I’m Not Comfortable Feeling Uncomfortable (The Reason Why I Almost Threw Out My Copy of The First Bad Man)

Miranda July

Here is author Miranda July, looking like a real-life version of SNL’s Gilly. “Sorry!”

I’ve never really considered myself to be a sensitive person (and I don’t mean that in the emotional way. In that case, then yes. Yes I’m very sensitive.) What I mean is, I always thought I was hard to gross out. I mean, I watch ‘Tim and Eric’ without any hesitation and I’ve always had a strange spot in my heart for toilet humor. One would assume, I could handle some weird and uncomfortable stuff. But then came Miranda July’s book, The First Bad Man and all that changed.

I have never in my life found a book that hit all my triggers quite like this book did. And I don’t mean that in a positive way.

Trigger #1. Real Violence

For all the weird stuff I can handle, violence has always made me feel queasy, and that’s no exaggeration. I literally get nauseous if I see a person punch another person. Oddly enough, movie violence doesn’t have the same effect. I can handle that. My mind knows that it’s pretend. But if I see footage on the news of people fighting, that’s it. I’m nauseous.

When I started this book, I had no idea what it was about. Man, was I surprised when this book took a hard left turn into weird lady-fight-club land! Although the violence is fiction, it was written in a way that felt realistic. And clearly it was too realistic for me because with every punch, I felt the waves of nausea crash against me.

Trigger #2. Feet Smell

I have a particularly sensitive sense of smell. For example, I have been known to sniff out minor gas leaks and identify the colognes of strangers passing by. If I love a smell, I love it with all my heart. But if I hate a smell, my brain will not allow me to get used to it. Instead, it will torture me to the point that it’s the only thing I can think about. Even if it’s a phantom smell. Let me explain…

When we are first introduced to one of the characters, the narrator decides to mention how bad the person’s feet smell. The description was so vivid, I felt like I could smell those stinky feet too. It grossed me the hell out. However, I decided to forge on with the hope that the description would be a one time occurrence. To my dismay, the feet were mentioned again. And then again and again. And to make it worse, the author decided to mention the stinky feet smell during a scene where the narrator was describing one of her sexual fantasies. The combination was so horrific that I found myself completely balled up on the couch, concerned that I was going to be sick.

Trigger #3. Very Unsexy Dirty Talk

I know calling oneself a prude is not flattering. No one wants to be a prude. Unfortunately for me, deep down, I shamefully have prude-ish qualities. I think these qualities stem from a watching a lot of music videos on VH1 at a very young age.

For a brief time when I was very young, I was was mildly obsessed with labeling things as “too sexy.” During this time, I became really great at censoring myself on behalf of my parents (who by the way, had no idea I was doing this). If a music video came on that was romantic or sexual in any way, I would think “this is not age appropriate for me” and deem it “too sexy.” I would then turn it off because in my mind I thought “I bet my parents will appreciate this.” You’re welcome mom and dad.

I would shy away from videos like Brian Adams’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” Bon Jovi’s “Always,” and “Wicked Game” by Chris Issack (which in all honesty, I still think is way too sexy). I even had issues with this tape of French pop music I owned, which was all sung in French (a language I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand now). By tone alone, I declared that the duet, “Joue Pas” sounded “too sexy,” and felt I needed to turn that mysterious French smut off. Essentially, I was the Tipper Gore of my elementary school, slapping Parental Advisory stickers on everything I could get my 7-year old hands on.

Always_BonJovi

Please note: If you have not seen the Bon Jovi music video for “Always,” stop what you’re doing and watch it right now. This video has everything. Keri Russell with full-blown Felicity hair!! The jerk guy from Hocus Pocus! And betrayal, art, and a jealous lover who blows up million dollar apartment for no reason whatsoever! It’s a real A+ music video.

Anyway, as an adult I like to think that much of that prude-ness has worn off, but I suppose some of it still must live deep down within me. Case in point, this book. When the character starts with the dirty talk (which by the way felt so unbearably forced and unnatural for the character) I couldn’t handle it. The overt pornographic descriptions were not sexy or funny. They were just…uncomfortable.

With that, all three of my triggers were hit. Violence, feet, AND bad dirty talk?!

I found myself barely able to hold the book upright. I was so nervous about what was to come, I found myself reading through squinted eyes (as if squinting them would protect me from reading any more gross detail). As I continued to read, I could feel the pains in my back getting stronger and stronger. I was cringing. My entire body was literally cringing. And page by page, it got worse. More violence. More feet. More awkward sex.

So at page 120, I slammed the book shut. I decided right then and there, it was OK for me to abandon the book.

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An accurate portrayal of me at page 120

Although I was pissed at myself for not finishing, I realized that reading is about having fun, and I wasn’t having fun with this book. Although I celebrate feeling new things through literature, I realized that it’s OK to not want to feel everything. Sadness? Sure! Bring it! New points of view? Humor? Fear? Ok, Yea! Let’s do this! But discomfort? No thanks. I’ll pass.

However, I did see a lot of positive reviews about this book on the Internet. So, I ask those of you who read Miranda July’s The First Bad Man, what do you think of this book? Were any of you able to power through? What did you think of the story? Share your comments below!

And if you haven’t read this one, have you ever had a book that made you so uncomfortable you had to abandon it? Tell us all about it in our comments section!

July’s Reads—Why These Books?

 

The July Reads for The Not So Book Club Book Club!

The July Reads for The Not So Book Club Book Club!

Greetings from Las Vegas, friends!

Currently, I am writing from my hotel’s lobby because my poor hubby desperately needs his beauty rest. The poor guy has been working night after night, clocking in 12 hours shifts in order to break down the massive structures he built for this weekend’s EDC festival. He’s been getting out of work around 6 AM every day, looking as dirty and dusty as if he just stepped right out of The Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, his boss took pity on him (as it is the week of his birthday) and decided to fly me out for support. So, here I am in Vegas, acting as a doting wife (but I guess not doting nearly enough because well… I’m in a lobby writing to all of you). Whatever, he understands–I have book club responsibilities!

I hope this month’s books have been treating you as well as they have been treating me. If you follow the @notsobookclub twitter account, I’m sure you saw that I devoured The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in basically 24 hours. What a fun book! However, I did hear from one of our NSBCBC members that she was not having as much luck in the speedy reading department. Turns out, she accidentally picked up the version that has all 5 books of the series, compact into one. So sorry, Lauren! I wish I had known about that beforehand. I would have written a warning. But power to you, girl! Keep on reading!

On the plane here I finished Whistling Past the Graveyard and I look forward to chatting with those of you who read it. It was a bit difficult to get through, as history at times is a tough pill to swallow. I still can’t believe there was ever a time where that kind of prejudice existed. However, we all know that sadly it still exists in many places and probably will continue to exist for years to come. Maybe we should drop a copy of Whisting in the mailbox of every racist jerk in America so they can read about how stupid their ridiculous prejudices are… if they can even read.

I also just cracked into Night Film and already I’m hooked. Don’t let the 500+ pages scare you away from tackling this one. Trust me, it moves fast! The interjection of computer screenshots and photos break it up nicely and keeps it very fast paced! In only 40 minutes, I got about 50 pages in. For me, that’s impressive because I’m a really slow reader.

And lastly, for some side “reading,” I’ve been listening to J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy as a book on CD, and let me tell you… it’s anything but Harry Potter. Very adult. Like, rated R adult. Lot’s of sexy talk and cursing, which was something that was very much absent from our beautiful little Hogwarts. I mean, for all the drama that goes down in the world of Harry Potter, it’s amazing that Harry never stood up and shouted “Ya know what assholes?! I’m done with this shit!” Anyway, it’s really great and it is clear that she truly is a fantastic writer worthy of all the accolades she has received throughout her career.

 

The only curses you can find in the Harry Potter series are the kind that kill you. Damn you Voldemort! You dick!

The only curses you can find in the Harry Potter series are the kind that kill you. Damn you Voldemort! Why you gotta be such a dick?!

I also decided to read the Locke and Key graphic novel series, as recommended to me by Michael Ragosta on episode 3 of the Not So Book Club Podcast (The Runaway Comic Train). I’m on the second to last volume and he was definitely right in his description. I can easily imagine it as a Steven Spielberg film, however be warned–its violence is comparable to that of Saving Private Ryan. Little old E.T. would be scared shitness if he found himself in Lovecraft, that’s for sure.

And with that long-winded intro, let’s get to why you’re really here! I present to you the July Not So Book Club Book Club Reads!

 

1.  China Dolls by Lisa See

I have had a mild obsession with Lisa See ever since I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan almost 8 years ago. But that obsession has only grown, and it came to its peak when I got to meet her at the Huntington Book Revue last week. She was there doing a book signing and lucky for us fans she spoke for about an hour on the writing process of her latest book, China Dolls.

Here I am, meeting Lisa See, and fan-girling hard. Love her!

Here I am, meeting Lisa See at the Huntington Book Revue on June 18th, and fan-girling hard. Love her!

The book follows the friendship of 3 best friends, as they perform as showgirls in San Francisco’s exclusive ‘Oriental’ nightclub, the Forbidden City, during the 1940’s. For those interested in history, the Forbidden City was a real nightclub located in San Francisco and was the first Chinese/American nightclub located outside of San Frans’ busy China Town. The club was host to thousands of American servicemen, with acts such as “The Chinese Ginger Rogers!” and “The Chinese Frank Sinatra!”

The book also explores the always-changing dynamics of friendship, while painting a picture of the pre-and post-WWII view of Chinese and Japanese citizens living in the United States.

To prepare for this book, See spent 3 years compiling research for this book. She traveled around the country interviewing people (many of whom were in their late 80’s and early 90’s) who were present at these nightclubs during the 40’s. The best interview she had was with a performer named Mai Thai Sing (who professionally went by the name Mai Thai). Mai Thai (who is 91 years old now and apparently still very much a wise-cracking, foul-mouthed lady) was a very well-known performer during those times and according to See, had numerous affairs with many of Hollywood’s biggest leading men. You go, Mai Thai!

The beautiful Mai Thai Sing, performing at The Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940's.

The beautiful Mai Thai Sing, performing at The Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940’s.

For more information on China Dolls, and the performers of the Forbidden City, visit See’s website, here: http://www.lisasee.com/insidechinadolls/

2. Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubryn

I first saw this book while I was bookstore hopping in NYC. Honestly, I was drawn to the cover. Something about the font drew me in. And then when I read the synopsis, I thought it was a fun world that we haven’t really jumped into quite yet with the book club. So it made the list.

Lost for Words explored the comically dramatic and surprisingly competitive world of professional writers. This satire tells the story of a hand-full of writers, all competing for the Elysian Prize for Literature (aka, the prize that crowns the “best book of the year”). The story begins when the publisher of “brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker” Katherine Burns accidentally submits a cookbook in place of her novel for her entry into the competition. From there, all hell breaks loose and we as readers have a good laugh.

This is kinda what the description of the competition for the Elysian Prize reminded me of. The film Drop Dead Gorgeous, a fantastic satire about the dirty world of small-town beauty pageants. A true classic.

This is kinda what the description of the competition for the Elysian Prize reminded me of—the film Drop Dead Gorgeous—a fantastic satire about the dirty world of small-town beauty pageants. A true classic.

3. Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins

Can you believe it? Despite all the junk I spouted about comedic memoirs, here I am again. I guess despite all my belly aching, I still am drawn to these things with the hope that I will get a laugh out of it. Actually, it was the back cover that got me interested in this one. Writer Tom Robbins starts out right away by acknowledging that he is in fact undeserving of writing and publishing a memoir. He does however make a plea to the reader, saying that although he is a remarkably unremarkable individual, he does a great job making sure all the stories within are humorous and worthy of your attention.

I’ve always been a sucker for modesty (and no, not the kind of modesty that comes from a 15 year old beautiful toothpick of a teenager complaining about “how fat!” she is). I’m talkin’ real, self-aware modesty. And his odd mixture of modesty and confidence was enough to make me intrigued.

A little background on the author—Tom Robbins is an internationally bestselling American novelist, and has written such “wonderfully weird” books including Still Life With Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, and Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates.

So I’ve got my fingers crossed. Perhaps this will be the memoir that will make me sweet on them again.

 

And with that, my friends, are your July Reads!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as I will have information on how you can get your very own FREE Not So Book Club Book Club book mark! They are currently being printed in the great state of California and I couldn’t be more excited about their coming arrival.

A little preview of the book marks. How cool are these? ........(crickets)...... Whatever guys... I think they're cool!

A little (albeit blurry) preview of the book marks. How cool are these? ……..(crickets)…… Whatever guys… I think they’re cool!

Also, stay tuned for Episode 4 of the Not So Book Club Podcast! Recording had to be postponed due to my unexpected adventure to Las Vegas, but I promise it will be posted in the next 10ish days.

Tons of love and Happy Reading Book Clubbers!

– Nina Sclafani

Founder of the Not So Book Club Book Club

 

Is This Cheating? (…Cause This Feels Like Cheating)

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Audiobooks Vs. Actual Books. Does it still count as reading the book if you never actually read the book?

Back when I was in high school, I worked at my town’s local library. Looking back at the job, it was probably one of the best (if not the best) jobs I’ve ever had. I say that because retrospectively, no other job allowed me to flip through interesting books all day (even though I suppose I did that on the sly). I would spend my afternoons organizing shelves, checking out what books patrons were taking out, and covering (or re-covering) books with plastic so that they always looked and felt fresh (but that’s where it ended, because no matter how many times you cover a book in new plastic, you could never cover up that old-book stink).

Of all the things I did at the library, my favorite days were the ones I’d spend in the back room, creating art for the windows. I don’t remember how I earned that job, or how often I was tasked with a new window, but I do remember spending hours in that back room—piecing together construction paper, lining my work with thick black sharpie, and blowing through glue stick after glue stick as I organized the shapes like a puzzle in order to create different scenes. And for all the time I spent alone working on these murals, the time felt like it flew by. This could have been because of amount of fun I had creating these pieces, but I also think it was what I listened to while I worked, that made it fly. Because this was a library, I had complete access to the CDs and DVDs that were in stock, and I used that unlimited access to monopolize the Harry Potter audiobooks.

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The only remaining picture of my brief career as an 18 year old construction paper artist.

Every shift, I would place one of the disks into the little boom box we kept in the back and get completely wrapped up in the wizarding world. In his slightly-Americanized English accent, the melodic voice of Harry Potter narrator Jim Dale would quietly guide me through the books, chapter after chapter, shift after shift.

But for all the hours I spent listening to these books over and over, I never felt as though I were reading the stories. When I talk about the series with friends (and yes, I roll with a crowd where this conversation comes up at least once a year), I never count the times I’ve listened to the stories when someone asks how many times I’ve read the books. I mean, why would I? My eyes never saw a single word of Rowling’s writing, my mind never gave voice to the words of the characters, and I never exhausted my eyes to the point where I’d fall asleep mid chapter.

But with that said, it never felt right to not include my listening sessions because so much of my listening experience was the same as my reading experience. Just as if I were reading the books myself, I experienced every word of Rowling’s writing and I watched every scene play out in my mind. Just like reading, I felt emotional during the exciting parts and nervous during the finale scenes. Essentially, I felt all the same things I would have, had I been reading the book.

So should it count as reading the book? Or am I cheating the book? 

A few years ago, this question came up when I tried to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Trying to read that book was an epic failure. With too much time spent on only three chapters worth of progress, I turned to the audiobook—and it helped… significantly. Although I experienced her language through my earbuds instead of on the page, it was fulfilling. For a while there, I even felt influenced by her writing style, as I found myself mimicking a certain type of grace in my work emails that had not been there prior (which was… awkward, but only because I was emailing people that clearly had no time for grace or beauty in their writing. They were NYS Medicare employees and they refused to read anything over 5 sentences long). I got all the positive side effects of reading a beautiful classic book, without having to actually read it.

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This popped up in my Google search for “Jane Austen writing” and I can’t help but wish this were a real line from Pride and Prejudice.

This month, under the insistence of NSBCBC podcast panelist Amanda, I dipped my foot in the audiobook pool yet again, in order to “read” David Sedaris’ Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. (Side note: I tried to illegally download it because I didn’t want to wait for the library copy to arrive, and I didn’t want to pay the $20 it cost on i tunes. However, my foray into small time crime didn’t pay because I immediately downloaded a virus that took days to get out of my computer. Oy… never again.) Anyway, the experience thus far has been pretty great (aside from that virus business) and it has me thinking—perhaps this is the way some authors need to be absorbed. For example, a friend of mine tried to read this book and didn’t love it, but now that I’ve heard the audiobook, maybe she would have enjoyed it had she heard the author’s delivery of the text instead. His voice, his pauses, his pronunciation—it all adds so much to the stories that I’m not sure they’d be as rewarding without him.

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Here is David Sedaris, cracking up John Stewart on The Daily Show. See, John knows what I mean about David’s delivery. Amanda was so right about this.

But it this reading? Technically, no. But am I experiencing the story? Absolutely! I’m absorbing every word, learning new things, and experiencing feelings with every page that passes. And isn’t that what reading is all about? Whichever way you decide to take in a story, it is still a rewarding experience.

So the next time someone asks how many times I’ve read the Harry Potter stories, I’ll include the times I’ve listened, because really, shouldn’t the question actually be, “how many times have you experienced the story?”

– Nina Sclafani

New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

New NSBCBC Podcast has been posted!

In this month’s episode “Kickin’ the Clydesdale,” the gang tackles the future of publishing, our troubles with memoirs, and answers a selection of challenging questions from Chuck Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.” This month’s panel includes: Nina Sclafani (Founder … Continue reading