Book Review: Beautiful You

I was thinking of a word to describe how I feel this month, and my first instinct was to go with “procrastination.” After all, how else do I explain why this book review is a month late?

On closer examination, it’s not that I’m purposefully ignoring everything that I’ve got on my plate. It’s that my plate is too small, my helpings too large, and I don’t have enough time or energy to take on everything. Work is busier than ever now that I’ve been promoted, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish my personal goals.

It hasn’t all been a failure though. I may not be on track with my writing quota or blog views, but I’m managing to squeeze some extra minutes in between working, reading, writing, and blogging (can’t forget sleeping!) to devote to learning Italian through the free app Duolingo in preparation for my trip to Europe this spring.

Needless to say (even though I still wanted to explain myself), I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. I knew that reviewing this book would be a challenge, but I’m finally ready to tell you how I really feel about Chuck Palahniuk’s most recent novel.

NOTE: Please understand that this book is extremely sexually graphic and is only intended to be read by mature readers. As such, consider my review R-rated! You’ve been warned!

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 2 out of 5

I think one of the women in my book club summed up Beautiful You the best with these three words:

“Flying. Flaming. Dildos.”

If I was still in college, I could spend hours writing essay after essay about this novel, but for the sake of time, let me give you all a brief synopsis: protagonist Penny Harrigan is working at a law firm in Manhattan when she catches the attention of C. Linus Maxwell (aka “Climax-Well”), a tech billionaire with plans to release a line of sex toys for women. After a few ultra-fancy dates, Penny becomes Maxwell’s girlfriend/test subject, experiencing pleasure like never before.

The reader clearly learns that this orgasmic bliss wears off, since the very first scene of the story begins at the end, with Penny being sexually assaulted in a courtroom while everyone merely gawks at her, offering no defense whatsoever. As shocking as the scene is, you’re immediately hooked into wanting to learn the details of Penny’s rise and fall as the co-creator of Maxwell’s Beautiful You products.

I can’t say much else without giving away the entire plot, but its controversial subject matter made it an excellent choice for our book club. How would a dozen ladies view a book about women addicted to their vibrators that was written by a gay man?

We all agreed that this novel was downright strange. Although we found it similar to the poor girl/rich man power struggle of Fifty Shades of Grey, no one thought it was sexy. The actual sex scenes were clinical and sterile, with Maxwell as mere observer to Penny, his science experiment.

Another comparison I made was to Davey Havok’s Pop Kids, which was equally pornographic in nature without any real romance. Both stories played up the satire: Pop Kids was a response to the obsession with celebrity, whereas Beautiful You addresses the economic and political effects of advertising in a capitalist society.

I’d be the first to sing the praises of Fight Club for its anti-capitalistic message. This was the phenomenal novel that brought us gems like this:

Image via Pinterest

Straight, cisgender men have been seduced by scantily-clad women in advertisements for decades. One only has to look to the likes of AXE body spray and Carl’s Jr. for evidence. It seemed that Palahniuk was trying to flip feminism on its head by imagining a world in which women, as the primary controllers of household spending, were sold sex–literally. How would society fare if half its population was rendered incapacitated by its hedonistic urges?

Unfortunately, like Pop Kids, the satire in Beautiful You fell flat for me. Palahniuk probably thought he was being oh-so-clever with this sexual world domination story, and pissing off hordes of feminists like myself was likely icing on his cake. As much as I loved Fight Club, I fear that Palahniuk may be resorting to shock value simply because he can take all the risks he wants and every publisher on the planet would still want to represent him.

My book club is more forgiving than me, rating Beautiful You 3 out of 5 stars, but I’m curious to hear what you think as well! Is Chuck Palahniuk a literary genius or just phoning it in? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The real-life Book Club Babes!

The real-life Book Club Babes!

Up next for our book club is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! The movie adaptation comes out Feb. 5th, so grab a copy of the novel quickly if you’d like to join us virtually!

Top Ten Quotes from My Favorite Books

Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is about our favorite quotes from literature. Books have the power to put your deepest, most complex thoughts into words that stick with you for your entire life.

I’ve separated these ten quotes into three categories: existential ideas that make you think, timeless adages that make you appreciate each moment, and heart-wrenching words that make you pine for love and mourn its absence.

Let me know what you think of these quotes, and feel free to add your own!

Evoking Existentialism

1. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

2. The Stranger by Albert Camus

3. Demian by Hermann Hesse

The Traveling of Time

4. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

6. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Love and Loss

7. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

10. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Top Ten Favorite Film Adaptations of Books

When it comes to blogging memes, I don’t follow any consistently, but I like jumping in when I like the topic (not to mention, when I’ve got the time!). It’s rare that I post on a Tuesday, but Alison Doherty at Hardcovers and Heroines inspired me to discuss my favorite movie adaptations of books.

Without further ado! In order from good to greatest:

  • Fight Club, based on the book by Chuck Palahnuik

I was surprised to find out that Daniel Day-Lewis starred in two of these films…but then again, I shouldn’t be because he’s an amazing actor! So which movies would you add to your list?

If you’d like to follow this Top Ten meme, check out The Broke and The Bookish!

Non-Fiction Week: Generation Me

Cover of "Generation Me: Why Today's Youn...

Cover via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

GenY. Millennials. NetGen. iGen. Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., is throwing another term in the ring to describe the current generation of young adults: Generation Me.

Twenge defines GenMe as anyone born in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, thereby including the later part of GenX, but I’d argue that that timeline is much too long. Typically, we’re talking about those born between 1982-2000. (Sorry, Twenge, you’re too old to play in our clubhouse!) Some extend the demographics a little longer, and overlaps can exist, but in my opinion, 9/11 serves as a stark divider between generations in America.

Media outlets would have everybody believe that anyone under 30 is snotty and spoiled, which Twenge addresses in the full title of her book: Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled — and more miserable than ever before.

Who wouldn’t pay attention with a title like that?

Huh? Pay attention to what? I’m too busy texting people right next to me.

What I like about Twenge is that she actually examines the stereotypes to determine to what extent they apply. Using data from 12 studies on 1.3 million young Americans, she highlights the differences between the babies and the Baby Boomers.

Here’s just a sample of her research:

  • GenMe is not very religious: Only 18% of 18-29yo attend weekly religious services, and while few would label themselves non-believers, most prefer their faith unorganized.
  • GenMe has high expectations of success, but few actually meet them: 75% of college freshman in 2003 desired an advanced degree, but only 4% will go on to receive a Ph.D. In 1999, teens also predicted they would be earning $75,000 at 30yo. The average income at that age that year? $27,000.
  • GenMe has delayed traditional markers of adulthood: Average age of first marriage is 27 for men and 25 for women. “In 2002, 57% of men and 43% of women ages 22 to 31 lived with their parents.” And only 37% receive their bachelor’s degrees in four years.
  • GenMe is house-poor: “The number of middle-class families who paid over 35% of their income toward the mortgage more than quadrupled between 1975 and 2001. With the median home now selling for $219,000 and the median family income at around $43,000, the average American family would need to spend 5 times their income to buy this home.”
  • GenMe is buried in debt: “Average student loan debt has increased 85% in the last ten years alone; 66% of recent college graduates owe more than $10,000, and 5% own more than $100,000.” And that’s just undergrad!
  • GenMe is risking its health: Only 25% of adults 25-34 have health insurance, and bankruptcies caused by illness or medical debt increased 2,200% between 1981 and 2001.

I’ll admit that after reading this information, you can feel so overwhelmed that you just want to give up. How can anyone survive with such a rapidly rising standard of living?

Sounds about right!

And even though over half my paycheck goes to rent, I’m lucky enough to have a Bachelor’s and Master’s with only a small student loan, a full-time job that provides health insurance and a 401(k), no credit card debt, and a family that supported me until I was able to find a place of my own.

That doesn’t mean that life can’t take it all away at any moment. Everyone is only one accident, illness, or layoff away from poverty. So I’d argue that these hard economic times mean that the majority of 20-somethings are working insanely hard to support themselves.  Sure, there’s always freeloaders mooching off their parents or the government, but for a generation that doesn’t expect to receive Social Security, most try their hardest to move up the income ladder.

But times were tough in the old days too. So why is GenMe medicating depression and anxiety like never before? I’m so glad that Twenge pulled from this quote from “Fight Club,” because it explains the sentiment perfectly:

“God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables – slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We’ve been all raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Although, it’s awfully hard to stay pissed off when staring at Brad Pitt…

And it’s that gulf between expectation and reality that has GenMe miserable. Twenge discusses how telling kids that they can “achieve their dreams” because “anything is possible” is damaging. Inflating their self-esteem and giving them trophies just for participating has increased narcissism to rampant proportions.

Ask any teacher who’s been working for decades, like my mother. She has witnessed the decline of children’s behavior due to their parents treating them like special snowflakes who are perfect and can do no wrong. And there’s nothing a school can do when parents refuse to have their child held back a year or recognize their learning disabilities.

It seems harmless to let your children dress themselves or pick what they want to eat. But when parents forfeit all decision-making power, their kids grow up to be obnoxious princes and princesses.

Amen!

And when they realize they’re not actually princes and princesses? They’re now part of a disgruntled, attention-deficit workforce, making employers frustrated by high turnover.

I’m not saying that all young adults are ungrateful brats. But too many are, and it’s giving GenMe a bad–but often deserved–reputation. Yet, it’s easy to point fingers, because who do you think raised us? The Baby Boomers and GenX are simply reaping what they sow.

So what can we all do? Twenge’s last chapter gives some suggestions for several groups:

  • Employers: Recognize hard work and give praise when deserved; Offer good salaries, benefits, and flexible schedules; Establish paid maternal/paternal leave.
  • Educators: Provide better career counseling; Create a system of public pre-schools; Change school hours to mirror working hours.
  • Parents: Teach self-control and good behavior; Don’t automatically side with your child; Limit media exposure to violence.
  • GenMe: Limit consumption of materialistic media; Avoid overthinking; Value social relationships; Cultivate realistic expectations; Get involved in your community.

I particularly love the idea of changing school hours because it would make afternoon day care unnecessary, keep kids from getting into trouble, and improve academic performance. Why adults start their day at 9am, but kids who need more sleep are forced to start at 7:30am boggles my mind!

Ultimately, I recommend Generation Me to anyone interested in generational research and would like to learn more about what it means for the future. Whether you’re 27 or 72, Twenge’s findings demonstrate that there is much to discover about how young Americans play a major role in society.

“When Life Gets Really Hard” from #whatshouldwecallme…If only!

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

To explain today’s post, I have to use my fellow book blogger Wanton Creation’s intro, since he put it so perfectly:

“Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted over at The Broke And The Bookish. I haven’t participated in these before, but today’s one looked quite fun so I figured why not?”

Why not indeed? Let’s get started!

Image via The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

  1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
  3. Demian – Hermann Hesse
  4. 1984 – George Orwell
  5. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  6. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  8. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  9. Fight Club –  Chuck Palahniuk
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Reviewing this list, I realized some things. As much as I love The Lord of the Rings, I find that I do not recommend it often, since it’s truly an acquired taste that unless you’re giddy for fantasy, you won’t stomach well.

I also noticed how much I enjoy pushing classic dystopian and existential literature (also known as books to piss you off and shake things up!) onto those who have jumped onto The Hunger Games bandwagon. Orwell, Huxley, and Bradbury are my Holy Trinity of oppressive governments!

Lastly, Never Let Me Go will continue to be my top recommendation, for these reasons:

  • It’s a perfect blend of romance, tragedy, science fiction, and other genres–thus, appealing to a wide audience.
  • I can’t say much without giving away the plot, so the mystery gets people intrigued.
  • Ishiguro is a literary genius, and I would recommend anything he writes. 
  • It’s just what the world needs, given the over-saturation of Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James, and Nicholas Sparks. ESPECIALLY Nicholas Sparks. In fact, my loathing of him deserves its own blog post in the near future. So be on the look-out!

I would have included some ancient Greek and Shakespearean plays, but I don’t consider them “books,” so do a bit of searching, and I’m sure you’ll find some great choices.

So what would your top recommendations be? Would you veto any of mine? Sound off in the comments!

Masterpiece Monday: Book Versus Movie (Venn Diagram Edition)

So I found this Venn diagram the other day on TheFrisky.com, and since we were discussing classic novels and their respective film adaptations yesterday, I figured you all would have plenty to say about this.

As for me, I completely agree that The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter, and One Day are better as books. However, I think that Never Let Me Go is outstanding either way, and I’d avoid Beloved in any form.

I’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who hated The Godfather, Fight Club, and The Princess Bride as movies, but I’d add that Fight Club is just as kick-ass on paper. And obviously, Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird deserve to overlap both categories.

Lastly, after reading interviews of the egotistical, pompous jerk that is Nicholas Sparks, I refuse to give him any money whatsoever. I only wish I knew about his arrogance before I watched The Notebook, because I admit that it was a great movie, for being a sappy sob-fest, that is.

I haven’t read or watched most of the others, so please enlighten me with your opinions. Did this diagram get it right? What would you add? Let’s keep the debate going!