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R&R 128 | Chasing Harry Winston

I'm back. With a vengeance. First review in a while, and it's delightfully snarky.

Lauren Weisberger
Chasing Harry Winston
First published in: 2008
This edition: HarperCollins, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-00-726271-7)
Genre: chick lit
Pages: 278
Cover design by: unknown


As I'm gazing outside the window of my Amsterdam-based windmill home, overlooking the tulip fields while sipping milk from my Delft Blue mug and nibbling on a chunk of Gouda, I find myself applauding Lauren Weisberger's keen knowledge of Dutch people. My wooden shoes are a worthy rival to any female Manhattanite's Manolo's, perfectly matching my milkmaid outfit. A fat joint completes the ensemble. I really should head out soon and stick my finger in a dike, so I will hurry up and continue this book review.

CHASING HARRY WINSTON is about three best "friends" (yes, quote unquote) whom each decide something about their lives should change. Brazilian socialite Adriana figures that at 30, she really should get married. Emmy, recently dumped by longtime boyfriend Duncan, feels the opposite is true for her: she needs to have sex. Lots of it. And Leigh, well… she doesn't really know what needs to change, until she meets author Jesse Chapman, a well-known player and the only person who seems to get Leigh to loosen up a little.

You're probably wondering what's with the intro. Well, suffice it to say that Weisberger's need to throw in THE single most irritating stereotype about my people no later than page 3 is the reason why CHASING HARRY WINSTON is officially the book I felt the need to throw across the room quicker than any other irritating book. "Since everyone knew Dutch people wear clogs," Weisberger insists. Lame.

The only thing that's even more lame about this book is its poor attempt at recreating a successful story: three "close" girlfriends, each very different from the other, discuss their sex lives / relationships with one and other in Manhattan. Sex and the City, anyone? (Candace Bushnell even gets a plug in the end of the book.)

Oh and I say "close" and "friends" quote/unquote, because while Weisberger tries to convince us readers that Leigh, Adriana and Emmy are besties, I'm thinking these women are sooner jealous of one and other, thinking their catty thoughts, rather than super tight. I liked Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. All of them different, all of them with their flaws, but all of them sympathetic – and actually close to one and other. Believable friends, and believable characters. Any woman can relate to one of them (or a combination). I could not relate to any of Weisberger's leading ladies.

– Adriana is vain, shallow and full of herself; Weisberger stresses this by pointing out ad nauseam how every man lusts after her and how fabulous she is. If you thought the Dutch stereotype was annoying: Weisberger does not do the Brazilian woman justice, either. I wonder if Gisele goes around saying "querida" every ten seconds, too.
– Leigh is cold and selfish in a way. There's no personality there. I have nothing to write about her, even.
– Emmy is the only one I felt a remote interest in initially, despite her "Tour de Whore". Which is another problem I have with this book. It seems that either Emmy is a prude for having "slept with ONLY 3 (?!) men in her entire life" (it's just not normal!!! Something must be wrong with her), but when she sleeps with 3 more men in this book, she's prostituting herself. I don't even understand why Weisberger is putting her character through it. It's so obvious that Emmy hates the whole thing, craving a steady relationship, that ring around her finger. It makes her seem rather pathetic and desperate at times, clinging to her one-night stands, becoming whiny and unlikable as a result. Pity. Am I to believe she really changed at all?

None of them really change or grow up. Not in a worthy way. What is the point to this book? I really couldn't find one. CHASING HARRY WINSTON is just a bad book. Not only is it shallow and vapid, but the writing itself is appalling.

It's disjointed and lazy. One moment the characters are enjoying (well…) their vacation in Curacao, and just when it gets a bit interesting, BAM!, we're back to Leigh in New York some time later, where she's waiting for a client. It threw me off. Why not finish the Curacao storyline? Why even bring it up if you're not going to follow through with it? The writing is lazy in other aspects as well, an example being that Leigh is at one point in the book referred to by Weisberger as "Leah". Every character (except Adriana, obviously) favors "sweetheart" over any other term of endearment.

Why did I even finish this book? Because I didn't want to abandon yet another one.

I liked THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and enjoyed EVERYONE WORTH KNOWING, and I'll stand by my reviews of each. But I'm tired of Weisberger's attitude. Hanging out and playing poker with mechanics (p. 156) is somehow beneath the fabulous life of limos and movie stars and fame. Emmy's either a prude or a whore. There's the typical idea that women should spend hours daily blow-drying their locks. (I'm sorry, but ughhhh, the vanity in this book.) Otis the parrot is apparently too fat and needs to have a makeover. (No joke. This is actually in the book.)

And finally, Weisberger completely offends Rosie O'Donnell, stating that in a Who Wore it Better? stand-off, there wasn't even a 0% to 100% outcome when comparing Rosie O'Donnell, who in my opinion is fucking FABULOUS, to Petra Nemcova, a supermodel (Weisberger clearly insinuating that it should have been 0 to 100). See? Shallow. Okay. I got one for you.

Who Wrote it Better?
Candace Bushnell, 100% – Lauren Weisberger, 0%.

>> On a different note, please visit my revived personal blog 🙂

R&R 121 | Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs
Running with Scissors
Dutch: N/A
First published in: 2002
This edition: Picador 2002
ISBN: 0-312-42227-X
Genre: memoir
Pages: 304
Cover photograph: Jan Stromme / Photonica
Cover design: Steve Snider


In a nutshell?

RUNNING WITH SCISSORS used to be on my wish list, and then I kind of forgot about it until I found this copy at a book fair, and figured, why not? I was still up for a "hilarious" memoir full of "funny" stories.

Augusten Burroughs recounts his strange late childhood, a period preceded by his parents' nasty divorce. Dad doesn't want anything to do with him and his mom Deirdre is an erratic famous-poet-wannabe regularly trapped in her own narcissistic psychoses, and thus pre-occupied with herself rather than with raising and disciplining her son. So, Augusten finds himself living with the Finch family, the patriarch of which is none other than Deirdre's eccentric psychiatrist, Dr. Finch.

Early on, I developed a feeling of unease when I realized Burroughs was writing this book as his memoir, but it was mostly about other people. And these other people – The Finches, Burroughs's mom – are not painted in a very positive light, and it makes me wonder: are these people all really that horrible? Or did Burroughs use them and embellish their flaws for the sake of providing his readers with interesting reading material? (It's the memoir-debate again: people remember events differently. Is what's true to Burroughs really true to the Finches?)

I don't much mind a book about eccentric and erratic people. I can be amused by this material. But it's hard to be amused by anything or anyone in RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, because this book is full of unsympathetic people doing unsympathetic things.

I didn't like Deirdre or any of the Finches, except for Natalie. Half of them don't know squat about right from wrong (which I will get to shortly), the other would-be-sympathetic half are impossible to really like because Burroughs describes them as filthy, crazy dog food eaters and living room crappers, their dialogue largely consisting of name-calling and cursing.

…and I really couldn't stand Augusten. His teen-aged voice is vain, spoiled, arrogant and emotionally detached. Natalie Finch seems to be the only person Burroughs even liked back then, so it irks me that he can't even spare her, but instead points out regularly how fat she was. This whole book just leaves a bad, unfunny taste in my mouth.

Perhaps it's me. A psychiatrist such as Dr. Finch – here goes – is not funny material to me. Yes, he wears a Santa hat at times and parades around the street covered in balloons. Quirky. Oh, but there's more.
He let's patients live in his own house. He feels the regular need to masturbate in between sessions with patients and has a little "Masturbatorium" available to him to relieve himself. In his office.
Hey, I admit, I kind of think Burroughs just made that one up. But I doubt he made up that Dr. Finch felt it is perfectly fine for thirteen year-olds (Augusten, Natalie – his own daughter) to have sexual relations with adults. Because, says Dr. Finch, kids are "adults" at age 13. Disgusting.

And how about "that time when" (bratty) Augusten didn't want to go to school anymore "because I'm not as popular as the Cosby girl, wa wa wa!" Dr. Finch got him out of school by helping Augusten fake a suicide attempt.

None of the above is ethical behavior for a psych-anything-but-o, and it bothers me tremendously. Ethics notwithstanding, most of you would agree with me that the (borderline) rape and subsequent "love" affair Augusten, aged 13, experiences with Dr. Finch's adopted thirty-three year old son Neil, is not funny. It's not hilarious.

The rape scene in question comes as a total shock: the reader is just starting to enjoy the book, when bam! Out of nowhere, page 111, explicit descriptions of Augusten being violated by Neil. I have nothing against these kinds of scenes in books but I wasn't expecting to find any here. Not like that. In a "funny" book. Was I supposed to have fits of laughter? Something must be awfully wonky with my funny bone for me to not find this hilarious.

…RUNNING WITH SCISSORS is a sad story. Though part of me doesn't know what to believe, I applaud Burroughs for finding a way to deal with his past by writing about in such a manner, light and trying for wit, a guy who rises above it all. I still don't like the guy or the book, but in that sense RUNNING WITH SCISSORS has that strength. Burroughs could have turned it into a crying fest of teen-aged angst and tragedy but didn't.
But some depth would have been nice. Augusten's detachment from the situation doesn't give the book the depth it could have had. It's kind of like, la-di-da he just violated me, now I'm going to dye Neil's hair. Oh! It turned out green, not blond. Giggles! The book falls short in both humor and emotional insight.

When there are moving moments (mostly between Augusten and Natalie), I can barely smile before I am instantly reminded of the fact that the real-life Finches, including real-life Natalie, have sued Burroughs for defamation (the case was settled; a victory, says Burroughs's publisher – a sad, sad ordeal, say I). Suddenly the moment Augusten finds emotionally important enough to include in his memoir is meaningless.

Burroughs did a phenomenally crappy job at obscuring this family's identity, and while I feel no pity whatsoever for the psychiatrist who allowed adults to abuse children, nor do I feel sympathy for Neil, I can imagine how it must have been for the other real-life Finches, having their dirty laundry out for all to see, their personal stories (Natalie's especially) told by someone else.

The reason is bothers me so much, is because Burroughs thanks the family in his author's notes, for "taking him in", only to crap all over them in the subsequent 300 pages. "Thank you", he should have said, "for being there for everyone to laugh at". Maybe then I would have at least respected the guy.

Failed to move, failed to amuse.

In a nutshell

– Is a story about survival; at least Burroughs kept it light.

– And yet, it lacks depth.
– Book is marketed to be funny, hilarious! But it deals with a boy being victimized (parental neglect, rape) and I don't find that funny at all. A light tone does not bring the lolz.
– Book loses flow in narration after about 100 pages: becomes a collection of Fun-Finch-Episodes, a poor man's David Sedaris, instead.
– … I just don't like the guy.

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Christmas-themed R&R 115 takes priority over non-Christmas-themed R&R 114. Yup.

David Sedaris
Holidays on Ice
First published in: 1997
This edition: First Back Bay paperback, 1998
ISBN: 0-316-77923-7
Genre: humor
Pages: 134
Cover design by Rymn Massand; cover photograph by James Smolka

R&R 115 | Holidays on Ice

Ah, yuletide is upon us once more. I heart the holidays; it's currently cold and very, very white outside (this is the snowiest winter in years for this part of Europe), but I'm warm and gleeful because it is Christmas Eve, and Christmas is almost here. I love the lights, candy canes, baubles and tinsel ("Ohhh… SHINY!") and – yes – I'm sure I'd get a kick out of egg nog but it's not really a thing here. I'm not fanatical about Christmas, but it does qualify as my favorite holiday of the year. And this year, I couldn't resist incorporating my favorite festive season into my favorite activity: reading. It's Christmas… David Sedaris style.

Holidays on Ice is a small bundle containing six Christmas stories; perfect for an entertaining and quick read during the busy holidays.

The collection starts off with a hit: the SantaLand Diaries is now one of my very favorite Sedaris stories. It's take your reader to work day weeks; Sedaris describes, in glorious detail, what it's like to work as an elf at Macy's SantaLand. There's an Elf for everything (Window Elf, Exit Elf, Photo Elf, you name it…), and Sedaris introduces the reader the other side of mall Santa madness. Immediately, Sedaris shows his satirical side, but his bluntness is nothing compared to that of the second story, Season's Greetings to our Friends and Family!!!

A parody on the quintessential Christmas Letter, the Dunbar family matriarch describes to anyone who'll read it her horror at having to take in her husband's illegitimate lovechild. It's almost scary how well Sedaris pulls off Mrs. Dunbar's voice. It's almost as if this letter actually is written by a crazy, neurotic and embittered woman who uses far too many exclamation points to keep up appearances (but failing miserably).
The narrator is severely unreliable: nothing she writes can be taken at face value. Which makes it even funnier. Um, but if you're into political correctness, this book is so not for you. There's no mercy…

Not even for baby's.

Sedaris dials the sadism down in the third story, which features the beloved Sedaris family – I love Sedaris' stories about his family! – and one special house guest: Dinah, the Christmas whore. The title is absolutely the funniest, but the story itself is not the catchiest. But it does show the most Christmas spirit, and that makes it a winner: the Sedaris family seriously couldn't care less that Dinah's a prostitute and welcomes her into their home. Ah, it's sweet.

Sedaris has a reputation to uphold: Dinah's story was cute, but it's time to move on. Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol has him reviewing elementary school plays. Thaddeus stamps all over them.

In the role of Mary, six year-old Shannon Burke just barely manages to pass herself off as a virgin. A cloying, preening stage presence, her performance seemed based on nothing but an annoying proclivity toward lifting her skirt and, on rare occasions, opening her eyes.
– Front Row with Thaddeus Bristol, p. 95

And here I was thinking Season's Greetings!!! was evil. Ohhhh, the nastiness of Thaddeus Bristol. Delicious reading material. I ate it up.

The fifth story is a bit of a snoozer though; Based on a True Story is a speech by an obnoxious television exec (with regular pauses for effect added in there), and while it was certainly riddled with humor, I think the voice Sedaris had created was (again) too convincing and it had an adverse effect on me. I kinda didn't want to hear a word this douche – the exec, not Sedaris – had to say anymore. Based on a True Story was also the least Christmas-y of them all, and thus the weakest link in this collection.

Sedaris brings it home with a fantastic story, mocking materialism and competitiveness. Christmas Means Giving, sure – but with your heart, and for the right reasons. It was a perfect story to close with.

HOLIDAYS ON ICE is a short and (not so) sweet collection, but the content is a delight, no story the same.

I opened Holidays on Ice because of Christmas spirit; six completely different stories later, I'm smiling and already putting this one back on my TBR-pile – for next year. I have annual Christmas movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Grinch. Bad Santa. Methinkst I now have a book to read every Christmas, too.

— Fin —


A few more reviews and an end-of-year post will be posted before 2011.