Monday, October 30, 2006

Public Service Announcement

Oh, you SO don't want to read this book. It tricked me, see, by being mostly just blah and okay and amateurish, so that by the time I realized that these things can add up to a really overwhelming badness, I was more than halfway through, a point at which I have no choice but to finish the entire thing.

The book is a memoir about the author's life as a waitress. You know how sometimes you read an industry expose, like Kitchen Confidential by Tony Bourdain, where you learn all sorts of juicy insider things? Yeah, this isn't like that. Or you read a book like My Posse Don't Do Homework by LouAnne Johnson--you remember, it was made into that movie, Dangerous Minds--in which someone with an ordinary job that you think you understand gives you the inside scoop, and tells you about extraordinary circumstances? Nope, not that either. Maybe we'll just go with one of many, many literary novels, in which someone whose life is not particularly interesting drifts through the world and has profound observations expressed to us in a lyrical prose style? Mmm.....nope.

Instead, you get Waiting: True Confessions of a Waitress, by Debra Ginsberg. It reads like a high-schooler's report for English class about her after-school job. A solid B+/A- student, but not someone in the AP class. And the teacher grading this composition would FILL these margins with "show don't tell" scrawled in red ink. Generalizations instead of stories. Repeatedly informing us after every job that she learned a lot of about human psychology there. Withholding what might be juicy bits (personal romance, near-nervous breakdowns) with brief phrases like "my latest relationship had recently ended with a lot of bad feelings on both sides," and "I was feeling burned-out."

Imagine a memoir in which every anecdote, EVERY one, was preceded by a phrase like "allow me to illustrate," or "let me give you an example," mostly because there's only about one per chapter, used to follow up pages and pages of generalizations. Imagine an author who doesn't even seem to understand that she's using cliches. Seriously--I've read books in which familiar phrases are recast, and you can tell the writer chose those tried and true words carefully, but I've never read any published book intended for adults that used phrases like "striking in their similarities," "sneak a peek," and "the appointed hour." Seriously, if she's said "peek" instead of "sneak a peek" on that line (page 287), I wouldn't even have noticed it. But no, she reached for the tritest phrase she could find. Oh, oh, and also, I don't think there's a passive verb in this book. It's like she ran a search and replace on the word "is" and excised it from the book entirely.

Whew. I'm glad I got that off my chest. Books that are straight-up, up-front bad from page one I can just put down or rant about righteously. But this book was insidious, creeping up in its badness, its amateur style and total lack of profundity, until I actually began to believe that the world the boring, meaningless place that this writer painted. I'm out from under that now; thank you.

ps. She always wanted to be a writer. She was always "really" a writer, and waiting was just to make ends meet. But when she talks about people who don't think waiting tables is a "real" job, she lambasts them. Also, her list of movies about waitresses and how they're all looking for love and therefore crap is awesome, as it follows the chapter about how all restaurant employees are feverishly looking for love. And ignores the fact that all movie characters are looking for love. I could go on and on and on and on....but I'll stop.

1 comment:

Becky said...

OK, I will not read this book. But I wish you had written a similar post about The Devil Wears Prada because I'm OVER 1/2 way through the book and I JUST DON'T CARE what happens (but somehow I have not been able to pick up a new book because I haven't finished that one--it's a vicious cycle). Am I the only one who thought the book was poorly written and the author repeats herself nonstop? I GET that your boss is a witch already!