Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Barfin’ Arfin

My second selection for the Twenty-Ten Book Challenge’s Up To You section was Lesley Arfin’s Dear Diary.  Last year and the year before, I stumbled upon David Nadelberg’s Mortified books, which were diary entries that he had collected from random people who agreed to have them published.  The Mortified series is a delicious bit of voyeurism, and I fully expected the same from Dear Diary.  Lesley Arfin decided to publish bits and pieces of her diaries from when she was a pre-teen until in her early twenties.  The premise was that she would try to find the people she wrote about and follow up with them after the fact to see what had gone wrong or right in their relationships.  Lesley’s life was one of a self-described “Long Island JAP” (Jewish American Princess) turned heroin addict. 

I was so excited to read this book and so disappointed in what it turned out to be.  A few weeks ago, while browsing in Joseph Beth’s humor section, I came up on the book Look At This F*cking Hipster by Joe Mande.  In the introduction, he writes that his parents would often visit him in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and his father would see people walking down the street and ask his son, “Is that a hipster?”  I read the book and laughed like hell, I had no idea there was a term for the sorts of people that hipsters turn out to be (if you want to know what a hipster looks like, visit Joe’s site at http://www.latfh.com/).

While I was reading Dear Diary, I kept thinking, “Is she a hipster?”  I must have sounded just like Joe’s dad.  And lo and behold, I drew my own conclusions that yes, Lesley Arfin must be a hipster.  Someone who is so desperate to be cool that they revel in their ironic uncoolness until people worship them.

I could say more, but I found a review on Goodreads.com that sums up pretty much everything I could possibly want to say about it.  Credit where it is due, this comes from someone named Mary Maddox, who gave it one star. (I’m excerpting the review down to the most basic points that say everything I hated about the book.)

1.Because Dear Diary is the worst kind of lazy, tin-eared, hackneyed, narcissistic memoir: imagine Dave Eggers's solipsistic obsession for self-chronicling but without the interesting life or the literary chops that make his confessions compelling and readable. Instead, imagine pages from the diary of an entirely unremarkable Long Island teenager/heroin addict followed by "updates" from the entirely unremarkable near-thirty-year-old hipster hanger-on she grew up to be. Now imagine this charade dragging on for a horribly self-indulgent 232 pages. Now try not to gouge out your own eyes.

2.Because peppered lovingly throughout all 232 of these pages— along with many forced allusions to countercultural touchstones, wretchedly written paeans about Arfin’s “passion for writing,” and constant assertions of her apparently sincere belief that this “book” will “change lives”—is the casual ironic racism, sexism, and heterosexism that is a huge part of Vice culture. What’s funny about calling someone a “fag” or a “dyke” for Vice folks, as far as I can gather, is that this shocks well-intentioned, let’s-all-just-get-along type liberals, for whom they have nothing but the most virulent scorn. What Arfin fails to understand is that the average 15-year-old girl in Minnesota, or even one in Long Island, will not grasp the transgressive irony of her incessant gay-bashing and will see it only (and this is perhaps closer to Arfin’s own true motivation) as a way to be cool.

3.Because, by some miracle of astonishing arrogance, Arfin sees herself as a role model and encourages her readers to follow her life path. At the end of her “book,” Arfin opines, “I hope everyone who reads it makes as many mistakes as I did. Just remember that mistakes are only worth it if they get written down in a diary. If you’re lost at sea in your late 20s and you don’t know what to do with your life, maybe you’ll be able to convince someone to publish it.”

Ah, yes, children. She’s right. The surest route to personal fulfillment is to get addicted to heroin, compulsively record your boring, belligerently ignorant observations, and befriend some super-rich douchebags who’ll publish your tripe! But you’d also better be sure that your parents are rich enough to pay for your expensive liberal arts college, send you to rehab twice, and subsidize your kitschily decorated apartment on the lower east side!

I was far too bored to really ponder the half-assed, "J.K.—kind of!" sarcasm with which Arfin qualifies this and other more grandiose claims. I would guess that it functions to absolve her of culpability should some unfortunate teen take her seriously and end up dead in an alley. "J.K., dead dude! Didn't you get that I was being, like, totally ironic?"

Ok, fine, I didn’t excerpt a whole lot of it.  But you can see the discontent this book causes.  Ugh.  My “Up to You!” category was substance abuse, and this is my second entry.  Afrin does devote a lot of her book to describing drugs’ effects on her and her stints in rehab, so good enough.  Anyway, I gave the book 2 stars, only because it was pretty readable—I wanted to see what the heck she was going to say next.  However, I quickly listed the book for swap on PBS, which is where I got it from, and can’t wait to ship it off to its new home.

Thus endeth another review for the TwentyTen Book Challenge.  I am sorely tempted to count this as a BBC selection as technically a diary is a book so it’s a book about a book, but I don’t want to waste a selection on this book! 

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