What Do You Read After Reading Moby-Dick?

I finished Moby-Dick way ahead of schedule. I’m still writing weekly posts for the next little while, but in the meantime, I need something to read. So, what does one read after a long, difficult, literary classic? Here is what happens when a book snob looks for a “fun” read.

My criteria:

  • Short
  • Easy
  • Fun
  • No whales

The candidates:

1. The Worst Book Ever Written

I happened to be in the basement, escaping a record-breaking heat wave, when I noticed this in my book closet (yeah, closet. Gotta get some shelves.)


My mom and my Aunt are romance readers. They’re readers of everything else, too, but they’ve always had a soft spot for a good Harlequin. They also like to find and exchange the most ridiculously titled romance novels they can find. My Aunt sent this to my mom years ago, and I think the game ended there, because how on earth are you going to top Wicked Is My Flesh?

I decided that I had to read this immediately. The book begins, jarringly, with a history lesson about Mormonism. What the hell? I’m really not too interested in Mormonism unless Chloe Sevingy is involved, and I don’t think even she would touch this mess.

Then, about ten pages in, without build up or explanation, there is a sex scene between our hero and his father’s 25 year old wife. Because that usually happens, especially when you’re a Mormon in the 1800s. I made it another few pages before I had to stop because the font is too small and difficult to read. I would have read the whole thing, to confirm its “worst book ever” status, but, I am apparently choosing books based on the print size and am that much closer to turning into my mother. Moving on.

2. Book Bloggers Recommend

Next, I asked my Edmonton Book Blogger crew for recommendations. Some of them are into YA and chick lit, so I figured I could get a good lead on something fun. What I ended up with is a book that I’m pretty sure is neither YA not chick-lit at all. Kristilyn recommended Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.


I’ve never read Gaiman, but I hear such great things. I love the title and the cover art. And I knew I’d made the right choice when the cashier at Chapters gasped and said “SO GOOD” when I approached the till.

So why haven’t I started it yet? Read on…

3. The Book Everyone and (Especially) Their Mothers Read Last Year

I was tweeting about the horribleness of Wicked Is My Flesh when regular Reading in Bed commenter @TheAndrewLoeb replied and said he was reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and I knew I had to read it too. Andrew is a PhD student and a great book snob (compliment, obviously) and I just feel like I need to experience someone like him reading this book. I know Andrew’s wife from an online mom group and she thinks we’re both nuts.

Fifty Shades

Follow me on Twitter or look for #50ShadesofBookSnob for live tweeting and ranting. A few observations:

  • I’m 20% through the book and there’s been no sex. This is pretty disappointing after WimF‘s 10 page nod to storytelling.
  • Fifty Shades is sorely lacking in a framing device. I never realized how important a frame is. The book is written in first person present tense and is very conversational in tone, which is driving me nuts, because WHO IS SHE TALKING TO?
  • I am amused by the frequent references to Tess of the D’Ubervilles, which I love. Oh you you didn’t, James. Oh no you didn’t.

I’ll wrap up Fifty Shades in a couple of days, and then get through all 180 pages of The Ocean, and then move on to my proper summer reads. No Moby-Dick hangover here!

How do you unwind after a long, difficult read?


  1. Andrew

    Ha. Thanks for the shout-out. I’m going to try to get back to it this week. I stalled a bit at about the 75 page mark when NOTHING WAS HAPPENING. Except bad writing. There was lots of that. Think about this for a second: a publisher read this manuscript and thought, yes I think we WILL take this ninth-grader’s writing and market it aggressively. There’s hope for all of us.

    Anyway, I’ll try to keep up with the odd snarky Tweet, but I’m planning to save most of my thoughts on it for a longer essay/review that I’ll put together once I’m done. There’s some profound existential questions being asked by that novel. Just not on purpose.

    Reading this is sort of part of a larger idea I have of proposing a course to my department here.

    English 107: Bad Literature.
    Course Description: The study of English literature is predicated on the idea that every work is a product of the culture in which it originates. Books are a function not only of authorial intent, but of historical circumstances, political climates, aesthetic principles, socio-economic circumstances, etc. How, then, can we account for bad literature? What do trash novels have to tell us about the worlds from which they come to us? What can Stephen King tell us about politics? What does E.L. James have to say about gender? What does it mean that bad art often reaches far more readers than the great works of literature?

    I think they’ll go for it. 🙂

    • lauratfrey

      The first 100 pages are brutal. Could have been edited down to 20 easily. Is it following Twilight scene for scene or something? Never read it (and won’t, that’s my “hard limit,” as Mr. Grey would say)

      Are you kidding about the course? I can’t tell. Here’s an interesting article about good and bad books: http://bookriot.com/2013/06/02/some-books-are-better-than-others-the-best-of-book-riot/

      Is Stephen King trashy in your opinion? Lots of “serious” book bloggers love him. I’ve never read him.

      • Andrew

        I am sort of serious about the course. I’m not sure it would ever fly (at least in my department), but David Foster Wallace used to teach a composition class where he taught from contemporary mysteries and thrillers by writers like Danielle Steele and Thomas Harris, so there’s precedent for it working, I guess. I’d aim for a more cultural-studies angle on it if I could make it happen. Trash novels are often more culturally influential out of sheer market forces than our high-culture stuff like Ulysses or whatever.

        Stephen King is on the cusp of trashy, but some of his writing is decent. I loved his stuff when I was a teenager, but I’ve read back over some of my favourites in the last few years and find that it’s not that his old material was better it was that I was a less sophisticated reader. But I certainly also wouldn’t put him in E.L. James’s category either. The guy can tell a story at least. And write a grammatically correct sentence. I’d maybe call him a pop-novelist? I dunno.

  2. ebookclassics

    I would take a literature course with that description! Not planning to read 50 Shades of Grey anytime soon, but curious to read your reviews. I was told the book was like a story preteen girls would make up at a sleepover. I heard a rumour Ian Somerhalder from The Vampire Diaries might play Christian in the movie and I’d watch him in anything, so that might be as close to the book as I get.

  3. Roxy

    You must read Gaiman. Must, must, must. You do know the history of how Fifty Shades of Grey got published yes? Who the original characters were? (my reason for never reading that book).

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  5. Kristilyn

    I really don’t get the appeal of 50 Shades. I mean, I’ve read erotica before and this one just sounds blah to me. Plus, I’ve heard things said by my mom’s friends about it and I feel like that’s scarred me for life.

    I hope you like Neil’s book!!!

    • lauratfrey

      I don’t get it either. Why did this get so popular? I mostly enjoyed it because I feel like I’m in on the joke. If it wasn’t for the popularity, and backlash, I would have quit around the 25% point, or if not there, for sure around the 75% point. It was just so boring and wordy. You know how in a good book, every word seems necessary and chosen with care? This is the opposite. Word vomit. Ew.

      I’m losing The Ocean so far! It’s very reflective and melancholy. My fav 🙂

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