18 April 2011

Weekend quickies.

The Great Perhaps, Joe Meno: Sometimes a book is pleasant and competent, and that's perfectly all right. I enjoyed reading The Great Perhaps, I enjoyed the characters (the Caspers, a Chicago family of four all with their own quirks and fears). I especially enjoyed that they got a happy ending, because beforehand there was too much of a whiff of Great American Novel, a ridiculous notion that usually means OMG the Suburbs Are So Devoid of Hope or Culture, and the way this played out felt much closer to my experience of life as it's lived.

A Shore Thing, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi: No, I haven't watched Jersey Shore, and I shan't; I'm only one-quarter Sicilian, but my late grandmother Josephine Zaffiro Perleberg was proud of her heritage and active in the Italian-American community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I can't help but think she'd be disgusted by the show's portrayal of her cultural companions as the worst and laziest minority stereotypes (sex-obsessed, drunken, materialistic), particularly since she could remember a time when Italians weren't yet "white." I can't imagine such a show being aired with Hispanic or African-American casts without a national hue and cry--which of course there SHOULD be.
That aside, from my position as pop culture outsider, I am fascinated by ubiquitous ephemera like the Shore phenomenon--and while I may not be willing to waste my time watching the show, I'm always willing to waste my time reading a (free) book. And this "novel" is both exactly as bad as you think it is and better than you think it is. The gender politics are repulsive, as are all the characters--simultaneously debauched and naive--and the plot is negligible except when it's laughable. Somehow, though, I had a good time reading in. I have to credit Snooki's "collaborator," Valerie Frankel (who seems to be a prolific chick-lit/romance/mystery/disposable fiction powerhouse, judging by her Amazon page), with the froth and lightness of tone and voice that keeps the book moving. No, of course it's not good. Yes, of course it's silly it got a hardcover publication. And true, I discovered my reading-on-the-subway shame threshold, as I took off the dust jacket and hid the spine in my lap. Allow me, though, to paraphrase the A.V. Club's intro to their brilliant "I Watched This on Purpose" feature: "Sometimes, even I'm not impervious to the sexy allure of ostensible cultural garbage."
(P.S. I gave this the same amount of stars on Goodreads as I gave Anna Karenina. This is a) hilarious, and b) a demonstration of the limits of star-based rubrics for evaluating literary achievement. To be perfectly honest, though, I had more fun reading the Jersey mind candy than the Russian classic.)


  1. This is you:

    "I find this show to be offensive, racist, and offensively. Why isn't there a public outcry? It should be taken off the air!


    Of course I haven't seen it!"


  2. I find your FACE to be offensive, sweetie.
    And I think it's pretty OK to not consume pop-cultural products you're not interested in consuming--or to judge something as pervasive as Jersey Shore without having watched it. I can tell you that this book, which I did read--you saw it!--was often offensive. Happy to pass it along.

  3. Of course one can make reasonable assumptions about art one hasn't seen/read/eaten/experienced, etc. but I think suggesting it should be met with public outcry (presumably with the intent of getting it taken off the air or changing it's characters to something more representative of the admirable aspects of Jersey Shore culture) without having seen it seems...bad?

    What art work will you ask to be banned next without it's fair day in court, Perleberg? Huckleberry Finn? The Bible?!?

    First, they came for Snooki, and I said nothing...


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