Category Archives: Hate Book Club

Hate Book Club: Interview with the Vampire

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!

Interview with the Vampire, the 1970s novel by Anne Rice, is the book that rebooted the vampire craze by rewriting the mythology and adding an electric undercurrent of sex appeal. Which is why it’s surprising to find out that the book is totally boring.

I thought (and, I think, Patricia thought) this would be a bodice-ripping tale of excitement, bloodthirst, and poisoned romance. And I guess technically those things are still there. But, in practice, it’s complicated. For instance, our narrator, Louis the Vampire, does fall madly in love with a girl vampire. Unfortunately, she’s five years old. Imagine if Lolita was half her age, but thought and spoke like an adult, and you have a pretty good idea of it. Creepy? Yes, very. It’s downright unpleasant. Continue reading

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Hate Book Club: Trump: The Art of the Deal

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!

Usually on Hate Book Club, my friend Patricia and I try to keep it timeless, by hopping around all the most hateable books in world literature. Well, okay, at least American literature. But this month we’ve chosen a book that couldn’t be timelier. Except maybe if we’d chosen it last month instead.

Trump_the_art_of_the_deal

The 20th Anniversary Edition has a new title, Trump: I Had Decent Hair Once.

Yes: Trump: The Art of the Deal, by Donald J. Trump and Tony Ghostwriter. What can we learn about 2016’s most terrifying presidential candidate by reading his 1987 self-help-slash-memoir guide to dealmaking?

A lot, it turns out. The first thing we learn is: Donald Trump can be really, really, really dull. I bet you’re thinking Trump: The Art of the Deal would be outrageous, or cringe-inducing, or full of Trump saying outrageous things. It’s not. It is tedious as shit.

Imagine your dream book. How many times do you want to read the phrase “tax abatement” in your dream book? Only, like, 5 times, right? Well, Donald Trump talks about tax abatements a whole lot more than 5 times in The Art of the Deal. See, this is not a book of advice. It’s a rote, moment-by-moment retelling of all his most successful deals, conveniently leaving out all the stuff that you would expect him to conveniently leave out. But, as much as Trump leaves out about his failings or secret schemes, he includes a lot of really dull stuff. Continue reading

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Hate Book Club: Here’s the Situation

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.

Well, Patricia and I may have finally broken Hate Book Club. See, this time we picked a book we thought we’d hate, as usual, except…we liked it. (Here is her review.)

Yes, this is real.

Yes, this is real.

Here’s the Situation is the autobiography/self-help advice book by Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, star of MTV’s Jersey Shore. The Situation rose to prominence on Jersey Shore after a failed first career working at a gym. His claim to fame: being muscular, tanned, promiscuous, and basically brainless.

But wait! The ghostwriter is Chris Millis, a humor writer and cartoonist who uses the book as an opportunity to make a cascade of jokes at The Situation’s expense. It’s not totally clear how much of the book The Situation was involved in writing, or honestly how much of it he ever read. There’s a good chance that he just flipped through the manuscript and said “sure.”

The result is stuff like: “I recently brought three girls back to my hotel room. After a little bit of fun, I realized I was down to two girls. It took me thirty minutes to discover the missing chick was lost in a crevice in my six-pack.” And: “Personally, my favorite drink in the club is anything given to me free, because I’m famous.” And: “I spent $1,828.94 on tanning in fiscal 2009.” And: “In my life, I’ve been a regular guy and I’ve been an international superstar. But the moral of my story is that I like the second thing a lot better.” Continue reading

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Hate Book Club: Daughter of the Blood

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.

This month, we challenged each other to read dreadful books from our own past. I tasked Patricia with one of the worst novels I’ve ever read, The Natural by Bernard Malamud (here’s her review!!), while she saddled me with Daughter of the Blood, a fantasy novel by Anne Bishop. We’re not sure who won/lost this matchup. Both of these books are unspeakably, painfully, grindingly awful.

Daughter of the Blood

Even the cover image is giving me memory shivers.

This is the book that almost broke me. If I was ever going to give up our book club, this would be the time. But I didn’t. How smart of a decision that was, the reader may decide.

How terrible is Daughter of the Blood? Well, the first problem is that it’s utterly impenetrable. Author Anne Bishop offers no help to the novice reader. This is the first book in a series, but aside from a couple of weird glossaries involving the rankings of different jewel colors, you just get thrown in with no guidance. First some crazy lady gives a prophecy, but it’s not clear why the prophecy is important or why people care about it. Then we suddenly zoom forward like 700 years, but we’re still in the same weird medieval kingdom. A very weird medieval kingdom, as you shall see.

So the plot is, uh, okay, bear with me. There’s this girl. She’s like seven years old, and then suddenly she turns 12. She is super duper magical and is not only a witch, but the ultimate witch, so people call her Witch. Apparently this is good news. The prophecy spoke about her. She’s supposed to do something really important that everybody’s excited about. But, what is it? Aside from be super powerful? Nobody explains. We just get told she’s super important and powerful.

Also, the characters are impossible to remember. That’s because none of them has even the slightest shred of personality or interest. Plus, a lot of their names are similar. There’s this guy named Daemon, and a guy named Saetan, and a guy named Lucivar (and a minor character named Uncle Bob) (not joking here), and sometimes they live in Hell, but sometimes they live in Hayll. And it’s not clear whether this is the more famous Hell or not, and likewise the characters. And I don’t know what Hayll is. If this universe has a Daemon and a Saetan and a Lucivar, where is the Godde and Gawd and Gahd? Or Jezus and Jeezis? Continue reading

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Hate Book Club: The Overton Window

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. Here’s a link to her write-up.

This month’s Hate Book:

The Overton Window

The Overton Window: A Thriller, by Glenn Beck

“If Molly was right, then a cute but quirky mailroom temp had identified a grand, unified, liberty-crushing conspiracy that had been hatched in the conference room of a PR agency.” (p. 141)

Few books can be easily summarized in one of their own sentences, but The Overton Window can. That quote has everything, starting with a free admission that the book sounds ridiculous. Part of the challenge of Glenn Beck’s novel is figuring out when he knows he’s being silly, and when he doesn’t know.

The best example is Molly, the “cute but quirky mailroom temp.” She’s introduced as perfection itself, and she’s the only major female character in the book. She’s naturally beautiful, a free spirit, a Tea Partier, talks sassily back to boys, has tight blue jeans that hug her butt, and, of course, “she hardly wore any makeup, it seemed, nothing needed concealment or embellishment.” [sic] (p. 11) And then, despite all that wild child behavior, it takes her about fifteen minutes to fall in love with our hero.

Plot twist! Glenn Beck knows that’s ridiculous! It turns out Molly is a cunning double agent whose goal was to seduce our hero from the start, and she’d carefully researched all the right traits to appeal to him (he likes bad girls with no makeup). So it was all too good to be true, and the joke’s on stupid Noah Gardner for thinking otherwise.

Except, of course, at the end it turns out she really is a hero and she really did fall in love with him. That’s The Overton Window in a nutshell.

By the way, about our stupid protagonist Noah Gardner: he’s another example of that classic cliche, the Inexperienced and/or Dumb White Guy Whom Circumstances Force to Become a Hero. He’s like a hornier Luke Skywalker, joining the right wing fringe to chase Molly and then basically doing whatever she says in an effort to get in her pants. Every character in the novel has an Anglo/Irish last name, by the way: Gardner, Ross, Churchill, Bailey, Kearns, Landers, Nelan, Halliday. No racial minorities or even continental European types here!

Although The Overton Window is a thriller, it takes politics more seriously than thrilling you. There are extensive political speeches and conversations throughout; most memorably, Noah and Molly kiss for the first time, then immediately begin debating reforms to the IRS tax code. Beck extensively quotes a lot of thinkers who’d be surprised to find themselves quoted here: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Rudyard Kipling, Woodrow Wilson, Shakespeare, Dale Carnegie, Saul Alinsky, Andre Gide, and, most perversely, Martin Luther King Jr.

Handy chart

Handy chart

But the funniest invocation is Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in a two-chapter cliffhanger where Molly disguises herself as Natalie Portman. Why Natalie Portman? Well, as Noah says, “She’s an A-lister but she’s done mostly art-house films, so the average Joe probably couldn’t pick her out of a lineup.” (p. 229) It makes perfect sense! The book was released in 2010, when the average Joe had definitely not seen Natalie Portman in Heat, Star Wars I-III, Zoolander, Cold Mountain, Garden State, The Other Boleyn Girl, or V for Vendetta.

I digress. Here’s the plot of the thriller. Noah is a dumb horndog who attends a right-wing fringe rally because cute girl Molly tells him to go. The rally is perfectly diverse: “there seemed to be no clear exclusions based on race, or class, or any of the other traditional media-fed American cultural divides. It was a total cross section, a mix of everyone” (pp. 50-51). The rally is also infiltrated by bad guys who start a riot, getting Noah and Molly arrested. (At first it seems the bad guys are NYPD cops, and Glenn Beck distrusts the police, but nope, by the end we find out that the NYPD is all good guys.) Later, Noah and Molly discover the vast conspiracy to destroy America, which was indeed created by a PR agency, which involves dropping a nuclear bomb on Senator Harry Reid’s office, and which is clearly explained to Noah and Molly via a PowerPoint presentation. Yes, they spend crucial chapters sitting in a room clicking through slides.

Needless to say, the evil conspirators are the government, because the government is big and evil. Their plan is to blame the terrorist attack on right-wing extremists, arrest everyone in the Tea Party, and then destroy the Second Amendment en route to a dictatorship. At the end of the book, the Harry Reid assassination attempt has been thwarted, but everything else is still on. I think Beck wants us to get excited for a sequel where the real showdown happens, since there’s no climactic showdown at all in this book. In fact, there’s barely any action at all: one shootout, one woman getting poisoned, and some breaking-and-entering.

As much as it pains me to say this, Glenn Beck has some political views that I like. He’s angry about our surveillance state (and would later, correctly, call Edward Snowden a hero and a patriot), he objects to police having military equipment, and he shares our outrage about some of America’s dumber experiments in imperialism (like destroying Guatemalan democracy in the 1950s). But, just when you think he’s being a little enlightened, he randomly complains that vaccinations are terrible, or one of his characters eats “an Al Sharpton”: “fried chicken and waffles.” (Molly, despite being from the south, has “never heard of chicken and waffles.” [p. 103] What??? Also, fyi, the Al Sharpton is a real thing on a real menu, so Beck is giving us a restaurant recommendation, and is not being racist. Well, maybe a little.)

So there are positives to the book. It’s humorous, sometimes on purpose. Like a broken clock, Glenn Beck’s views are right sometimes. And Noah and Molly’s “witty” “flirtatious” “banter” achieves a weird hideous transcendence, like George-Michael and Ann:

But the best part is the cover. The back cover is littered with hilarious bullshit quotes from actual thriller novel writers. Brad Thor (which is a real person’s name) says “Glenn Beck has just shattered the thriller barrier.” Vince Flynn: “A visionary work of fiction.” James Rollins: “This Hitchcockian thriller will have you turning pages well into the night.”

Uh, you guys write thrillers for a living, right? You know there should be way more shootouts, car chases, cold-blooded assassins, and Russian submarines in this book, right? Instead of all the scenes where Noah and Molly fill out crossword puzzles and reminisce about taking penmanship classes as kids? How many of your books have chapters where the characters use PowerPoint?

And then there’s the front cover. Did you notice that on this book, the Statue of Liberty is a muscular dude with a beard??? What?!??!?!

"Enhance. Enhance." - CSI: Glenn Beck's Warped Reality

“Enhance. Enhance.” – CSI: Glenn Beck’s Warped Reality

Conclusion (and link to Patricia’s review)
I can think of no better way to end this review than to inform you that the book contains this conversation:

She ran her hands through her hair and stretched again, wriggled herself under the covers, and rolled onto her side with one arm across him, the long, cool silkiness of her bare legs against his skin.

“Now see?” Noah said. “That’s what I just asked you not to do.”

“I’m only getting comfortable.” Her voice was already sleepy, and she shivered a bit. “My feet are cold.”

“Suit yourself, lady. I’m telling you right now, you made the rules, but you’re playing with fire here. I’ve got some rules, too, and rule number one is, don’t tease the panther.” (p. 114)

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: 8
Hateability of writing style: 4
Pleasure derived from hating book: 9

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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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