I love the line in the ABBA song “The Day Before You Came” where Agnetha (yep, we’re on a first-name basis) sings, “I must have read awhile, the latest one by Marilyn French or something in that style.” The song, if you’ve never heard it, is a fairly dispassionate hour-by-hour account (“I must have lit my seventh cigarette by half past two”) of a typically dull day in a life that seemed empty before a new love arrived. Well, it might not be Agnetha’s life specifically, but by this point in ABBA’s she had divorced Björn and was flirting with strange men on trains in the accompanying video, so the song has a certain confessional quality to it.
But what’s so funny about the Marilyn French line is that Agnetha (the blond one) can’t remember if it was really Marilyn French, only that it was “something in that style,” i.e. some kind of discursively feminist romantic fiction. The implication is that she wasn’t paying much attention to what she was reading, or perhaps it’s just that the appearance of a new romantic interest had such a tremendous impact that she only dimly remembers.
Believe me, I could go on and on about this (ABBA’s music is full of seemingly trivial ambiguities like this—I’ve never understood why some people write them off as a fluffy pop band!), but one possible reading of the lyrics is that she was simply on auto-pilot and not terribly invested in what she was reading. There’s a term for books that are consumed in this manner, and it pops up in book reviews at the beginning of every summer: “Beach reading,” it’s called, and there again the implication is that it’s something to pass the time—perhaps a little guiltily—but not to be taken too seriously.
I read at least three such books this summer (almost exclusively during lunch breaks) in addition to everything else I either read for review or felt like I should read but never got around to finishing. My big plan was to re-read Moby Dick, but I got side-tracked by one thing or another and ultimately never even made it onto the Pequot. Here, for what they’re worth, are some books I found in the shallow end.
Edited by Michelle Horwitz
Fireside Books, softcover, 160 pages
If you’ve got $10 and an interest in a little prurient reading, you’d be better off just going out and buying two of those Lewd Letters dealies. At least the escapades described in Lewd Letters are transparently fake. The 50-odd sexual misadventures recounted in full smarmy detail here are supposedly real (of course, so are the ones in Lewd Letters), and no less tiresome for it. What’s the difference between Lewd Letters and Sexual Bloopers, published on a small Simon & Schuster imprint? The more sophisticated, politically correct and/or witty you try to make sexual adventuring sound, the lamer it ends up sounding. Yuck. And the pathetic attempts at being funny, like this punchline from an account of pre-bar mitzvah self-abuse: “Maybe in the eyes of God I’d become a man...but in the tip of my shoe I’d become a gooey mess!” Please kill me. No, better yet—please kill each other.
Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?: The Serial Monogamist’s Guide to Love
Villard Books, 150 pages, softcover
Oh boo hoo hoo for all these poor twentysomethings, jumping from sack to sack and then feeling like the psychology of non-commitment is worthy of writing mock-penitent, seriously self-serving books about their “problem.” These hipster relationship guides always give me hives. I used to think I was sparklingly witty and trenchantly observant when writing about this kind of crap in my old zine, but now after reading this book I’m just sorry I ever put anyone else through it. Like having to sit through the same Liz Phair song over and over—you know the one I mean.
Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks!
“Classy” Freddie Blassie, with Keith Elliot Greenberg
World Wrestling Entertainment Books, 272 pages, hardcover
Finally! Some righteous trash with real redeeming social value! Well, not really, but this autobiography of WWF wrestler “Classy” Freddie Blassie is still better than half the crap that lands in my mailbox. “Classie” Blassie has got more bite-your-face-off attitude than most convicted felons, but reading his book is like listening to an obscene, rambling, but ultimately self-deprecating grandpa who just doesn’t know when to shut up. There’s an odd running gag about an anesthetizing erection cream, but the most intriguing chapters in this book (and there’s a lot to marvel at here) have to do with Blassie’s wrestling tours of Japan in the early ’60s, when his televised antics actually caused a number of fatal heart attacks in Japanese viewers. The yakuza—Japanese mafia, often missing pieces of their fingers—were apparently quite taken with Blassie, leaving the reader to wonder at passages like this: “When I shook hands with someone missing a joint, I’d rib him, yanking on the damaged finger and pointing at him. Another guy pulling a stunt like that would have ended up mutilated in a rice paddy.”
Moby-Dick it ain’t, but it’s an engrossing (and trashy!) account of a charmed life. And better than most of the trash I’ve read this summer.