Autostraddle Read A F*cking Book Club #2: The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebegott

Welcome to the second meeting of the Autostraddle Book Club! This week we’re discussing The IHOP Papers. Feel free to help yourselves to some tea and gluten-free pancakes while everyone gets settled. There are three kinds of vegan syrup, please leave enough for everyone.

There are certain themes that, largely by coincidence, have carried over from our first Book Club meeting: queer coming-of-age, poetry, leaving an unsupportive and homophobic family, heavy drinking, etc. Some things, however, we’re encountering together for the first time: recovery, polyamory, San Francisco and all that it represents, self-harm, and waitressing, that seminal experience that has left its mark on virtually every writer, poet, actor, and artist who have counted themselves among its ranks since it was invented.

There’s no one else here to tell me how to do things, so I’ve decided, pretty arbitrarily, that I’m going to divide this post into the top three things that Francie has feelings about, to make it easier for us to share our feelings on these matters. Our feelings on her feelings. Whatever. You get it.
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Speaking of Francie…

She’s cute, amirite? I like how wide-eyed she is, how utterly guileless she seems. She is the definition of being entirely without guile. I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t scheme or ever try to deceive; I know she has dozens of secret plans for winning over every woman she meets, but they are all so desperate and wholehearted that I feel like she might as well be painting IN LOVE WITH YOU across her forehead. This quality also translates into a kind of intensity that’s scary sometimes; her wanting things is so bald and unequivocally that you wanna be like ‘Whoa, honey, calm down. Slow your roll.’ But then she’s so excited about something – like deer or motorcycles or sex – that you can’t stay mad. I like that. I think her voice characterized her super well, and her observations and (unintentional?) humor gave depth to what could have been a one-dimensional sketch of Aimless Twenty-Something.

“Hope, when you lose your virginity it’s the same as when a dog runs really fast and smacks into a screen door. The dog feels shock and some pain – a jolt maybe – but mostly it feels stupid and alone.”

I was also really interested in her preoccupation with being “tough,” especially when, to be honest, she seemed so clearly not to be. Not in a bad way, but she seems to me like a girl who wants to fall asleep with her head on your chest in bed, who buys booze for the alcoholic outside her apartment even though going into a liquor store has got to be hard. She wants to kiss the deer on the mouth. Where does all this talk about being tough come from? I think a better word is brave. Brave to leave her home and go to a new city, brave to tell someone she loves them, brave to quit drinking. I think I see her as someone who is brave, but isn’t capable of seeing herself that way. It’s an interesting thing, right?

THIS IS HOW I PICTURE FRANCIE IN MY HEAD (VIA FLICKR USER HEAT_LIGHTING)

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1 – Self-Harm/Addiction

I’m talking about this first because this is the thing I want to apologize for the most. I had forgotten since my first reading how pervasive and graphic this portion of the book is. Francie’s voice is incredibly earnest and sincere; at least, she seems to be, when she’s talking to the reader – completely unable to hide anything or edit herself in any way. This honesty is pretty much what makes her as a character for me; however, what feels endearing when she’s talking about how much she wants to kiss a deer on the mouth can, in turn, seem overwhelming when she’s describing exactly how she wants to cut herself. Her honesty about her motives can be a huge turnoff, too; doing visible harm to yourself in order to garner sympathy from pretty girls seems like a shitty thing to do, and I found myself wondering if it made the book into an unfair depiction of self-harm in general, or of people who really want to be able to stop and who make a huge effort to keep their issues from hurting the people who love them. But then I remembered that at other points in the book, Francie is that person trying not to hurt people with her issues. So I guess I have no real conclusions here. The cutting parts of the book made me uncomfortable and sad. But I guess there’s not a lot of other ways to feel.

What I think redeemed the book in terms of its treatment of addiction, though – and maybe this is a weird or unpopular thing to say – was AA. Without going into too much detail, there were times when I wondered if there was an attempt to make Francie’s self-harm sexy or cool. She talks a lot about how ‘tough’ she wants to seem, and I wondered if that wasn’t happening on some level in the text too. But she talks about her commitment to AA at least as much if not more than cutting, and let’s be real for a second: there is nothing sexy about AA. AA, or any kind of recovery, is really fucking hard. It is being in a church basement at 10pm on a Saturday night, drinking juice and eating stale cookies and knowing that Stan the 7-11 clerk in the chair next to you understands a part of you better than your parents or friends or lover ever will. I have an immense amount of respect for people in recovery, and I think Liebegott does an excellent job showing her respect as well. I think knowing that Francie’s serious about AA is badass and gives us a whole new perspective on her character. To be fair, though, I’ve never been myself, and so maybe I’m not the best person to comment. Anyone else? Thoughts? Input?

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2 – Waitressing

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, and part of the reason I wanted to read this book with you all. I know that waitressing has “been done,” since everyone who isn’t born into the royal family of Lithuania/a major American political dynasty pretty much has to do it at some point. There’s not much new left to say. But it’s done so well here; it all feels so familiar and right to me. The sore feet and back, the shitty tips, the nightmares (I heard the sound of a register in my dreams for months), hating how stupid everything was but also caring about the job more than anything else because you’re so fucking poor, hating your idiot coworkers but also feeling a deep sense of cameraderie with them because they’re the only people whose lives suck as much as yours. And setting aside my embarrassingly self-indulgent fascination with this subject, I honestly think it’s an effective parallel for Francie’s character.

Waitressing (or maybe any low-paying hourly wage job) has the weird effect of making you feel simultaneously powerless and proud of your independence. There are few things more humiliating than wondering if you’ll be able to pick up a Saturday morning shift because rent is due this week and you’re not sure if you have it or not. On the other hand, it’s also an amazing feeling to be walking home after closing with your tips in hard cash bursting out of your pockets; it makes you feel powerful, all that money in your hands – like you want to buy breakfast for everyone you know, and leave a 50% tip. It’s a hard job, and you don’t get much for it, but doing well at a hard job can make you feel good about yourself, too.

I was really nervous [about waitressing]. I mean really, really nervous. I was sure I’d never be able to carry all those plates on my arms, but at the same time I wanted to be the best waitress ever. I wanted to be so graceful that people would have to stop eating and stare astounded as I glided through the dining room with plates stacked from my wrists to my shoulders.

It’s not a coincidence that the book, with all its lesbian drama and scandalous addictions and San Francisco sleaze, is named after a pancake diner chain. The real action of the book begins with Francie’s elation that she’s managed to snag a job at IHOP; it ends, more or less, with her quitting her job at IHOP because it’s terrible and she hates it. To be honest, a lot of this book happens outside the main character; if you made a list of things that Francie does and compared it to the list of things that happen to Francie, one would be a lot longer than the other. But IHOP is a sphere of her control, where she actively makes a space for herself and makes friends and choices and manages to save $5000. That means something, I think. What exactly? I guess that’s up to you.

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3 – Insane Lesbian Relationship Drama

Is this what the book is “about”? I don’t know. It is the thing I have the least to say about, probably because I have had my emotions surgically removed. I hate Irene. I’m just going to say it. Hate Irene, and Maria sounds super hot. I’m glad that the book didn’t end up being about “a relationship,” so much as Francie’s general relationship-navigation skills. I would argue that they improved markedly by the end, and I think the reversal of her caring for Irene’s dysfunction rather than having Irene care for her was nice. I think there was an understanding that that kind of dysfunction and neediness is something to be healed, not something to actively look for in a relationship or to use to attract or manipulate others. Basically, this book ended in a relationship with a cello, amirite? Part of me feels like this is trite, but a larger part of me has actually always harbored an intense fantasy of owning a cello (true story), so I am actually pretty into this. Differing opinions on the matter are welcomed, though.

INSERT THOUGHTS/FEELINGS/IDEAS/POETRY/INTERPRETATIVE DANCE HERE.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 771 articles for us.

39 Comments

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    I really enjoyed this book. Sat down and read it in one sitting enjoyed (well, it was shortish and an easy read). I wanted to grab it and share my favorite passage but now I can’t find it (in the living room? no. bathroom? no. Under my copy of Imagine Me and You? no.)

    But here are a couple reasons why I thought it was completely fucking awesome:

    1. The description of the first time she slept with a girl and how amazing it was to make someone else orgasm. Uh, yeah. It’s so hard to articulate that feeling of power that you get in that situation. Power and self-satisfaction and quiet amazement (this is why I’m more of a top, holla). Can anybody who hasn’t misplaced their book find this and quote it?

    2. $5,000?! SHE SAVED THAT MUCH MONEY WORKING AT IHOP? That’s fucking amazing. If you haven’t waitressed or worked in a service/retail industry, you need to know how much it sucks. Honestly sucks. It is terrible and painful and the worst part is how little money you make. So yeah. That’s bitchin’.

    3. Irene. I hated her but the way that Francie was obsessed with her was so well done. I would suspect that it’s more of a gay thing to be completely infatuated with the first person you fall in love with because you both have the “love” feelings and the “self-discovery” feelings.

    4. The motorcycle ride with the random dude (well I found it to be an entertaining aside).

    More later. WHERE THE HELL IS MY BOOK. I NEEDS IT.

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    I can’t really resist any book that takes place in San Francisco.

    Overall I thought it was a good book, but there was something missing to make it an awesome book.

    I feel kinda shitty for not praising a queer book.

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    1. I really didn’t think the self-harm aspect was going to bother me but it did a little. I guess it’s been SO LONG since that’s been an issue for me that I didn’t think it would phase me but it was SO well written and descriptive.

    2. Oh, restaurant work.

    3. I was rooting for her to end up with Jenny the entire time. Didn’t like Irene at all.

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      I totally agree with #3, there was something so off putting about Irene for me. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but mostly it was her reliance on Gustavo while she still kind of led Jenny and Francie on even while knowing their dependence on her. And her mental breakdowns while dealing with relationship issues that she started just made me want to punch her. Jenny, on the other hand, feels like the kind of relationship that just lets you breathe; there was longing and friendship and finally sex and they just seemed so happy together despite their preoccupation with Irene, who, like I mentioned, just makes me want to cut a bitch.

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        I agree with the Jenny thing too. I thought they made sense together and I hated that Jenny ran off with that ass hat Gustavo.

        I didn’t hate Irene quite as much as everyone else seemed to. I didn’t exactly like her either though. I saw her as someone who is incredibly flawed but for some reason thinks she can fix everyone around her. I felt like her problems were probably going to be worse and longer lasting than Francie’s so I mostly just felt sorry for her.

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    I liked the story and that it’s set in SF. I got to read about riding MUNI while riding MUNI! But I really didn’t like any of the characters very much… Actually Jenny is pretty cool and Francie is sometimes cool too. Most of the time I thought about how if I knew them I would want to stay the fuck away from their lives.

    The cutting kind of freaked me out , and some of her reasons for it REALLY freaked me out. Sometimes it was quite upsetting.

    I also agree with everyone who said Irene is off putting, maybe it’s her taking advantage of students that look up to her.

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    I typed this on Monday as I was impatiently waiting for this article to be posted!

    I really liked this book! I don’t read as much as I like, and the last book I tried to read I didn’t get all of the way through so I was especially pleased with this book.
    Some of the self-injury stuff was a little hard to get through, but thankfully that stuff mostly stopped after she started having sex. The sex! Wow. The Jenny stuff.
    I’m not very good at discussing books? But I bookmarked chapter 14 where she gets her labia pierced…eek and ow I would never ever consider doing that.
    I also bookmarked chapter 21 but I can’t remember what I wanted to say about it. It’s the chapter where the police ask her why she has razor blades in her wallet. Oh, now I see! The ridiculousness of Maria telling Francesca to try and remember if she was molested.
    This: “Had a broken mailbox ever molested me? Maybe I was taking it too literally.”

    But, yeah, I liked it! I agree about Irene. She kind of sucks and possibly reminds me of some people I’ve known. I liked Jenny a lot.

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      Yeah, the labia piercing made me squirm. It also made me kind of sad, because I feel like she did it on an impulse just to impress Irene (who I wanted to disappear). She seemed okay with it and used it as a symbol of empowerment after the fact, so maybe it turned out okay.

      The molestation thing weirded me out too. It just seemed so ridiculous and insane. I think that made me dislike Maria a little bit.

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        The molestation thing also made me thing of…like you’re supposed to find “roots” to your issues. I’ve been in therapy for like 13 years and I feel a large part of my depression/anxiety stuff is simply genetic. But that there was some pressure to think back to some moment that was traumatizing or something? So I think maybe Maria was actually trying to be helpful but she was just…her views about things were narrow, I guess.

        I guess it weirded me out but I was also a bit amused by the absurdity of it.

        And thinking of all of that just made me think of But I’m A Cheerleader. Find your root!

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          This one time when I was seeing a therapist for depression/anxiety, she asked a bunch of questions about whether or not I’d been traumatized by various traumatizing things. Actually, Maria’s emphasis on molestation being the cause of her depression comments on that stigma associated with mental illness. It’s only okay to have “issues” if there’s a good, concrete reason like being molested. Also, I could just be stretching things, but whatever.

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    I read this book real quick over the last three days. I am so excited to have participated in the Autostraddle Book Club. Like, you have no idea.

    Things:

    -The self-harm was chilling and sort of hijacked the book for me, BUT it was well done and rang true for me, unlike a lot of other fictional cutting scenes.
    -I hated Irene from the start. Maria, however, is such a hottie in my mind’s eye.
    -I agree that this book is good but not amazing. It’s addictive and exciting and insightful and made me really want to move to San Francisco. Thing is, Francie’s naivete kind of bugged me. She seemed much younger than 20. After a while I started getting annoyed that she was so into Irene when Irene sucked so bad. On the other hand, she seemed immature, but God knows I could never pick up and move to a strange city without knowing anyone and support myself and walk an hour to work and back in the freezing cold. So I guess Francie’s pretty cool.

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    Oh, this book. I read it a long time ago. I couldn’t put it down. Now, I feel like I should have re-read it just for this.

    – It was intense. The beginning especially. I’ve never dealt with self-injury, but I have dealt with depression. I felt like I was wading through a pool of it or something. It was unsettling to say the least. It was so easy to connect to Francie. I became so immersed in her that I felt what she was feeling. Liebegott did a good job of creating a character readers could identify with in at least some small way.

    – Okay, I’m so glad other people hated Irene. I could not stand her. I kept wanting to scream at Francie and show her that Irene wasn’t anywhere near as amazing as she perceived her to be. I liked the role reversal at the end too. I felt slightly better about Irene’s character at that point considering it’s easier to connect to a character who’s finally presented as human. Once I got the full picture, I felt like Francie needed Irene so that she could learn one of those oh-so-important life lessons. Sidenote: I wanted things to work out with Jenny. Why did she have to move away with stupid Gustavo of all people?

    – The thing I liked/hated most about this book was the fact that it was just a chapter of Francie’s life. Her job at IHOP set the time-frame, but it wasn’t set up like a traditional story with a concrete beginning, middle, and end. You reach a moment of closure with the cello scene, but you’re left wanting more. It isn’t a neat, little story with a cookie-cutter happy ending. Even though I was left wanting a more orderly, traditional ending that tied up all the loose ends, I appreciate that it didn’t end that way. We see her grow in some important ways, but there are also notable areas that she didn’t improve or grow in.

    – The cello scene. I’ve grown to love the cello scene. I think this whole interaction reminds you that Francie is still Francie. While she’s grown and changed, she still has that inability (or maybe unwillingness) to fully connect with reality.

    – Overall, it felt real. Life isn’t perfection. Life is a bunch of moments thrown together in a usually inconvenient manor. Life doesn’t stop or slow down for you to catch your breath. You just have to find a way to keep going. You don’t reach a certain point in your life where you’ve overcome all the obstacles and are now free to ride off into the sunset contrary to the stories illustrated in the mainstream media. Francie’s story presented life, with all its rough edges, for what it is and that quality made it a surprisingly refreshing read.

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    i read this book a couple weeks ago without even realizing it was the book club book.

    i didn’t read all the way to the end, partly because i got it from interlibrary loan and forgot to pick it up until it was almost due. the other reason was, as someone mentioned, literally all the characters seem totally insane and unlikeable. the whole book seemed mired in this totally depressing, hopeless atmosphere that really bothered me.

    on the plus side, ali liebgott really has an amazing way with metaphor. i get i just couldn’t get past the endless dysfunction and drab atmosphere.

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    I read this fucking book! I really enjoyed it. It was interesting in comparison to the last Book Club Pick: I read tiny bits of Inferno every day for two months without ever really getting my head around it, while I read The iHop Papers in three hours one afternoon on every single form of public transportation in LA and felt pretty immediately satisfied with everything in it. Both great books, just a very different reading experience. (Sidenote: Chipotle in West Hollywood is probably the gayest place I’ve ever read a book. It’s like the cast of The L Word and Queer as Folk in one small room plus burritos.)

    This book reminded me a lot of myself in the beginning of college: working bullshit jobs, preoccupied with being tough, lusting after lots of people but really wanting one. It also reminded me of so many people I know: After I read it, I wanted to buy a ton of copies and send them out to all of my friends. It also reminded me of Girl by Blake Nelson, one of my favorite books in high school. Girl is a little younger, a little more dated, and a lot less gay, but I recommend it if you liked this book.

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      Also, I feel like this might be a jackass thing to say, but I thought I’d put it out there. This book addressed some of the potential problems with polyamory that I’ve always been uncomfortable with: the favoring/prioritization of one partner over others, lack of communication, really confusing boundaries, etc. I’m all for polyamory in theory, but have a hard time wrapping my head around how it can be functional in practice and this book really underlined that. I know that ‘functional relationships do not an exciting plot make,’ but I guess I wish the relationship between Marie/Jenny/Jackass had been less fucked up. If anyone has some book recs about thriving/happy/functional polyamorous relationships, holla! cause I’m super interested in reading them.

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    I will share all my feelings about this book as soon as my internet properly works, for now I’ll say that I loved this book even if it hurt to read sometimes

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    Yay! I finished this book last week. I’m glad to finally be able to talk about it. Here are some feelings I had (in no particular order)

    – waitressing nightmares, I have them all the time! I once had one where MY MOTHER worked at the restaurant with me, that was terrible.

    – I liked how it showed Francie being proud of her waitressing job even though she knew it sucked. I feel this way about my job, I hate it, but simultaniously kind of love it at the same time.

    – Irene sucked! How funny is it that she always acted all cat like while in bed, and it kinda freaked Francie out

    – San Francisco love! I just went there on vacation this summer and it’s my new favorite place. I like that I could kind of picture geographically where she was :)

    – I was rooting for Jenny the whole time.

    – she saved $5000 while waitressing! holy fuck, how do I do that?!

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    Francie is EXACTLY like a pseudo-friend of mine. It was super unnerving to read because the similarities were so, umm, similar. I even witnessed my friend freak out over deer before. I can’t even. It’s crazy.

    I hate Irene, too.

    Jenny is super great. I love the poetry scene / scars stuff.

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    I really liked the ending of the book. It simultaneously showed how she had changed and yet not changed at all in a really well written and real way.

    Irene sucks. There wasn’t even a page in the entire book where I thought she might be a decent person. Normally I would be able to sympathize with how f*cked up she is but it bothered me so much that Francie looked up to her that I couldn’t help but hate her. I just wanted her to stop and be like “Just to let you know, Francie, I’m much more f*cked up than you are, so you should probably just find someone else to look up to.”

    I liked Jenny until she ran off with Gustavo.

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    I read the book!

    1. I usually run from any media with this in it, as I find SIB spreads like wildfire (for ex, I read a Teen magazine article about it when I was 13 and *poof* it was stuck in my head & my ex did it because her gf did it). BUT I felt it was not a gratuitous subject matter in this book, even if I didn’t agree with the way it was portrayed. Plus, when you take away one addiction, it generally gets replaced with another one (or two, as in Francie’s & my own case).

    2. Waitressing…oh how I hated side work. But it can be fun having a weird schedule. And oh the money you will make!

    3. The relationships were boring to me and I read Rubyfruit Jungle right after this one, so I can’t keep them straight.

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    Ali Liebegott is definitely a talented writer, but I don’t know that I can honestly say I enjoyed the book. Maybe it was too realistic – I felt like Francie is that one friend you always try to stick with, but you really, really hope she gets over the awful person she’s obsessed with ASAP (hey, Irene). Maybe it’s because it’s winter, but almost everything in the book felt like a never-ending pile of depression.

    I found most of the characters unlikeable. Gustavo was, of course, the worst, what with the abuse, terminal case of man-child, and general vortex of suck. Irene was also pretty up there, and the power dynamics of a professor hand-picking students to be her partners creeped me out on many levels. Jenny was promising, but then she got trapped in the Gustavo vortex.

    All the male characters felt pretty one-dimensional, but since straight white dudes have been writing women that way forever and getting accolades and honors for it, I wasn’t super-bothered by it. It was just something I found interesting.

    Sorry for the novel-length reply. I apparently have a lot of feelings this morning (/I really, really don’t want to study more). Despite the above criticisms, I am glad this was chosen, and appreciated reading it, even if it’s one I’ll re-read over and over.

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    I think I tried to read this book a few years ago, and I remember not being a big fan of it. As others have said, I found most of the main characters unlikeable – and not in an endearing way, either. I, uh, don’t think I finished it, actually…

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    I have so many feelings about this book. I really related to Francie. I’ve been through/am going through cycles of self-harm and depression. Not usually cutting, but drinking/drugs and other assorted things. I felt that the way that she viewed things was pretty close to how my brain works sometimes. I wanted to see her with Jenny, but then again, knew that she needed her complete independence. Irene was a grade-A douchebarnacle, and there are certainly people out there like her. Aside from the heaviness of this book, I did find myself laughing a lot, which was great. Seriously, though, what the hell kind of a term of endearment is Goaty? I wouldn’t wanted to be reminded of my own stinkiness. Anyways, thank you Autostraddle for giving me a book I could relate to. It’s nice to know that there are others out there going through similar things, it the outcome doesn’t have to be bleak. :) It is possible for things to get better. Also as an aside: IHOP Papers makes me think of rolling papers made out of thin pancakes, which I guess would be crepes, hence: The Crepe Papers.

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      douchebarnacle! i love it!

      the “goaty” thing seriously bothered me too. i kept wishing they would stop! it totally made the sex scenes completely unsexy that people kept calling her that.

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        Thanks! I made “douchebarnacle” up on the spot If they called her Goaty because she had a cute habit of eating hay or car parts or something, sure, but for being stenchly?

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    I thought I’d relate to Francie a lot more than I did, I was surprised that I hardly felt a connection or attachment to her or any of her feelings. I thought the AA element was really interesting, I liked the way that Liebegott didn’t go into huge detail about Francie’s life as an addict, I feel like a lot of authors would have used those stories – instead she mostly just focused on the desire to keep with the program. I agree there was something respectful about the way it was handled.

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    I read this book awhile ago and am afraid I’ve forgotten some of the details. I started reading it in a Honda waiting room and remember actually laughing out loud at some parts, (and having this weird old guy look at me) I really enjoyed reading the book. It was a fairly easy read, but I have to agree the detail of the cutting made me cringe. Though it was well written and her desperation for Irene’s attention had me feeling sad for her. I kept hoping she would open her eyes and get over Irene the entire time.

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    just finished yesterday and i was not ready for it, i want to just pick it up and eat it up all over again. at the same time i am disappointed! i rooted for jenny since they washed dishes together and i think its pretty fucked up that she ended up with gustavo.
    i love francie because she reminds me of me, totally screwed up but still able to function semi-normally , and absolutely in love with everyone around her for all the wrong reasons.
    i have never waitressed and have made a promise to myself that i never will. work in a retail clothing store and this summer methinks a hole in the wall is in order.
    i cheered and told all my friends when francie finally broke up with irene, about fuckin’ time, hated her right from the start.

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    Well, this is far too late, but I was finally able to get my hands on a copy and I loved it. Just wanted to leave a note to say thanks for introducing me to this book! I can’t wait for Book Club #3.

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    I, too, am super late to this party. Amazon took a lifetime to get this book to me and I am finally reading it now. Can’t wait for selection #3 and I promise not to be so tardy next time!!
    xo

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