Welcome to Drop It Like It’s Haute, a weekly celebration of that unholiest of marriages between pop culture and literature.
With a little help from this three-part Jersey Shore glossary we found at The Daily Beast, we’re borrowing phrases from everyone’s favorite guidos and guidettes to bring you a book list that will totally have you DTR (down to read, natch). Join us, Rebecca Joines Schinsky and Jeff O’Neal, for a trip to the shore like no other. And you better hurry because caaaaabs are here!
energist (n.)—a personal trainer for one’s spirit.
translation: a book you go back to to nourish your soul
JO: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I can’t believe this book exists. Basically, a wannabe poet wrote Rilke a letter of admiration, and Rilke wrote back. Then the wannabe wrote him back. And then Rilke wrote back. And it just kept going. Rilke’s generosity and wisdom in these letters are as soul-sustaining as anything you are likely to read.
RJS: Ditto on the Rilke. I can’t trust a person who doesn’t love it. The Perks of Being a Wallflower always perks me up (see what I did there?) in a weird, “Man, I’m so glad I’m not an angsty teenager anymore but it was kind of great” way. Alice Walker’s The Same River Twice inspires reflection and gratitude for the writers whose work makes my life better. Oh, and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, for asking Big Questions and reminding me why reading is sacred.
fugazi (n.)—a fake or false item, typically a knockoff of a designer or expensive purse or piece of jewelry.
translation: a book or author that is a poor imitation of another book or author
JO: You know, I think I like The Art of Fielding on the whole, but part of me feels like it is Franzen writ small. Scale is smaller. Stakes are lower. Characters shallower and ending less provocative. It’s not a bad book, in fact much of it is quite good, but it’s hard to get excited about a 24-inch TV when you’ve seen what the same model looks like in 65 inches.
RJS: A vote of confidence for Franzen. Not sure I was expecting that from you, but I like it! Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont is but a husk of the book that Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep—and, well, pretty much every other well-done boarding school story—is. Scandal, drug use, sexual identity confusion…you name it, this book has it, and yet it completely fails to be compelling. Womp womp womp.
kitchen ditchin’ (n.)—a situation in which one leaves someone in his or her bed to get a midnight snack.
translation: a book you gave up on
JO: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. I rarely give up on books. Like Jennifer Aniston-in-a-good-movie rare. The Enchantress of Florence is an opulent, intoxicating, and intricate book set in a dream-like ancient middle east. And for a while, this is really cool and transporting. But then it just becomes overwhelming because it goes on and on and on. It’s like those people that buy really nice perfume or cologne and then apply like barbecue sauce. Just too much muchness. After awhile, even the most complex and layered story can become dizzyingly and nauseatingly layered.
RJS: I give up on a lot of books, probably at least a dozen a year, but the one I’ve caught the most flack for bailing on is Room by Emma Donoghue. I appreciated what she was trying to do, but the voice was SO affected, and the whole thing just screamed, “book club ladies are going to think they’re brilliant for catching this symbolism!” The first fifty pages made me have conversations with inanimate objects in my home for days, and I couldn’t fathom the thought of finishing it.
shirt before the shirt (n.)—the wife beater one wears after he showers, but before he goes out to the club that allows him to lounge comfortably without sullying his fresh t-shirt
translation: an author’s warm-up book, the one he wrote before he *really* got going
JO: Ah….The Bluest Eye by Morrison. Gotta start there. If you can’t handle that, time to get out of the pool, shower, and get home. Hard to call this a warm-up since it’s already chock-full of that Morrison thing, but it only gets more so from here.
RJS: The 158-Pound Marriage is the tight, weird little novel John Irving wrote about two couples whose experiments in swinging (yes, that kind of swinging…come on, this is John Irving, the King of Weird Sexual Tropes) reveal our profound capacity for dysfunction and our power to hurt each other. If it’s too bizarre for you, you’re not up for the rest of his oeuvre.
t-shirt time (n.)—the point in the evening during which a guido changes from his wife-beater tank top (aka “the shirt before the shirt”) into his (ideally Ed Hardy-esque) top for the night right before it’s time to leave to hit the club
translation: see above, the book that marked a writer as GOOD
JO: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem. The perfect Lethemite cross-pollination of 1970s Brooklyn with a nerdcore love and knowledge of comics. So good and perfect Lethem that in Chronic City he had to do a little sci-fi and speculative to get away from the utterly convincing world that he wrote in The Fortress of Solitude. Also, just a great name/reference for a novel about loner comic-book kids.
RJS: The World According to Garp is so clearly the point at which Irving became good that it’s almost not even worth discussing it.
Man, we hope you’ve had half as much fun reading this as we’ve had writing it. Just goes to show: nothing is so irredeemable that a little book talk can’t make it interesting.