiting for the punchline. 

However, when I say I’m a librarian…

… no, I’m not kidding.

librarian stereotype

Everyone pictures one of two people when they hear “librarian” and the frumpy gal with the bun is generally the first. I’ll get to the second in a minute. In actuality, about 50% of the librarians I know are in their 20’s and early 30’s. We’re also not typically ultra conservative. On the contrary, it is a hugely liberal profession and includes tattoos, pink hair, and piercings, depending on the library. Massachusetts even has its own Tattooed Librarians Calendar. While I have more conservative political beliefs than my coworkers, even in the Midwest, the Librarians for Obama bumper sticker is quite common. My point, though, is that most of us actually look a lot more like this

zooey d new girl
… if Zooey Deschanel had Harry Potter tattoos up and down her arms.


… I’m not wearing nipple clamps.

sexy librarian stereotype
… and we rarely look like this.

This is the second most common image conjured. I’m sure most librarians like sex. In fact, if I could remember what it was, I’d probably like it, too. It is a biological drive. That does not mean that we do strip teases with ladders on rollers. Do you have any idea how many germs are in a library?!?! I think this fantasy actually developed as the result of the aforementioned “ultra conservative librarian” stereotype. We’re so prim and repressed, if properly triggered, we must go absolutely wild. On the contrary, librarians are in public service and just like cops and poison control operators, we have some of the most bizarre encounters. We’re all about free information, therefore, our calling is to give information freely; that means without judgement or surprise, regardless of whether it’s a 10-year-old’s request for Fifty Shades of Grey or a man’s desire for books on rape. We do not get to voice an opinion. If you ask your local librarian for books on sexual positions and STD treatment and she even bats an eye, she’s not doing her job very well. So, hearing the phrase “demure ladies in the streets, but utter freaks in the sheets”, in regards to my profession is neither going to scar my virginal soul, nor is it going to cause me to rip my tweed pantsuit from my swollen breasts. It’s a career path… a wonderful one. It does not, however, come with any sexual requirements. In fact, the beauty of being in such a liberal field means that heterosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, transgenders, and swingers would really all be welcome. 

… no, Kindle is not putting me out of a job.

It used to really stress my out to hear these kinds of comments, as they were usually accompanied by the implication that I would never get to be a librarian. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know how that usually went.

Today, I find the people who make the above suggestions have not usually been in a library in the last ten years. They aren’t library people, because they don’t know what libraries offer. In addition to programs, classes, access to technology, and on-site IT assistance, we do offer e-media… for free. Go ahead and spend $11.99 on J.K. Rowling’s new book for Kindle. That’s a bit redundant, though, because you probably already bought it with your tax dollars. The state of e-media in libraries is up in the air, right now, as publisher’s decide how it affects their profits, but a few facts remain the same. Someone has to decide how many copies to order in e-book versus hardback. Someone has to choose a vendor. Someone has to teach people to actually use the Kindle/Nook/Nabi/iPad. Furthermore, people freaking love books. I am a traitor librarian, because I prefer my Kindle. I’m sporadic in my reading and I love carrying 40 different titles at a time, but I’m a minority. Most people I talk to prefer to hold the book and feel the pages, without worrying about pdf/Kindle/adobe format compatibility. As there is a place for both radio and television, there will be a place for both hard copy and e-media, because not only does not everyone want to use an e-reader, but not everyone can afford to use an e-reader.

… no, Google is not putting me out of a job, either.

“So… no offense or anything… I’m actually curious… why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian? What do you actually do?”

I need a master’s degree, because we’re rendering bachelor’s degrees redundant in this country, by sending confused kids to college to major in general studies so that they can graduate and work in food service. That’s another rant, though. Ahem… I need a master’s degree, because I spent 44 graduate level hours studying program development, advocacy, public relations, grant writing, evaluations, books and materials for children, books and materials for young adults, the effect of technology and social networking on society, collection development and maintenance, cataloging, the very concept of free information, the organization of information, and the information seeking habits of individuals. They didn’t teach me that when I was getting my required bachelor’s degree. That’s why I needed a master’s degree.

What do I actually do? I plan community programs that people may actually attend. I figure out which books aren’t being circulated and pack them for the annual book sale so I can make space on the shelf. I find the appraised value of a customer’s neighbor’s house. I find books at a sixth grade reading level that will interest a second grade child. I spend 30 minutes on the phone helping an elderly woman download an e-book. I look for poetry to read during an infant’s funeral. On an average day, I take on the roles of social worker, researcher, saleswoman, IT specialist, teacher, and babysitter. Some days, it’s Realtor, historian, scientist, and job coach. I wear many, many different hats and the most important one is the customer service hat. I do not get to talk down to anyone and I must always have a smile on my face. It’s exhausting… and wonderful. 

zooey d hats

I am an Information Professional. As technology takes root in our society, we have more and more information to sort through and the average person isn’t as well trained to do that as they think. Google, for instance, is a keyword search. There is no accounting for author, date, full text, pdf, peer reviewed, or content. You get to pick one, maybe two, of those parameters and hope for the best. Librarians are trained to use search terms and tax funded databases to narrow the results. For example…

My grandmother died in 1991. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was a newspaper that published an article on her influence as a teacher. I think she taught third grade. I want to find the article and don’t know what newspaper.

Go ahead. Google that.

In addition to the increase in information, for better or worse, this country is becoming more socialist, not less. Libraries are one of the only institutions that serves both the engineer and that man on the street corner that he just loudly suggested should get a job. It takes Internet access to apply for that job. It takes knowledge of technology to use the Internet.

Go ahead. Google that.

… no, I have not read that book.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned a 9-12 grade reading level. I was not allowed to read anything below an 8th grade level for credit. That meant no Harry Potter, no Babysitter’s Club, and no Ramona for credit, no matter how much I read. I made one C in K-12 and it was the year I refused to read on my level.

I was an advanced placement student in high school. I read The Inferno and The Bell Jar for fun, but spent more time looking up Sparksnotes summaries than it would’ve taken to actually read the damned book, when we covered The Great Gatsby. I don’t regret that. Daisy was a horrible heroine… like written by Nicholas Sparks horrible.

My bachelor’s degree is in family and consumer science education… home-ec. I was not required to read any of the classics for that. During my MLIS, I took Books and Materials for Young Adults, Books and Materials for Children, and Children’s Literature. It was in these classes that I did the last of the required novel reading I will ever do. So, when I read a librarian’s blog and she talked about all the varied reading of popular materials we all do, just to keep up with the interests of customers, I thought…

It’s not that I’m a lazy librarian. It’s that there are an assload of books out there. You can’t read them all. You can’t even read just the New York Time’s Bestsellers. I know. I type up the Bestsellers list every week and they’re listed by fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade, and young adult. That’s not even counting the e-books. I cannot read them all, so I read what I like.

“Have you read…?”

Unless the rest of that question is “that one where the hot guy morphs into a dragon to save his mate, only to find out she’s a unicorn?” then the answer is likely no. I primarily read paranormal romance, romantic suspense, memoirs, blogs, and articles on current events and information theory. Every now and then I’ll read something deeper or more popular, because I want to do soMost librarians just read what they like, be that inspirational fiction, Amish romance (it is so a thing), or historical accounts. News articles may increase awareness, but romance novels increase vocabulary, graphic novels increase comprehension, and themes are universal. It all has value, so I’m not reading something just because the New York Times tells me, especially when it’s just as pretend as my werewolf porn. If you want a recommendation, I can recommend within my preferred genres, or I can suggest some awesome resources that cater to your own tastes like LibraryThing or Novelist. I’d rather see the occasional customer leave psyched about the three paranormal romance series I suggested than never please anyone, because I only read the most popular items in their genres, which they have likely already read.

dragon bound
Fo sho.

The Romance Novel vs. Reality

As I’ve been working to finish my Master in Library and Information Studies, crying in a ball underneath my favorite chair about how “I’ll never be a librarian and I don’t want to join the military!!!!!”, I’ve been losing myself in escapist fiction. I have little attention span for television and movies, so the only way I’ve been able to pull myself from my own irrational, hyperventilating internal monologue has been with romance novels. Of course, this has just added to the mantra with “I don’t have time to date and even if I did, I wouldn’t give guys any real chance and I’m going to die alooooooone!” Nothing’s sexier than a girl sucking on an inhaler in an empty bathtub, wearing leggings and an oversized butter-stained Ice Age 3D t-shirt from her fat days, amiright?

panic attack
Chicka chicka yeah…

I’ve not previously been a romance novel gal and I used to mock them mercilessly. My interest started with Nicky Charles’ Law of the Lycans series last summer (because it was free) and moved forward with J.R. Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I read a lot of paranormal romance, because what’s hotter than a hot naked alpha male? The answer is… a hot naked alpha male with a barbed penis. I had a brief foray into erotica, though there’s just not enough plot there for me. Lately I’ve been engrossed in romantic suspense of the hot-spec-ops-guy-saves-girl-from-Somali-pirates variety. I’m not kidding. I just finished that one yesterday. My MLIS has taught me that all literature has value, so I regret the days I mocked romantic fiction. I feel it’s increased my vocabulary significantly and it’s just fun to escape my brain, which is pretty much like having 533 windows open in a browser at all times. That being said, I have noticed some recurring themes in romance novels and they annoy the crap out of me. I’m not even talking about the traditionally ridiculous names of the male leads, but rather..

… the best friend that I hope dies screaming, while strapped down spread-eagle and disemboweled.

Too graphic? I’m gonna give a shout-out to my Gail here and state that I just have the best best friend in the whole world. She may be a little (lot) paranoid, but for the most part, she respects my life choices. She’s the voice of reason in my head and often just my conscience in general. She’s my Jiminy Fucking Cricket and I’m her Tinker Bell whispering in her ear to shoot Wendy out of the sky with her bow and arrows. We balance each other out and for the most part, we do so without any touchy feely crap. It’s awesome. Maybe that’s why I hate most of the best friend characters in romance novels. They just don’t measure up. Yeah, Gail. You ruined my fiction. Go fuck yourself.

tinkerbell

I only recently noticed this trend when I tried to read the This Man series a couple of months ago. It was recommended to me for the alpha male bit I find so appealing in fiction-only-fiction-ever, but it was just too much for me while somehow still managing to be too little. Oh my gosh. My favorite? The part where he was a bag of dicks and then nothing happened. Ooh! Then there was that part where he more or less ass-raped her and then nothing happened. And sa-woon, the part where… holy shit I cannot actually come up with anything else to say before nothing happened because nothing happened.

Some of the review titles:
This book made me fear for an entire generation.
Just… really bad.
There is only one E.L. James. (Yeah. Thank GOD for that, but seriously, she’s saying this was worse than Fifty Shades?)

This Man may not have suited me in general, but I absolutely hated the best friend. Main Character Ava was pretty awful, but at least I could pity her as the victim of both the male lead and her bestie roommate. There was actually a scene where Best Friend Kate leaves her van parked on a busy one-way street, causing Ava to be manhandled by an angry driver. Kate takes her sweet time, then comes out and does not freaking care. What the crap?!?! Gail would never do that… well period, but she’d be especially contrite if I were harmed because of her actions. I didn’t actually finish this book, because there’s this one part, at about 60%, where nothing happens and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

After This Man, I realized that this is just a thing. Maybe Kristen Ashley just has really pushy and obnoxious friends like all of her supporting female characters. It throws me a little that she writes such unlikeable friends when I find her main characters generally pretty relatable. Maya Banks has the same problem. In Jennifer Armintrout’s analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, she suggests that E.L. James attempts to villainize the best friend so we’ll be rooting primarily for the main character… to die in Anastasia’s case, but you get the idea. Maybe this is just a bad effort to make readers favor the lead, but it always leaves me thinking THIS IS WHY I DON’T SPEND TIME WITH VAGINAS! A GIRL ONLY NEEDS ONE! The best friend characters of romance novels are supposed to be concerned, but they often come off as disrespecting the lead by refusing to acknowledge that they are adults who’ve been making their own decisions for years. They nag them and repeatedly insist that this relationship is a bad idea, despite the lead making it clear that they’re going to see things through. When Gail dated the most terrifying postal worker ever, I expressed my concerns regarding specific stories and waited it out. She’s a big girl. She’ll decide when she’s had enough and I’ll be there when that time comes. Pissing her off and alienating her isn’t going to make any headway. Other times, the best friend characters are supposed to be supportive, but they often come off as gluttonous alcoholics encouraging their friends to cope poorly or ignore their problems. When I got divorced and drank a vat of Long Island Ice Tea, Gail slept in my car with me because I couldn’t get up the stairs, but she didn’t encourage the behavior in the future. I suppose the real problem is that these characters just aren’t Gail.


7_2502200
The This Man series… only instead of paint, it’s anal blood.

… the size of the men.

I am 5’5.5” tall and weigh 175 pounds. I don’t look like a supermodel or a teapot. I just look pretty average at a size 8/10. I, however, totally understand the appeal of feeling like the dainty little woman and recognize that writing big tough alpha male characters is a reflection of this common desire. It works, too… within reason. My paranormal romance phase involved a number of male characters who were described as being larger than most humans. It made sense, because they were supernatural vampiric warriors and I never gave it much thought. I started with paranormal romance, but as I moved to stories that took place in the real world, I realized that the main characters were still 6’8”. I’m into tall and have said a few times that I won’t date beneath 5’10”, but come on. 6’8” is no longer attractive, but rather something to get past. I’m not saying I wouldn’t date a guy that size, but I consider that abnormally tall. “Abnormal” is never hot, just endearing at best.

In addition to being the tallest men in the world, these guys are always freakishly built as well. In Kristen Ashley’s and Julie Ann Walker’s novels, they’re often described as not having an ounce of fat on them and are compared to professional wrestlers. How is there enough space in the room for our lead heroine when a redwood is standing next to her?!?! Honestly, I don’t really find professional wrestlers attractive. I’d give Alcide Herveux a rim job if I had the opportunity, but he’s hardly got the build of a WWE fighter. I never want to be with someone morbidly obese again, but I want someone I can cuddle. It’s tough to cuddle the Statue of David. The guards tend to chase you off.


Redwood
This is my husband, Rogue.

… the way people smell.

Gail doesn’t typically read romance novels, because Dave Ramsey is never the lead, but she recently had this idea to read the most disturbing erotica we could find on Amazon and discuss. I read
Comfort Food, by Kitty Thomas which was very well-written and also gave me nightmares. Then I got distracted with school and Gail was left to read Tender Mercies, which apparently involved a tailed butt-plug, all alone. Shucks. I missed out. Having read very few romance novels, though, Gail understood exactly what I was talking about when I texted her the following yesterday.

PEOPLE don’t smell like a day at the beach.

Brock always smelled like that time at the lake when I fell asleep in the sun and got lightly burned and then woke up and realized I had a handprint tan line on my chest and then the dog leapt into my lap and scratched my thighs and then I washed the blood off in the lake, so I had to ride back on a towel to protect the interior of his truck.

We’re so oddly in-sync that she immediately responded with:

Lucas always smelled like that time I went shopping for the kind of shoe strings that curl instead of tie and that guy left his dog in the car, but I didn’t call the cops because it wasn’t really all that hot outside, even though it was almost June.

When men describe how women smell, however, it’s always something tangible. For example, she smells like lavender. What 9′ body builder with a concealed carry license knows what lavender smells like?!?! don’t even know what lavender smells like and I’m girly as fuck. If I’m with a man who can pinpoint lavender and honeydew, my 15th anniversary is gonna suck when I find him knee deep in another dude. Seriously, if he tells you you smell astoundingly like nutmeg, buy him an ascot as a parting gift.

fred scooby doo
He thinks you smell like warm cashmere.

 the virgin sex that is the best sex ever.

I’m not gonna lie. The idea that men like inexperienced women is pretty encouraging since I don’t know what a penis is anymore. What bugs me about this is the propensity for women well into their twenties to be inexperienced, while the men make a huge freaking deal out of how awesome it is. She’s a virgin, not a damned unicorn princess.

princess-unicorn
Believe it or not, I write this shit and then find the pictures. Call me Google Master. Do it.

The men in romance novels are always, always, always so experienced that we don’t get a number, while the women have been with either no one or few enough people to keep count on one hand. When Heroine has just not been with a lot of people, she catches on really quickly and shows a lot of enthusiasm and the sex is awesome. That gives me hope and I consider that one reasonably realistic, because while inexperienced, I would not call myself prude. However, if Heroine shares that she’s a virgin, Hero is totally freaking psyched that no one has squeezed this peach before him… even though she’s like 25 and people only wait that long for pretty much one reason: so they can share the experience with someone who means a lot to them. For realz, that’s a bit daunting.

When Hero finally twirls his mustache and steals Heroine’s virtue, it is absolutely the most mind-blowingly not awkward sex anyone has ever had. As a general rule, sex is never awkward in these books. No woman bounces too high, causing him to pop out and bend uncomfortably when she lands. No one’s distracted from their pleasure by the weird snarl the other person just made. No one ever sneezes or does anything else not sexy with their bodies. I get that. We’re reading idealistic sex and that’s the point. I don’t need to read about how Christian Grey has trouble finishing, though that would clearly be because he’s at it for nine hours a day and somehow still maintains his fortune at age eleven, but whatevs. I’m totally comfortable with skipping all fart-in-bed scenes forever. Writing virgin sex as anything but emotionally charged and sweet, though, is just unrealistic. That shit hurts and continues to hurt for a couple of days. Anastasia isn’t waking up and hopping on pop Dr. Seuss style. You may as well write unicorn princess sex. There is not a Google image for that. 

isbn9781846165177-1x2a
I lied.

Women in Fiction, I’d Like A Word With You

I’ve been going through a romance phase for a while now: paranormal, suspense, mystery, the ocassional erotica (a word I just recently had to define for my Gramma). I’d still rather sit through a rectal exam than watch most chick flicks, because the acting is never up to par or I just fucking hate the heroine. Really Ally? Noah should have let you get hit by a car when you were lying in the street. Don’t even get me started on Rose and Jack… again. Maybe I just need to get laid, but I love my romance novels. I can put whatever inflection I want in the dialogue to make it less dramatic and the lead male is never unnattractive… and almost always Alcide Herveaux.

alcide
Sigh. Wouldn’t you just love to bathe him with your tongue like a mama cat?

When the circumstances are right, I love me some alpha males in my fiction and even in reality, I’m a traditional gal. The boy asks, opens doors, pays. That’s what works for me and I don’t mind one bit that it’s not what works for some, like my sisterfriend Rosie the Fucking Riveter. I cannot help that some of her feminazi crap bleeds over, though. On that note, fiction, what the hell is up with:

Putting Necklaces on Your Lady

This seems to be a recurring event in movies and television. From Stefan Salvator to Don Draper, it’s a gallant man who puts on his gal’s necklace. To be fair, I made a post bitching about this on Facebook one day and literally the next day had to ask my Gramma for help putting on a necklace. However, I think that was the one time I’ve had to do so. In all my years of marriage, I never asked my ex-husband to put on a necklace for me. Get a job, don’t kill our pets, quit stealing from me, yes. Help me put on this necklace, no. Wanna know why? Because it’s not held on by a damned Rubix Cube. I know the clasp is behind me, where I can’t see it, but are we women really so uncoordinated and inept that we can’t work a clasp without looking? If we’re going with gender stereotypes, am I not the one with the dainty lady fingers that have the dexterity to embroider pillowcases, sew on buttons, and work diaper pins? Wouldn’t these fingers more likely have nails to catch the lever on said clasp? Bracelets, I understand. I only have one hand free. But I have both hands for this necklace endeavor, unless it’s a really complicated piece of jewlery. Maybe nipple clamps and shackles are involved? I don’t know.

putting on necklace 4  putting on necklace 1

putting on necklace 2putting on necklace 3
Elena is having a particularly difficult time with that necklace.

I get the the appeal of the damsel in distress thing in books and movies. Even Samantha Jones once went on a crying jag about how she just wished a man were there to care for her when she was sick. Lorelei Gilmore once wept because she’d ocassionally like for someone to wait for the cable guy. It’s not even a sexist thing. Everyone likes the idea of having someone take care of them when they need it, or even when they don’t, just to be sweet. I might even place the necklace bit in the last category if it were an action that I ever even think about. But I don’t. Because it’s just a stupid necklace. Asking and waiting for assistance is going to take more time and effort than just doing it myself. If I’m going to ask him to put on my necklace, why not ask him to tie my left shoe, blow on my soup, or squeeze the toothpaste for me? It’s weird that this is even a thing. Wanna do something sweet? I’ve got the necklace. You go change my oil.

necklace
Mkay. I think I’m gonna need some help with this one.

Requiring Tiny Feet

When I was five, I used to sit in the bathtub and turn my feet to just the right angle so they’d look smaller and daintier, because women have tiny feet dammit!!!!

Fine. I was a weird kid. Regardless, go watch Cinderella. When you get to the part where the king’s men try the glass slipper on her step-sisters’ feet, what happens? They’re so gargantuan that the shoe barely covers the ball of her foot. When they try to force it, the slipper is flung across the room and shatters. Think about it. It’s a shoe. What are the odds that no one else in the kingdom had the same shoe size as Cinderella? Sure, they were made of glass and that didn’t leave a whole lot of room for give, but it’s not like they’d have been comfortable anyway. So her feet just had to be freakishly sexily small.

glass slipper step

Meanwhile…

glass slipper

Horseshit. I’m not buying it.

foot binding

That’s what her foot really looks like.

As an adult, I’m less self-conscious of my shoe size. I’m only 5’5″, but wear a 10. No one else does, so the cute boots on sale come in my size. Score. However, lately, I’ve read a ton of books where the women’s feet are quoted at size 5 and size 6 over and over again. Even Anastasia Steele was a 5. The average shoe size of American women, however, is an 8*. You wanna tell me I have big feet compared to a size 8, I’m cool with that. I’m only 2 sizes above normal. You wanna tell me I’m double the normal size? Go fuck yourself, fiction. Go fuck yourself.

Carrying Her Everywhere

Okay, this one is sort of an all-encompassing issue regarding weight and the idea that women are only sexy if they’re tiny and vulnerable looking. Bella Swan was quoted at 110 pounds and 5’4″, which I’d like to mention is just above underweight and really not very healthy, despite having been described as being “soft somehow.” Maybe this is an evolutionary issue where we women want the largest and strongest caveman, so we want to at least feel teeny, but throughout all genres and formats of media, from my paranormal romances to the latest chick flick, women are light as pretty pink feathers. Once again, however, I’m able to defend paranormal romance, because The Black Dagger Brotherhood and Eric Northman had fucking superpowers. That was the whole point. It still doesn’t explain why they carried their gals everywhere. There’s no real rationalization for the other occurrences, either, because I’m pretty sure even sexy women have weight, y’all. Maybe we harbor totally unreasonable expectations of it in this country, such as when Gail’s ex-fella announced “She was huge. She must’ve weighed like 150 pounds or something”, but that doesn’t change the reality of hoisting another human being into your arms. When I go to my Gramma’s and my niece is over there, without fail she screams “AUNT BELLE!” and I pick her up and spin her around. Then I put her down, because she’s fucking heavy… at four.

I remember the first time I noticed this weird trend. I was a teenager and absolutely obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I was awesome, and everyone just carries Buffy around any time she’s hurt. Sure, Angel and Spike have superpowers and Riley is a soldier, but high school Xander and Giles? The former was portrayed as awkward and gangly and the latter was in his mid-sixties. Ron carries Hermione after she’s tortured, but was the guy really known for his brawn?  Charlie Swan is an aging man carrying around his 18 year old daughter, because she’s sad over a breakup. While Edward Cullen was reasonably able to throw Bella on his back and scamper up a mountain, Robert Pattinson pulled a hamstring doing it, because WOMEN HAVE WEIGHT, Y’ALL.

carry bella 2 carrying bella 1

carrying bella 3 carrying bella 4
Seriously? Can the girl not walk? I thought her spine healed.

Rationalizing Child Molestation

When Desperate Housewives first aired, Jesse Metcalfe was 25. His character, however, was 17. I’m not shaming the women of America for looking at a 25-year-old in a 17-year-old costume and thinking he’s attractive. I’m shaming the writers of this show for assuming that I would relate to Gabrielle Solis when she commits statutory rape, because he was just so yummy that it made it okay. Maybe I find this offensive because I work with teenagers, but when I first watched this show at 24, I looked at Jesse Metcalfe’s character and I saw a child. A 17-year-old boy thinks like a kid and reasons like a kid and processes emotion like a kid, because that’s what he damn well is. Gabrielle Solis committed rape and just because she did so with a vagina, rather than a penis, does not suddenly make it sexy rape, because that’s not a fucking thing. Implying that the women of America are gonna be all “YOU GO GIRL!” over baby rape is just as disgusting and offensive as suggesting that all men are going to be rooting for the sex traffickers in Taken.

sex trafficking
Chicka chicka yeah…

Apocalyptic Menstruation

One of the few chick flicks I truly enjoyed and actually own (bought used) is No Strings Attached. I enjoy it, however, despite one of the most obnoxious scenes in the history of film, in which Natalie Portman and all of her roommates are lying around the apartment groaning in misery. Is it cholera? Ebola? The Zombie apocalypse? No. It’s the horrors of WOMANHOOD! These women are all supposed to be in their medical residency, but none of them can take care of a few cramps and all of them have the time to hole up like wounded animals and whine about it? Let’s not forget the whopping cliché of them acting like bitches and fighting over junk food, because all women love chocolate. I probably eat 10 Reese’s a week and I gave up chocolate for Lent, because it would be a legitimate effort and sacrifice for me… because I like chocolate… not because my vagina does. Also, I don’t know about other women, but when I’m on my period, I… you know… work. For a day or so, I feel miserable and don’t want to eat at all and have the inconvenience of a gunshot wound between my legs, but I still get my ass out of bed, pop some ibuprofen and earn that puppy food. I’m a grown ass woman, no one else is going to take care of the bills, and this happens every month. Honestly, though, the most offensive part of this is the suggestion that a woman gets a free pass on treating people like shit because her body does stuff. Maybe I’m a little more irritable around my period, but other people still exist and have feelings. I don’t get to snap at them and tell them to fuck off because my uterus is leaking. Implying that I can’t control the urge to do so is seriously underestimating a gender famous for unhinging their pelvis to crank out a human being every now and then.

snake eating egg
It’s like that, but backwards.

Bashing Men

When Gail and I get together, much of the conversation does revolve around men, though not nearly as much as modern media might have you think. Sure, we giggle about and mock The Musician and his drug-induced flirting or that guy who bought me a drink and started massaging my shoulders, but neither one of us is in a relationship with these people. When Gail mentions A, she might lovingly joke about the vehicles I’ve nicknamed The General Lee, but it’s nothing he hasn’t already heard. Just like I would expect my beau to speak respectfully of me, I wouldn’t say things to Gail that I wouldn’t want him to hear… unless I were on my eighth LIT at Hudson’s and weeping about my abusive husband, in which case… Happy Thanksgiving! Pretty much every episode of Sex and the City involves the girls sitting around a table complaining about how much their men suck. Newsflash, ladies: you don’t have to be with these guys. Way to portray powerful and self-sufficient women, by having them fret over men all of the time. Samantha could’ve left Richard; Miranda could’ve ditched Steve; and Charlotte could’ve told Trey to fuck off. Carrie was far too in love with herself to notice anyone else in her life, of course. I’m waiting for a Sex and the City/Cloverfield crossover event, where Carrie gets eaten. That’s the third movie.

carrie bradshaw
I loved this guy. Remember when he accidentally hit her? He was the best.

Of course, there’s always the romantic (and in this case comedic) fiction where women are just as horrible to men in person as they are in private, such as in Knocked Up. I love Seth Rogan and adore this movie, don’t get me wrong, but the scene where Katherine Heigl’s sister yells at Paul Rudd for not being able to Wizard away child molesters is a horrible representation of women… along with the one where she’s insulting Rogan for being overweight, rather than expressing any legitimate concerns about his use of illegal drugs or lack of a job… aaaaand the scene where she screams at her husband for playing fantasy football. Pretty much all of the scenes with Heigl’s sister in them imply that women have a right to abuse men. So does the one where Heigl, herself, screams at her baby daddy for disagreeing with her before leaving him on the side of the road. Heigl has pretty much zero incentive to be with Rogan in this movie. He’s funny and… um… that’s kind of it. I wouldn’t have even told the guy I was pregnant. That, however, is not a valid excuse to leave him in the street. It’s a valid reason to break up with him. Paul Rudd was like the dream husband and father, but it was supposed to be funny when his wife treats him like crap? Is that the same way it was funny when Archie Bunker humiliated and belittled Edith? Or is it the same kind of funny as when Sally Fields had to sneak out of Iran with her daughter? Oh, wait… it’s not abuse unless it’s committed by a man. Gotcha.

*http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/16/size-8-is-the-new-7-why-our-feet-are-getting-bigger/