Rory Gilmore Reading Club

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge: Bitch

I thought I would like this book and I didn’t. It seemed promising. With a title like that how could you possibly go wrong? I knew Elizabeth Wurtzel’s reputation going into this. She had written a memoir about depression that became a massive hit. When that didn’t make her happy she became addicted to various substances and then wrote a book about it. Both books are supposed to be very good and well written.

Wurtzel also has a reputation for being enormously self-absorbed to the point that her publisher included a review describing her as an extremely talented but self-absorbed writer in the first few pages of Bitch. Being self-absorbed often makes for good memoir. When you’re the subject you get to be a little bit into yourself and get away with it.That’s not where Wurtzel went wrong. In fact my favourite part of the book outside of when she makes fun of OJ’s — as in OJ Simpson — bad spelling were the bits told from her perspective about her choices and her life.

The latest stunt she’s allegedly pulled is to think about writing a book with Thought Catalog targeted at millenials even though in the past she’s said that Thought Catalog is stupid and she would never write something targeted at millenials. Wurtzel just doesn’t know where she stands and struggles with logic and reasoning at times. That is the crux of why Bitch is a horrible book. It’s not memoir and it’s not about her. Bitch is meant to present an argument of some kind, probably feminist in nature.

It flat out fails to do so. After reading the entire thing I am still not sure what Wurtzel stands for. I don’t know what she means by difficult women or bitch. There are large sections where she lists celebrities from the ’90s and claims things about them. She rambles on endlessly without saying much of anything. After reading the 50 page introduction I felt that about two paragraphs worth or argument had been made and they weren’t even that compelling.

When she does take a position she often contradicts herself. Sometimes in the same paragraph. Sometimes later in the section. This is part of what makes it so confusing. Every time it seems she’s saying something she contradicts it. The most grievous offence is that she spends far too much time defending things that no one should defend, even back in 1999 when the book was published.

The introduction talks about nothing in various clever ways and includes lots of names of ’90s celebrities. The biggest questionable thing from this section is her argument that it’s good to be badly behaved. She uses the example of Shanon Doherty who was difficult and self-absorbed to the point of getting herself kicked off of Charmed because nobody could take it anymore. Because of Doherty’s behaviour problems we all had to endure the half-sister plot that was as bad as the Buffy coming back to life the second time plot line. If Doherty was a passably nice person she would have just stayed on the show. Not being able to work with other people is not a good thing. Wurtzel’s definition of bitch is a far cry from what Tina Fey means when she uses the word. Being difficult here doesn’t mean leaning in or standing up for yourself. It means alienating everyone you know and getting yourself fired.

You know what? Bitches get stuff done.
— Tina Fey

Amy Poehler extolls the virtue of working with other people. She talks about how collaborations have been the best parts of her career. Poehler hasn’t gotten to where she is by being selfish and horrible but by being agreeable and hardworking.

Be nice. Work hard.
— Amy Poehler

I am glad that 15 years after Bitch was published we have better heroes who don’t think it’s glamorous to be crazy and selfish. We have Fey, Poehler, Mindy Kaling and for the rough and tumble millenials Lena Dunham. To these women bitch means standing up for yourself, breaking new ground and creating things regardless of what obstacles are in your way. These are heroes I can look up to. Wurtzel’s heroes are train wrecks and disasters.

Bitch strikes me as a book written by a beautiful woman — Wurtzel is undeniably gorgeous and knows it — who has had some behaviour problems in the past. She is not writing a book for your average woman. Her ideal woman is someone who is charismatic, tragic, badly behaved and undeniably gorgeous. There is nothing here for average women. They don’t get to be difficult. They are not pretty enough. It’s difficult to relate to and rather pointless.

The second section takes on the merits of using sex as a weapon. Or so I think. There is a long discussion of underage sexual abuse that is questionable. I fail to see what this has to do with defending difficult women other than to carry on the theme of if you’re beautiful use it. Moving right along.

The third section concerns depression and suicidal behaviour. She uses the example of Sylvia Plath and other suicidal poets for the sake of treading new ground. At times she talks about how Plath was well really very well behaved and dull. Except when she was depressed because then she was unbearably selfish. But she was charismatic. Then she killed herself so now she’s tragic. Then Wurtzel embarks on a long and confusing section that glamorizes suicide with brief interludes about how we shouldn’t glamorize suicide. As someone who wrote the book on mental illness Wurtzel should know better than this. Mental health awareness has come a long way in the last fifteen years but Wurtzel has no business writing like this about depression and suicide after being depressed herself. And then writing a popular and ground breaking book about depression. Shame on Wurtzel for doing this. Shame on her publisher for printing it. This is what big red markers are for.

Speaking of which I wonder how this tome of horrible contradictory and questionable garbage got printed. Sure it was the ’90s and publishing was a different beast. Did they just want something with Wurtzel’s name on the cover so it would sell while her stock was still high from the last two releases? Was the editor too busy to realize that this book makes no sense and not cut all of this stuff out? Or to just send a quick email/fax/page saying this is horrible write something else?

The next section involves a long analysis of the OJ Simpson trial, which for the record I am too young to remember. I didn’t really get much out of it. She says some really outrageous things involving battered wife syndrome and rape fantasies so that was fun. Sometimes I thought she was playing devils advocate but there is no way it could be so serious and go on for so long if she was. Where is that red pen when you need it?

The conclusion was the high point of this book not just because it marked the end of my protracted struggle to read it. Here Wurtzel almost abandons the pretense that she in fact wishes to argue for something instead of saying ridiculous and borderline offensive things or describing out of date celebrities. She talks about herself and where she was at the time. She does a good job of it. She says some ridiculous things along the way but that is to be expected.

Some people have said Bitch is just the uninformed ramblings of another silly 20-something — which as a 20-something is rude, my ramblings are much more informed or at least less offensive than this and I am the first to admit that so far I’ve learned that groceries are really expensive, that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING and not much else — but Wurtzel was 30 when she wrote Bitch. It’s not about being in her 20s and messing around. She has another book for that. It’s about what happens when you’re a pretty, self-absorbed and badly behaved girl who is getting to that age when everyone seems to be getting married and your clock starts ticking. You start to wonder if a man will ever want to marry you and what you’ll be worth if they don’t. You start to worry that your looks will go. You start to think about how old is too old to have kids. She is worrying about this stuff, not partying and having fun. It’s where her feminism mixes with her confusion and doubts instead of just whatever weird offensive rambling was spewed onto the page.

And then it ended and there was much rejoicing.

It would be my recommendation to never read this book. It’s not worth its weight in paper or e-reader memory. It was terrible and offensive and a hollow nothingness of pretty sentences. I don’t know what the nature of the reference to Bitch on Gilmore Girls was but I hope it was disparaging.

Update: I forgot about the section where Wurtzel discusses women in the Bibleearlier. I went on Goodreads to look at people’s reviews of Bitch and someone brought it up. I quite enjoyed it for the most part. I forgot about it but I enjoyed it. As someone who was a religious studies minor and wrote a paper comparing the two creation narratives in genesis from a feminist perspective she made some good points and brought up some good information. Ten points for Hufflepuff.

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge: The Awakening

The instant I opened up the introduction to The Awakening I was warned that I had my hands on a controversial book. So controversial in fact that the widowed Kate Chopin made almost no money off of it even though she had children to support. The really controversial thing was that it was feminist and included a wilful woman doing what she wanted. Okay then.

I totally get how this work could have been controversial when it was published and sure we still leave in a world where the Planned Parenthood is a controversial organization rather than a really obvious basic service but I didn’t really feel the controversy. I guess I have over a hundred years of feminism to thank for that (and THANK you). What I really got out of this book was that Chopin is a talented writer and captured the spirit of New Orleans in the late 1800s. It’s too bad everyone was too distracted by the controversy to see the book for what it is (beneath all the feminist stuff), which is well written and interesting. I liked the way she captured French culture and used characters. You should read The Awakening for Chopin’s talent. And the crotchety friend who is kind of like Cassandra Edelstein in Saved (also known as Jew Girl for those who have seen Saved fewer times than me). But mostly for the talent.

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge Book Club: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

One of the dangers of this challenge is that sometimes you pick a book that you end up not really liking and you have no one to blame by yourself. And perhaps the book. This was one of those books.

While I enjoy the premise of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and think it started off strong it mostly felt long. Very very long. As in I enjoyed the first hundred pages and then spent the rest of the time thinking we get why do I still have to read this. If I didn’t have to finish it for a challenge it would be the type of book that I would put down after a hundred pages and think about reading without ever going forward any further so I guess it’s good that I read it for a challenge. That or I would have been less concerned about page length and more in tune with just enjoying the book.

As far as substance goes I found the plot a bit weak. For large sections it felt like nothing much was happening or that the same things kept happening over and over again. Maybe this is why the book felt so long (other than the fact that it was long).

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge Book Club: Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

I liked this book and I disliked this book. There were some things about it that showed Foer’s strength and charm as a writer. I could see how the young Jewish American boy in his rounded glasses staring out from the author photograph had written this work. The story was interesting and it got better the more I read.

Then there were the annoying things that made me question why everyone likes this book so much. First off it was immature. Incredibly immature. It sounded exactly like a 24-year-old male had written it and poured out a sexually idealized version of himself in the process. The unnecessary mentioning of 69ing in the beginning of the book and then the sexual attraction resulting from the dead arm were things I couldn’t get used to or accept. They didn’t need to be there and they didn’t make the book better. Instead, they made it feel like Everything Is Illuminated was written by a young and immature writer. Very immature. Screaming PENIS in health class immature.These things bothered me as the book moved along.

There was also Sammy Davis Jr, Jr and the fact that he chose to refer to her as a bitch throughout the book instead of I don’t know a dog or animal or creature. Once again very immature. The character of Sammy Davis Jr, Jr didn’t make much sense or add anything to the book.

I also disliked the inclusion of the ESL letters in the book. Sometimes it was clever but most of the time it was annoying. I was glad when he stopped using spleen. Seriously, it spleened me. Oh wait, spleened is not a word.

The other thing that struck me is that this is the type of book written by a young American male of Jewish decent. It was good but I’ve read much better versions of the same thing. Michael Chabon is much more skilful. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a measure that for better or worse I held up in my head while reading Everything Is Illuminated and it failed to compete with it. Chabon is a gifted and moving writer. I would rather have been reading one of his books.

My general objections aside I liked the arc of the story and I think it showed a great deal of potential. The parts that were told from story Jonathan Safran Foer’s perspective were interesting and intricate. I would be interested to see what writer Foer’s later work is like and how he has grown up as a writer.

After having spent a fair amount of time traveling in Russia and the surrounding area recently I enjoyed that aspect of the book. He effectively captured what it is like to travel in the former Soviet Union and what guides can be like at times.

The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge: Twenty-five years begins today

This summer my sister and I discovered a link to a Buzzfeed quiz asking “How Many Books From ‘Gilmore Girls’ Have You Read?” so of course we had to take the test. I scored a lowly 37. Something had to be done about this. So we started a book club. Each month we will read one book off the list that neither of us had read before. Not counting my existing 37 that leaves me with 301. Without any supplemental reading that will take 25 years. We are still young right?

After looking more carefully at the list we discovered that it was not actually every book that Rory had read over the course of the entire series but every book that was ever mentioned. Some were ridiculous like Robert’s Rules Of Order, which nobody who isn’t chairing important meetings or Model United Nations competitions would actually want to read cover to cover as are the seriously outdated travel books. Others were downright appealing and on my to read list anyways. Then there are the ones that will be torturous like Finnegans Wake. My sister has never to my knowledge read any James Joyce. I on the other hand am a seasoned veteran of attempting to wade through his prose and plan to snicker repeatedly at her string of bewildered emails. She has me beat on the Russians.

The first book is Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Unlike others who have undertaken the Challenge we have decide to forgo the numbering systems for the oh that one has a cool cover system. I am starting it today and have nine days to read it. After that Kate Chopin is waiting impatiently for me on the hold shelf of my local library.