Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Philosophy Exactly: Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

I just finished Eat & Run by Scott Jurek and I can say that I'm truly impressed by the book and him as a whole.  I picked up the book at the local library a few weeks back and happened to crack it open over the weekend during some down time.  I recognized Jurek's name from multiple articles about ultra-marathoning in Outside magazine and from other extreme sports resources. I've been hoping to increase my running mileage but I've been concerned about trying to have the energy to go such distances without putting myself in unhealthy situations-- due to lacking calories and/or water-- so I picked up the book looking for some insight.

What I found was less of a how-to guide and more of an inspirational biography.  He tells about how he got into running and how he became so good and it.  Jurek also describes his close relationship with what he eats.  What's especially unique about him is that he's a vegan.  That means, no eggs, no fish, no dairy, and certainly not any meat.  What's also interesting is the fact that Jurek is trained as a physical therapist, so he actually understands the science behind the running madness and the ailments unique to distance running.  I especially enjoyed this aspect of the book because it explained so much.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Scott talks a lot about spirituality and states of altered consciousness-- specifically in respect as to how other cultures view distance running or even seek it out for its mind-altering states.  I particularly enjoyed his explanations of monks using running for spiritual reasons and I became familiar with many of the the names of the best-known ultra-marathons and time-based races (i.e. races that last for 24-hours and then deem a winner based on the number of laps achieved).  

Another aspect of the book I found interesting was that from what I could tell, Jurek ended each chapter with a recipe he uses on a regular basis.  From his descriptions of food and culture, it's apparent that many cultures run and eat while running-- and they don't just eat gels-- instead there are bean burritos, rice balls and various smoothies. My mouth waters just thinking about the idea of eat REAL food, with real veggies and fruit.  With this, Scott does a nice job talking about how he ran across each recipe and yet he never crosses the line of being preachy about veganism.  He recognizes it as a personal choice and choice that makes sense for him because of his love of cooking and his appreciation for how the food makes him feel and perform. 

While the book may focus around ultra-marathoning and Scott's preparation for the ultra-marathoning, I found the descriptions of the race themselves very compelling.  I enjoyed reading about his travels and interactions with the locals and the other racers.  At times the book is very much about the journeys to and from the races.  It's very humanizing to read about how he managed to endure through injuries, hallucinations, freak weather and running induced sickness like cramps and vomiting. While many may see running as a very linear, static sport, Jurek shows that it's anything but.  Instead, he shows how often the "tough guy" is outdistanced by the seeming underdog.  With this, I definitely appreciated his mention and praise for a fellow female ultra-marathoner, Ann Trason.  I appreciated the fact that he went out of his way to recognize her more than once because I think he realizes how much of running is mental and seeing a woman do well in the field is very liberating for many who would not necessarily consider themselves the next likely G.I. Joe. He often states that the distance is a great equalizer because the distance is forgiving as far as speed and it becomes more of a race of wills.

I'm hoping to buy this book soon in order to add it to my collection of biographies with some inspiration, but also because I'm eager to add more vegan recipes to my repertoire. This book is definitely suitable for teens, even though there's some cussing when Jurek quotes one of his friends, who is a notorious bad boy.  The overall message and inspiration are well worth the time.

Monday, May 20, 2013

*spoiler alert* The Young and the Selfish: The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

I read the Great Gatsby a few weeks back and finally motivated myself to write about it today since I needed to bust out another post (coming up next: Wild by Cheryl Strayed).  It's about darn time to write about it.  For some reason, I think I was waiting to write about it because I wanted to see the movie and compare the two.  However, since my time and motivation has been limited for movie-watching, and because a few bad reviews made me hesitant, I haven't gone to see it yet.  I was especially hoping to be able to take a group of my students to see it, but again, with my school's graduation rapidly approaching, the logistics became too difficult to make it manageable.  So, instead, I'll simply put my thoughts down about the book and I may update this post to add in my view of the Baz Luhrman movie once I finally see it...

Once upon a time about 4 years ago I tried to read The Great Gatsby.  After roughly 20 pages I was so annoyed with Nick, the narrator, that I couldn't proceed, so I let the book ferment until the movie was about to come out, and I suddenly felt the urge to give the book a new, fresh attempt.  All I can say is that the trailer was sparkly enough that it compelled me to read it, and I figured I was due for some shameless smut-- for me this means reading about parties, affairs and the rich simply being selfish. I wasn't disappointed in that respect.  I was pleasantly surprised at the substance of the piece.

For some reason, the Great Gatsby reminds me a bit of one of my favorite books, American Psycho (by Bret Easton Ellis).  Many may be appalled at this comparison, but I felt like many of the same elements that made the book worthwhile were there: Both books are really period pieces, Psycho covers the late 1980s, while Gatsby covers the mid 1920s (about 5 or 6 years after World War I).  This is reflected in the mention of the make and color of the cars, the sports of the time, women's rights are emerging (especially with the character Jordan, who is a female golf player), the music and hot entertainers of the time, and the fact that bootlegging is such a big deal.  American Psycho also did this, but by describing the musicians of the time, the food culture, clothes, the corporate culture, and the prolific use of drugs (especially coke). Both, as well, focus on the rich and their abilities to be insulated from the rest of the general population, particularly when it comes to relationships and abuses of power.

Here's the gist of the story: Nick Carraway has returned from The Great War (World War I), he's gone to school for some sort of banking and the story begins with him moving to the New York area to establish himself.  His only contacts at the beginning, are his cousin, Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan.  Daisy introduces Nick to the lavish lifestyle to which she's become accustomed, while he tries to scrape by in a house he's renting with another young professional.  The house is in close proximity to a mansion owned by Jay Gatsby.  Nick hears various lore about Gatsby and one of Daisy's friends, Jordan Baker, takes Nick to a party at Gatsby's.  Jordan introduces Nick to Gatsby and Gatsby urges Nick to go out with him the following morning on a seaplane.  Gatbsy befriends Nick and tells him a few details about himself, but Nick can't help but feel that he isn't getting the full or the real truth, but he doesn't call Gatsby out on this.

Meanwhile, Nick hangs out with Daisy and Tom periodically and when the two are both out the room, Jordan informs Nick that Tom has a girl on the side.  It seems like Jordan is just being catty or speculative, but then Tom takes Nick into town at one point and introduces Nick to his mistress and Tom, Nick, the mistress(Myrtle), and Myrtle's sister all hang out.

Gatsby invites Nick to visit with him and even go to lunch.  While at lunch, Nick spots Tom and walks Gatsby over to introduce him, and when Nick begins to introduce Gatsby, Nick realizes that he's all alone with Tom and Gatsby has ditched him, indicating that Gatsby already knows Tom.  Gatsby makes Nick invite Daisy over so they can potentially reignite their relationship.  Nick finds out that Gatsby has strategically placed himself in proximity to Daisy and Daisy's family in order to win and woo her, despite not having had contact with her for about five years. Daisy is reluctant at first, but then she's won over.

Gatsby stops having lavish parties in order to spend more time with Daisy and finally, Nick, Jordan, Tom and Daisy and Gatsby all hang out together-- but Tom realizes something is up.  They're all restless and decide to drive into the city to party in order to try to get their minds off the unbearable heat. In the process, Daisy drives with Gatsby, while Tom, Jordan and Nick all take off in Tom's car.  The speed along and Tom stops to get gas and he find out from the gas attendant and mechanic that the mechanic and his wife will be leaving town in just a matter of days.  This upsets Tom because the mechanic's wife is Myrtle. Tom leaves, more belligerent than previously.  They all meet up in the city, hang out and drink at a hotel room and then Tom and Nick get into an argument over Daisy.  Daisy obviously upset and takes off again with Gatsby.  Tom is also upset and he takes off with Nick and Jordan.  As Tom's car reaches the fueling station, it's obvious there's been some sort of accident and a woman has been hit by a car.  Tom gets out to rubber neck when he realizes that the woman who'd been hit is his mistress Myrtle.  Tom overhears  witnesses talking about the color of the car, and he realizes the car that hit Myrtle fits the same description as Gatsby's.  Gatsby drops of Daisy, and then he goes back to his mansion.

Gatsby has his servants keep his car out of sight and his relationship with Daisy cools off as they both try to stay low-key.  Nick and Gatsby talk and Nick finds out that it wasn't Gatsby who was driving, but it was Daisy.  Gatsby's servants ask Gatsby about closing down the pool since it's the end of the season, but Gatby asks that they let him swim in it because he's just realized he hasn't even been in it once all summer.  Nick comes to check on Gatsby, and finds Gatsby dead in the swimming pool. The police arrive and start to process the scene.  Nick, convinced that Tom shot Gatsby, rushes off to Daisy and Tom's in order to confront Tom, when Tom tells Nick that it was probably Myrtle's husband, who had recently showed up waving a gun around and acting crazy. Tom tells Nick that he told Myrtle's husband that the car belonged to Gatsby, neglecting to mention who was driving the car.

Nick, disgusted with both Tom, Daisy and Jordan, decides to leave the area and he moves to the Midwest, hoping to escape his "friends."

Sunday, April 7, 2013

On The Road (by Jack Kerouac)

After hearing a few references to On the Road on Freaks and Geeks, and finally after seeing a movie trailer inspired by the book, I broke down and got the book out of my school's library.  I knew the book would involve traveling the U.S. and I had a feeling it was mostly fluff-- i.e. little significant plot-- so I figured it was just the book to read in order to inspire my travels for Spring Break.  I'm not sure if it inspired me to travel as much as to simply STAY AWAY FROM DRUGS because they tend to make the users babbling, incoherent fools. Nonetheless, I read it, even though it took me nearly two months.  Seriously, it's only 307 pages and I just couldn't get through it in a decent amount of time because it lacked what compels me to read: conflict and desire for knowledge. Yes, there was some beautiful language at times, but there wasn't enough of it for me to consider it poetry.  Instead, as I read I felt as if I was passively watching someone drive Nevada over and over again. While speeding, telling childhood stories, and periodically finding girls to "make it with" may be entertaining for 45 minutes, it doesn't do the trick for hours on end, at least not for me.

It's funny to me that while so many people think that the book is so deep and soulful, it's actually the exact opposite: it shows reckless twenty somethings living off of other people's money and charity and trying to claim it as a search for spirituality. It's about as much about a search for spirituality as Magic Mike (and this may actually be insulting to Magic Mike because at least Magic Mike is funny).  While the book is also lauded as the key to beat generation's soul, whoever deemed it as such obviously didn't read the last two pages-- which actually slaps the beat generation in the face for all it stands for (more on this later-- skip to the end). In fairness to Kerouac, the book does give the reader an interesting cross section of what's going on in America in the late 50s: immigration, diversity, Jazz, racial tensions, sexual tensions, and traditional families versus parent-less families. I don't hate the book, it's just that it definitely doesn't live up to the hype and those movies or people talking it up haven't read the whole thing and must have had a very selective memory.  The book could have done the job in 75-100 pages and would have left me actually thinking he was brilliant, instead of a hormone driven junkie.    

The story itself consists of Sal Paradise (Kerouac- and we never do find out why he's going by this name and/ or how much of it a fictional..?) and his buddy Dean Moriarty.  Sal has returned home after World War II and is living of his G.I. Bill.  At some point he's used it for college, but he never really tells us when and there in not mention of going to classes during the story.  Sal lives in New York and parties with a variety of acquaintances and he's always curious what everyone else is up to.  Sal just seems to hang around and seek out someone to follow around.  Dean Moriarty is the guy he follows.  Somehow or another Sal decides to head out to San Francisco so he walks and hitchhikes out, while stopping in Denver to party with some friends.  He meets various people along the way, but he mainly spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to catch a ride and how to catch some sleep, particularly because when he rides with others he feels that he must entertain them to keep them awake and earn the trust of the drivers.

Dean hooks up with a variety of friends and acquaintances in Denver, with a constant stream of names that mean little to the reader because the characters don't really get developed-- again, except for Dean, a little bit of Marylou, and then Camille. By the time Sal gets to San Fran with Dean, Dean is on-again off-again with Marylou and it's obvious that Dean is having sex with almost anyone that he can fit in his schedule. Everyone drinks and scours the city for good jazz and next big party. Sal is annoyed with how little time Dean has for him and they barely get a chance to hang out. Sal heads back to New York, again hitchhiking and walking along the way.  You'd think the story would just end there, but instead, Sal goes cross country again, and with Dean driving. Dean shows up in a drug induce euphoria, sweating and talking like a madman.  Sal and Dean drive up and down the East coast with a car full of furniture and people in order to help out Sal's aunt by moving furniture. Dean drives like a madman and talks incessantly and does benzedrine and/or "tea" (marijuana) whenever he can get his hands on it. Sal's aunt loans the boys money throughout their travels. Dean then persuades Sal to head back West with him-  with the loose guise of working and trying to find Dean's alcoholic bum of a father.  Dean takes Marylou along with him even though he's over her (but they're married).  Sal and Marylou become fond of one another and Dean seems cool with this, but Marylou and Dean still have sex periodically just because they can. At one point, Dean even tries to get Sal and Marylou to have a threesome (because Dean feels that he should experience everything possible in life), but Sal backs out during the process because he just can't get into it (because it's not natural for him).  However, Sal and Marylou decide that they'll get together in San Fran once Dean is back with his mistress Camille.

The three make it back to San Fran. with absolutely no money.  Dean drops off the two and tells them to try to find a place to stay while he drives off (probably to see Camille).  Marylou gets a room on credit and she and Sal try to find some money to eat.  Without luck and without Dean's return, the two split because Marylou finds a sugar daddy and Sal gets enough money to head back East again. Sal heads East again, hooking up with drivers wanting company (through driver's bureaus or something like that) and he makes it back home to New York. Not much after Sal returns home, continues to party until the wee-hours, and starts to become bored, Dean returns and settles down with a woman named Inez. Meantime, Dean is now married to Camille and she has his baby, but she's back in San Fran.  Dean decides to leave Camille, but he attempts at supporting her some long-distance.  Camille and Inez correspond and become friends.  Dean gets divorced to Camille, marries Inez and then decides to divorce Inez for Camille.  The moral of the story: Dean, Sal and another buddy all head out to Mexico to try to get a faster divorce for Dean.

The guys no more than make it into the Southwest and the third buddy gets a strange bug sting that they need to go to the hospital for (twice).  One of the times, the buddy is laying the hospital for the day as Sal and Dean decide to tour a Mexican city.  They load back up and Dean continues to drive through Mexico like a madman, slowing only to euphorically describe how amazing the scenery is and the people look.  This goes on for some time until they meet a man who hooks them up with prostitutes at a local brothel.  The three go crazy by blasting Mambo, buying drinks for everyone at the brothel and they have the whole town's attention for the better part of a day until they decide to push south at sunset.  The men make it to Mexico City, Sal ends up sick in a hospital with a fever and Dean gets his divorce a few days later.  While Sal is still hallucinating with a fever, Dean apologizes and heads back to the States leaving Sal and the buddy behind. Sal and the buddy eventually get money sent to them and then they fly home.

While you'd think the book would end there; it doesn't.  Instead, Kerouac includes a few more pages (and here it comes) that undermine the whole beat generation.  (At least in my opinion.)  Sal makes it home, gets re-established and has now gotten some money for his book (duh, this book).  So, one of his friends from school, Remi, who Sal even says is "fat and sad" (p. 306) shows up and wants to go see Duke Ellington at the Metropolitan Opera with Sal and Sal's girlfriend. They get a Cadillac, put on suits and head out.  Who shows up?  Dean.  And, he wants to ride with them across town so that he can be just a little closer to getting to the bus station without having to walk in the "durned cold in this here New Yawk" so that he can start another cross-country trip. What happens?  Remi tells Dean "no" and they wave goodbye to Dean, as they sit in the warm car and Dean stands in the New York cold and alone. Lastly, Sal says he thinks about Dean from time to time. The end.  That's what friends are for.

Now, I'm just curious about how the movie will interpret the story, particularly based on the trailer I've seen.  From what I can tell, it looks like the director definitely had a selective memory since it's becoming obvious that reading Kerouac is really about the illusion of the beat generation and not the actuality of it.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Speaking to my soul (and stomach!): This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow

During the weekend of MLK Jr. Day I spent my time at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association's Conference absorbing as much information as I possibly could about organic market gardening. I'm hoping to take my urban gardening to the next level and recently a friend of mine offered up part of her backyard for the cause.  Knowing all of this, I've been snagging as many books as I can to help my venture.  While I was searching through the stacks of new books at the conference's book room, I happened upon a shelf of inexpensive used books and the cover and title of This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow caught my attention.  I was ready to read something to learn from that wasn't simply a "how-to-book" or another manual on gardening/mini-farming (although there are some good ones out there-- some of which I already own).

While it took me nearly two weeks to finish the book, even though it's only 260 pages, it's a dense read.  I think this may partially be because of the stream of consciousness type feel to her style, which isn't all bad.  It makes it a bit difficult at times in that there are recipes interwoven into her story as she refers to the various veggies she's growing.  I'd like to save many of these for later, but I'm not feeling motivated enough to copy each one out of the book to add to my collection.  I can't help but wish that she'd simply placed these in the back of the book in such a way that it was more convenient to actually use.

The book starts off with Joan telling about how she ended up in her current gardening space, after moving with her husband from a large Victorian house to a river front lot with a folly of a house.  I found it interesting that she jumped back and forth between telling about the houses and it wasn't exactly chronological, but somehow the pieces fit. At this point it also became apparent that she also seemed to be using her writing to help her process her husband's death.  I really liked this aspect because it really brought the human element to the story and I feel she did a nice job telling about him and his connection rather than simply lamenting his loss.  By roughly halfway into the book she began to allude to his sickness and then the fact that he'd already passed as she talked about the connections her husband had with the community garden they created together and with the people who used the community garden.      

I also appreciated Gussow's discussion of the house situation and what it meant to her and her husband and their gardening.  I could relate to her emotional connection with the houses and the gardens, especially as she and her husband prepared the "new" house and its gardening area.  Again, she showed her humanity by telling of the frustrations with starting to renovate the house and then finding out it needed to simply be scrapped, particularly after they put in so much time and effort in preparation to restore it to its grandeur.  I also had many chuckles as she told of the misguided feistyness of her new neighbor and her anger in return.  I liked that she told of her anger and how her husband managed to smooth over the the situations as they arose, and with a seemingly good-natured and zen-like ability.  In this, I again felt like I could relate to her because I could envision friends and family similar to those she described-- again, all of them very human with their various skills and weaknesses.

I finally finished the book after I began reading in the early mornings as well as during the evening, and I'm glad I did.  It gave me lots of ideas for planting and cooking-- in particular with kale, sweet potato and onion.  She also made me aware of how many fruits and veggies I eat that are out of season and are shipped considerable distances just to satisfy my desire for fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas.  She also made me aware as to how tough mini-farming can be (as demonstrated by ravenous rats and catastrophic flooding in her yard), allowing for forgiveness for the consumer who resorts to buying the veggies and fruit that are simply available at the nearby store.   

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Subversive Copy Editor (by Carol Fisher Saller)

 Because I'm a total N-E-R-D, I sometimes like to read about grammar and the best practices for writing and editing.  When I was younger I used to actually debate my step-dad about issues of grammar because much of it simply didn't make sense.  By the time I made it to high school and college, I decided to tackle the issue head-on by learning a foreign language (German) and learning the second language helped me understand that I'd been right all of those years:  English grammar is simply crazy, especially compared to other languages. I still find myself stumped by grammar at times, but rather than viewing it as a nemesis, I've taken the perspective that it's simply like a tricky and sometimes fickle friend and it just takes more studying to understand this friend's perspective. This shift had to happen in order to become comfortable with not simply always knowing the answer, and I think that because of this potential for mystery, I'm still reading and researching about grammar on my own time. This affinity may explain why I teach English despite hating grammar throughout elementary and high school.

Partially because of my interest in grammar and my role teaching English, I've gained the reputation for really knowing and enjoying grammar.  And, when I don't know it, my students know I'll look it up or make them look it up, but they also know that I'm willing to let them experiment with style. I try to remind them that grammar is an ever-changing creature, especially with factors like technology and pop-culture influencing word usage and structure. 

I think I enjoyed The Subversive Copy Editor for this reason; it didn't take itself too seriously.  Carol Fisher Saller poked fun at both herself and at the editor stereotype, by feeding in to it and also by subverting it by assuring aspiring editors that it's sometimes ok not to fixate on an issue.  Sometimes that argument just isn't worth it and it's all about knowing when to drop it.  This book isn't a handbook for grammar, but it is a book of recommendations for dealing with the text and most importantly, for dealing with the people connected with the text (other editors, the writers and any supervisors).  It's not a grammar book as much as a "people-book" for those with grammar-based jobs.

A few things I learned?  "Stet" means "as it stands." (I believe in Latin... if I'm remembering correctly?)  This is basically the term that editors use to tell others that the correction needs to revert back to the original text.  More than anything, I just enjoyed the new word and seeing it repeatedly in context in order to solidify it into my vocabulary "schema."  What else did I learn?  I was reminded of the importance of logging tasks accomplished in order to bill clients accordingly.  It seems so basic, but at the end of the day it's an easy thing to forget to do.  Particularly when there's a new to-do list waiting to be accomplished, it's easy to put the basic paperwork on "the back burner" because you'll remember how many hours you've logged... right?... RIGHT?

Overall, the book was a solid little read that worked well in 20 page chunks and at about 120 pages, it was a palette cleansing read.  It was exactly what I needed to clear my mind of other recent reading failures in order to look at my stack of books with a fresh and open perspective. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cringing and Shrieking: Bonk by Mary Roach (mature topics)

 While home over Winter Break my mother and I got into a scientific discussion about sex because she'd been reading the book Bonk by Mary Roach.    My husband stuck around for a few minutes of the conversation before he deemed the content to mature for him, as he ducked out to catch up on some sports highlights.  In the meantime my mother was stunning me about her ridiculous knowledge about pig sex and she suggested that I might get a kick out of Mary Roach's latest research which brings together sex and science. 

Mary Roach is most notable for her book Stiff which is about the lives of cadavers.  It's a bit gruesome and definitely not for the faint of heart, which I'd also say about Bonk.  At times I found myself shrieking with laughter because the odd things that had been revealed during the various research stages and with the descriptions of sex toys, surgeries and talk of animal reproduction. At other times, I found myself crossing my legs out of sympathy for those poor souls who inadvertently helped out with the research the hard way (no pun intended). 

I found myself reading the book in short doses at home because there were times when I could only handle so much reading about orgasms and erectile dysfunction before someone in public would ask me what I was reading or before it began to feel like work, and sometimes you just don't feel like having that conversation with strangers and you don't want to make thinking about sex into work.  In some ways, I felt it necessary to put the book down because I was afraid it would spoil some of the mystery and almost some of the allure-- but it didn't. Instead, it walked the fine line of being informative without being straight up smut.  Believe me, it was a long way from 50 Shades of Grey, because I didn't want to punch anyone in the face once I was finished (I can't say the same about the characters in 50 Shades) and it was actually quite pleasant to read about couples who would actually give a damn about the other person's feelings and sexual experiences-- rather than being self absorbed and self serving.  

The parts I enjoyed the most about the book were the discussions describing what measures the various researchers would go to to find subjects and get approval for their studies.  It was also centering to have the actual facts on some of the norms regarding sex organ and behaviors and not just some skewed perspective based coming from the porn industry, although the porn industry did seem to be helpful for some of the researchers as they gathered volunteers for the various studies.  

Overall, I'd say the target audience is definitely the mature audience-- particularly those at at least the college level because there were numerous references to research and studies that those who have gone through the research process could definitely appreciate.  Along these lines, I wouldn't want to try to get permissions for teens to be reading it, but at the same time, I definitely think there are worse things for teens to read about since it was so grounded in science and it wasn't glorifying it but was instead approaching it objectively, just like a farmer would about pig insemination.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

50 Shades of Grey: Reader Beware. (mature content & spoiler)

Several of the teenage girls within my classes were reading or had read 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James just before Winter Break.  I was a bit ambivalent about whether or not to read it until I discussed it with a few of my colleagues- both those who had and those who hadn't read it.  2 out of my 3 English Department colleagues had read the book and the principal and I discussed the appropriateness of the book (especially regarding teens). Usually, my philosophy with books and teen reading them is if they're reading, who cares what it's about-- particularly because there are many heavy topics that "good kids" seek out to help process tough stuff like suicide, relationships, abuse, drug use, sexuality, etc.  I put the book on my Christmas list, specifically stating to try to find the book used and NOT to buy the rest of the books in the series, mainly because I wasn't sure that I wanted to support the madness by putting money toward the cause.... then I got the book for Christmas from a family member who also donated trees on my behalf (to help balance out the negative influence of the book).

I finished the 500+ page book in four days-- which says something in itself.  It's an incredibly fast read, probably because there is so much sex (which isn't particularly intellectually challenging to read), but we've all heard that it's about sex. I promise to spare you the unnecessary details, as it really is not appropriate for mixed audience, nor is the writing good enough to even rationalize it as quality reading.  If you choose to read this book, read it for trashy, un-pure reasons.  I've made the sacrifice for you, so if you don't want to hear about it except for the analysis, stop reading now and skip to the last few paragraphs.

The premise is that a young woman named Anastasia Steele is about to graduate college when she helps her roommate conduct a long-sought-after interview with a wealthy Alumnus.  Anastasia interviews Christian Grey and he becomes drawn to her and shows up at her job and in her neighborhood, finally requesting her to see him again.  Ana is excited about the potential relationship, but also has her head so far into books that she is seemingly naive about the whole situation.  (This aspect was very hard for me to buy-- particularly because the reader is lead to believe that she's still a virgin and has never had a boyfriend of significance, despite being attractive and dumb--ahhem, I mean... bookish. No girl gets to be 22 and a virgin without having figured out some techniques to keep "gentlemen" at bay.) Ana clearly loves literature since she's an English student and she can't help but relate everything to British Literature.    

In the meantime, Christian pushes the relationship and Ana goes along with it, seemingly with some reservations.  After a variety of encounters, Christian proposes S& M sex with her with a legal document, vowing that she can share no details of their relationship, when she lets it slip that she's never even had sex.  He tells her to think about it and then they have "vanilla sex"-- i.e. sex without the sadism or masochism.  Christian continues to pressure her about if she's going to sign the contract and then he simultaneously backs off, trying to give her the perception that she actually has the choice to say "no."  Christian and Ana continue to see each other on a regular basis and have sex, and Christian "threatens" to punish her with sex every time she does something he disapproves of such as bite her lip, roll her eyes, or make some snarky comment.

Christian also provides her with a computer to research S& M sex, and then he gives her a phone so that he can keep tabs on her.  By her graduation, only a few weeks after knowing one another, he foists an Audi into her possession. All along, he continues to ask her about the contract.

Her parents seem thrilled with Christian, as are his parents about Ana. Meanwhile, Ana's roommate distrusts Christian and the roommate simultaneously dates Christian's brother.  As Ana waits to hear back about jobs she's applied for, she heads to see her mom (out of state) to think clearly about her relationship and its full potential.  Ana visits with her mother a few days and is then surprised by Christian's appearance at the hotel in which she and her mother are dining. Christian wines and dines Ana, the mother is impressed, and then Ana consents to the contract.

Finally, Ana returns home, has a "light" version of the type of sex that Christian wants and then she demands to know how bad it could really hurt (with the S& M).  He spanks her to the point where she cries.  She leaves and then by the final pages ends the relationship. Book One ends here.

(Start here) Once I finished the book, I was curious of other people's reviews.  From what I can tell, the critics are essentially saying the same thing: it's a trashy book, poorly written, but it's addictive at times (the reviews on Amazon are split between 1's and 5's- see the link below "reading and researching"). The controversy surrounding the book stems from the fact that one faction of readers are seeing Ana as a feminist doing as she pleases (by exploring), while the other faction is challenging the book with the claim that it does nothing to further women's struggles and if anything it feeds into dating violence against women and just supports it legally with a document of her consent (so it's ok to be abused as long as you consent?). Regarding the S & M sex, if I felt like Ana went into the S& M sex willingly, I would not have been so disgusted, but instead I felt that she was pushed into it by Christian-- particularly when the reader begins to consider the powerplays he keeps pulling on her by check on her via email, phone and physically showing up where she is, as well as by separating her from her friends (both male and female).

If the book was simply about S& M sex between two individuals seeking it out on their own accord, I wouldn't be as disturbed by the story, but instead, I do feel disturbed by the story because I have teenage girls telling me what a fabulous love story it is.  Instead, all I can see are the signs (obvious to me, but not so obvious to my students) of dating abuse and psychological control and I hope that they are learning how to get out of such harmful relationships rather than by getting in them; these girls feel that they may change their partners.  Such a message is dangerous to young and inexperienced readers (and potentially to older readers too).  Even with clear eyes for watching and avoiding being persuaded by such a message, I cannot recommend the book to an aware reader because of the negative relationship and sheer amount of cliche.  After reading and researching the book, I also found the the book developed out a fan fiction based on the Twilight series.  At that point I had an "Aha" moment.  It became obvious that this was the ersatz Twilight that included more sex. I'm the fool for reading the fan fiction and I guess E.L. James can laugh all the way to the bank.