Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Sweet Valley Confidential"

There is a woman who lives in Atlanta that I like to talk books with. She has on occasion steered me wrong.  She singled-handedly provided me with two of the worst books I have ever read:
"The Quickie" by James Patterson and "The Nerd Who Loved Me" by Vicki Lewis. Other than that, I have few complaints with our 13 year friendship.

So clearly, I am saddened that the next book I need to add to my "worst book list" was self-selected,  available at no cost to me after a long hold queue courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library. The only person I can blame for this book coming into my life is myself. The third worst book in the world is "Sweet Valley Confidential" by Francine Pascal. The book claims to tell the tale of the Wakefield twins at age 27, but since the series launched with 16 year-olds in 1983, that makes those girls 44.

I heard about this book from one of my usual sources, The New York Times*. (I am also fond of author interviews on NPR, Colbert Report, and The Daily Show. Oprah and People booklists have even provided fodder for my reading. I found Nick Hornby by reading a book column in either Mademoiselle or Glamour on a plane.) I am always looking for interesting book recommendations.

This time, I should have known better. If a book series seemed pretty stupid to me as a 5th grader, why would a "look at them now" novel be any different for me at age 37? If I thought the characters were flat as a 5th grader, would 28 years make it better? Clearly, no. Yet, I still read the whole stinkin' thing.

I would post valid criticisms about the writing, but it would be much more entertaining for you (and time-saving for me) to suggest that you peruse  the reviews, where crazed fans write scathing reviews of the new book,  lovingly referencing the old books, savoring and celebrating what they feel was Pascal's literary heyday and contrasting it with her modern-day fall from grace.

Now, 28 years ago,  I only read a few of these books. I admit, I was in awe of the raciness of "Playing With Fire," but I also knew- even as 5th grader- that high school pool parties and Bruce Patmans untying bikini tops was out of my frame of reference and that Pascal's narration of judgement was unsettling. So I went on to read other things. Better things. I wasn't really a SVH reader, but I knew enough to understand it's place in pop culture to make surface jokes about the characters. (I can also do this with the initial cast of 90210, but not with the cast of Saved by the Bell.)

I think what makes me sad is not that I finished this book, wasting plenty of time that could have been spent reading something worthwhile. After all, I have watched the Tori Spelling movie "Mother May I Sleep With Danger" even though it was terrible without any guilt or shame. (Incidentally, her mother said NO to her sleeping with danger, but surprise, surprise she still did and here's the big shocker: she barely got out of danger.  Gripping tale.) What I found upsetting about reading SVC is that my quest for nostalgia was unsuccessful, fueld by truly horrendous writing and the idea that the narrator's angle had also not changed in 28 years: people were still an extension of what they were in relation to their high school selves and then judged accordingly. Oddly, I guess I am a little sad that the Wakefield girls still seemed to be in high school. And now I feel uneasy about attending a high school reunion. Ever.

In a twisted sort of way, I loved finding another worst book ever. I loved telling people how bad it was and watching the look of horror on friend's faces when I told them I read the whole thing.  I loved poo-pooing Blaine (aka Mr. TRWH) when he suggested that I stop sharing with others that I had read it. While I was not embarrassed to tell people I read it, clearly he was.

* Further examination showed the NYT article about the book to be in the Media and Advertising/ Business Day section, not Books.  Aha.  I never would have read that section, but reading the paper blurred the lines...and gave me a bad book recommendation!


  1. Oh my goodness, I love MMISWD. A thrilling tale, indeed. My sister got it for me for Christmas on the DVD.

  2. Good to know, good to know. I have been in a book club for 5 years in Philly and it is very 'high brow' literature we read-every 3 months we read non-fiction or one of the 'classics' (ie: Wuthering Heights), but ironically enough this book came up in conversation and was quickly laughed at, however, I made mental note to 'check it out' on the down low out of city limits far, far away at a Barnes and Noble that no one would recognize me at. I also did and still do this for any of the 'Real Housewives" books....and the Real World. But SVH? Many fond memories-I wanted a lavalier so badly because of the twins....Barb Osipow

  3. I don't know if you were a "Little House On The Prairie" kid, but if you need a funny engaging bit of nostalgia I would highly recommend "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure.

    Miss. Kati Shanks and i listened to it on the way to Maine and it was fantastic.

  4. @SDJ- Thanks, I will check it out! Except who knows when I will read it since KMJ is leaving us...