Monthly Archives: November 2014

Hate Book Club: Fancy Pants

Hate Book Club

It’s time for a new installment of Hate Book Club! If you need a refresher, Patricia Ladd and I are reading books we think we will hate, and then reviewing them. Each post has to include a graph, a summarizing GIF, and at least some positive comments (sarcasm is allowed). I’m also doing little report cards at the end.

Fancy Pants, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, is a harrowing, even traumatic indictment of sexism in modern America. The men in the book are almost all abusive, shrill, selfish, and violent, while the independent women are warned about the dangers of being too feminist.

Dallas Beaudine, the main man, is a professional golf player who forces women to have sex and even dance against their will. He hits women, regularly fights other men, kidnaps a child, grabs a woman and drags her to a secret lair (where, helpless and isolated, she gives in to his lust), and throws people into swimming pools when they don’t submit to his will. As a teenager, he harasses passing females, even shoving one against a wall and groping her. Another male character in the book repeatedly rapes his niece. In fact, I count at least three rape victims in the book, plus a cast of teenage prostitutes and sex slaves so large that only one is ever given a name.

Another man dumps a woman out of a car in the middle of the desert, stealing her cash and her passport. The women in the novel are valued for only two things: their beauty and their ability to bear children. One of those women, confronted by a delusional man who has just committed a multitude of federal crimes, endangered his own life, and made a mockery of her on national television, is informed that he is her only chance at bearing children: so she marries him.

In other words, Fancy Pants is profoundly depressing, a veritable catalog of the harassment, assault, trivialization, objectification, belittlement, and hatred women are subjected to every day in this country. It’s also a demonstration of the primitive, even hateful mentality of anti-feminists. The characters are loathsome, self-centered cretins who spend almost every page shouting at each other.

Trouble is, Fancy Pants is actually a syrupy romance novel.

There’s also a cover with a relaxing cowboy, and another one with a giant cupcake. I don’t know why. None of the characters eat cupcakes.

For this month’s installment of Hate Book Club, my friend Patricia issued a challenge: find and read a trashy romance novel set in your home state. She went and found one for North Carolina called Grinding in Greenville (click for her review!), and I had to read one from Texas. (To give you an idea of Patricia’s definition of “trashy,” she rejected the NC-based Nicholas Sparks as too literary.)

I asked my librarian friend Elisa if she had any recommendations, and boy did she ever. Fancy Pants, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. “Fancy Pants is, as I recall, fairly absurd/formulaic,” Elisa wrote, and then later told me, “I know you’ll hate it.”

I do, but not for the reasons she thought. The book is actually well-written. Phillips ladles in absurd amounts of detail for the weirdest things: she’ll tell you exactly what every character eats for dinner, what designer label all the women are wearing, which golfer is in the lead after every day of a tournament, and what childhood incident explains every character’s psychoses. You’ll even find out how and when a main character’s mother lost her virginity.

But the detail mostly fleshes out the story and characters, making them plausible (though still disgusting). And Phillips writes with wit, casual silliness (“crying like a dumb old bunch of babies”), and a lot of references to authors like Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Salinger. Too bad the steamier scenes, in theory pretty terrific, are let down by a reliance on cliche (every time a woman takes off her clothes, she “reveals herself”). Well, and also rape.

In fact, the book is scarily stupid about sex. One character says, “I don’t want you to get pregnant. I’ll just put it in a little bit.” (She gets pregnant.) Another character is so afraid of AIDS that she decides to go celibate. And most of the sex in the book is non-consensual. Phillips knows some of the rape is rape, but she thinks some of it is hot and desirable. It’s like a vanilla, Texas-based version of 50 Shades written by a funny person.

And I haven’t even mentioned Francesca Day, the heroine, who’s carefully designed so that the audience will cheer on male characters who call her a bitch and throw her in swimming pools. She’s stupid, mean, spoiled, ignorant, loud, irritating, and entitled, until page 279, which is the exact moment when she stunningly reverses into a strong, independent, smart, capable woman. (Albeit a woman who still gets turned on by being assaulted.) Magical character transformations occur throughout, because Phillips is convinced that people are easily changeable.

I hope that's how you spell likeability

Handy graph of character transformations, likeability, and romantic success. Click to expand

Conclusion
Fancy pants is a good phrase to describe French deconstructionist literary critics who thought that we can’t judge a book by its author’s intent. But we should, and this book is a great proof.

If Susan Elizabeth Phillips intended to create a heartwarming, sappy tale of love conquering obstacles, she failed. If she intended to create a depressing catalog of women’s struggles to be given the respect they deserve, she succeeded. If she intended to make us hate the loathsome main characters, and think that they belong together because they are abusive assholes, she succeeded.

Unfortunately, her website has the slogan “Because Life’s Too Short to Read Depressing Books.”

So yeah, she failed. Life’s too short to read Fancy Pants.

The Worst Thing
Either the scene where a woman confronts the man who kidnapped her small child, but is so distracted by his good looks that she lets him have sex with her instead, or the scene where the novel’s alleged protagonist shoves a teenage girl he barely knows up against a wall and feels her up. Or the fact that that girl decides to marry him. Or the whole uncle-rape sequence.

Or this puke-worthy bit of dialogue:

“Great game, Dallie,” [Jack] Nicklaus said, putting his arm over Dallie’s shoulders. “You’re a real champion.”

The Best Thing
I actually smiled and/or chuckled fairly frequently while reading this. Mostly in the first 100 pages, however. My favorite part is probably the trashy vampire movie director who takes himself too seriously, and the smart, fair, reasonable, down-to-earth director’s assistant, Sally. After a couple pages, I thought, “Oh, this novel ends with Sally getting the man she deserves because she’s so wonderful!” Ha, nope.

The GIF That Summarizes My Overall Reaction
Well, I read this book on public transportation, so…

…should have tried this.

Hate Book Club Report Card
(all scores on scale of 1-10, with 10 being most)

Hateability of message: 6
Hateability of writing style: 1
Pleasure derived from hating book: 6

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Hate Book Club: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Hate Book Club

It’s time for a new installment of Hate Book Club! If you need a refresher, Patricia Ladd and I are reading books we think we will hate, and then reviewing them. Each post has to include a graph, a summarizing GIF, and at least some positive comments (sarcasm is allowed). I’m also doing little report cards at the end. Go read Patricia’s review too!

This month we focus on one of the sacred texts of the 1950s 1990s: Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, by John Gray, Ph.D.

Mars Venus cover

In case you have somehow never seen this book before.

First of all: about John Gray, Ph.D. According to Wikipedia, “He received a bachelors and masters degree in the Science of Creative Intelligence” from Maharishi schools, and then an “unaccredited” Ph.D. “by correspondence” from a university which was later shut down by court order. This “educational background” might explain the handy chart I’ve created below.

Chart

Please do click to expand this to full size. There is a wealth of hidden detail.

That’s important. John Gray pulled this entire book out of his capacious Martian ass. It’s a catalog of stereotypes. I was expecting this to be at least interestingly bad, but it’s not. It’s boring stereotypes nonstop. Men get lost while driving because they won’t ask for directions (Gray insists that women should never complain about this). Women are emotionally needy. Men don’t listen, nor do they know how to say things like “mm-hmm” to indicate they are listening. Women, but never men, get annoyed by messiness. Men, but never women, just want to watch TV. All women love shopping. Men are ambitious at work, while women want to make friends with everybody. “You Are Never Upset for the Reason You Think.”

In an early chapter, I learned that, based on “values”, I am a woman.

In a later chapter, I learned that, based on tactics for addressing potential fights, I am still a woman.

I also learned that, without love from the opposite sex, everyone is constantly depressed. “When the first Martian discovered the Venusians,” he was “stuck in his cave and unable to find the source of his depression.” “From just one glimpse his life had new meaning. His depression lifted.” Same goes for women: “She dreamed that a fleet of spaceships from the heavens would land and a race of strong and caring Martians would emerge….Other Venusians had similar dreams and instantly came out of their depressions.”

All women crave a spaceknight in shining space-armor to rescue them from depression. This is convenient because, just as “every” woman has “a scared little girl” inside her, “every” man has “a knight in shining armor” inside him.

Now, some stereotypes are true, of course. John Gray works on the Nostradamus principle: if he’s vague enough, and broad enough, everybody will have a few “Aha!” moments. Sometimes he would describe me, and my fears, successfully, whether he was describing me as male or female. But at other times the stereotyping veers off the rails, like the chapter about Love Letters. Love Letters are complaint letters written in this format:

“Dear Jane, I am frustrated about XYZ problem in our relationship. It makes me sad that we have this problem. I am afraid we might drift apart. I regret XYZ thing. I love you and appreciate you for doing some other nice thing that this letter is not about. Love, Bob”

“Start with anger, then sadness, then fear, then regret, and then love,” Gray commands. “Include all five sections in your letter.” Not often you hear someone say anger is mandatory. But the place where the stereotype kicks in is this: men have no idea what women want, and men can’t possibly understand women, so if you are a woman writing a letter to a man, you need to write his reply for him. This will make him happy, since he doesn’t have to use any brain cells figuring out how to reply.

So how does a book claiming all men are Ray Barone and all women are Betty Draper, with no evidence, sell millions of copies and become a cultural icon? By being full of common sense and basic decency. At heart, John Gray’s message is simple:

  1. Be respectful.
  2. Communicate honestly and openly.
  3. Listen without getting angry.
  4. Be aware that other people don’t work the same way you do.
  5. If you love somebody, let them know, by words or deeds or any mode of expression they appreciate. (He doesn’t mention food, but I assume that counts.)

Which is a great list! Those are great things! And we should all follow them. The problem with this book is that the good stuff is not presented differently from the bullshit.

Only on one topic does Gray veer from amiably doltish to genuinely harmful: “Most physical diseases are now widely accepted as being directly related to our unresolved emotional pain.” “Women who have learned successfully to deal with their feelings have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.”

Not a real doctor

Friendly reminder

Conclusion
The most noteworthy thing about Mars/Venus: it’s really boring. I’m amazed at how boring the book is. The only reason I finished it is because I was curious to find out if Gray ever mentions same-sex relationships. (No. Gay people do not exist in Mars/Venus.)

This book’s success makes me cynical. Its best advice is something people won’t buy from their parents, or coworkers, or religious leaders. The reason they bought it from John Gray is a stupid, misleading metaphor which “proves” that men and women can be collapsed into opposite, and conflicting, cheesy stereotypes.

Have you read Patricia’s review yet? Here’s another link.

The Worst Thing
Is it even close? “Women who have learned successfully to deal with their feelings have felt their PMS symptoms disappear.” The other top candidate is right on the first page, when Gray admits that just days after his wife had a baby, he was storming out of the house whenever she complained about being stressed. The guy’s a doofus.

The Best Thing
At least after that storming-out story, he admitted he was wrong. He admits he’s wrong with disarming frequency.

The GIF That Summarizes My Overall Reaction

Hate Book Club Report Card
(all scores on scale of 1-10, with 10 being most)

Hateability of message: 7
Hateability of writing style: 7
Pleasure derived from hating book: 2

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Hot Pepper Kit Kat

Exciting culinary news! My friend Elaine gave me a Japanese hot-pepper-flavored Kit Kat bar.

Hot pepper Kit Kat

Hooray!

The chocolate is slightly darker and subtler than an American Kit Kat, so around the classic wafer crunch you get a bit less of an aggressive sugary kick.

There is hot pepper in here – probably cayenne. It appears halfway through your bite and leaves a pleasant afterburn when you swallow. Not too spicy, not as bad as, say, American “cinnamon” hard candies. All in all, very pleasant. Tasty! I would absolutely eat hot pepper Kit Kat bars again.

Elaine informs me that Amazon stocks a variety 18-pack of mini Kit Kats for $30. You also get wasabi, rum raisin, purple potato, and “pumkin pudding”, among other flavors. If you want, you can also get 12-packs of the hot pepper, wasabi, purple potato, and other flavors. (Purple potato is only available in the southernmost regions of Japan: “Okinawa and Kyushu Area Limited Flavor”. Cool.)

Elaine also pointed me to a website where you can get a crate of wacky Japanese candies delivered to your door for $12 per month. Every month you get a “mystery box” that might include lychee gummies, “chocolate mushrooms,” little koala-shaped crackers with chocolate filling, or let’s be honest, it could be anything.

Of course, as my friends and coworkers well know, my favorite Japanese candy is Every Burger, the little chocolate cookies lovingly shaped to look like cheeseburgers.

Every Burger

Complete with fake sesame seeds.

Oh, Japan, how are you skinny?

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