To lunch on Wednesday, I wore the following outfit:

1. Vintage 1988 Broad Street Run t-shirt
2. Brown GAP pants
3. Brown New Balance sneakers

As I checked myself in the mirror one more time before I left, I came to a sad realization: At 27, I still have the fashion sense of a high school tomboy.

How fitting, then, that I’d just started Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner.

Spanking Shakespeare is about Shakespeare Shapiro, a high school senior who spends most of his time brooding about his status as unpopular, and a virgin. He spends most of the book, told in memoir form, pondering why he is unpopular and a virgin, and how he can remedy both situations.

I’m told by the PR materials that this book is for young readers. I’m not sure how I feel about that, and not only because of the NSFW content (and, near the end, drawing). I’m all for letting teenagers read books with cursing, sex and all kinds of adult themes. My issue with the young reader label is that Spanking Shakespeare has the potential to entertain grown ups.

Who doesn’t have awkward high school memories? I skipped over a lot of that teenage dating angst because I had a boyfriend though most of high school (though it caught up with me in college and still rents out a big chunk of my brain), but I can related to the protagonist. Like him, I obsessed about the smallest details. Would the hot guy in my math class tell his buddies that I showed him my retainer? Were my pants pegged at the appropriate length? Were my bangs of acceptable fluffiness? Or should I grow them out? What if I don’t grow them out? Will people cut me out of their prom pictures?

And on, and on.

So it’s adult-appropriate in the sense that we can relate, and laugh. The other issue I have with Spanking Shakespeare in the adult/young reader argument is that writing is so grown up. I’m not saying that there aren’t high school kids who can write like Wizner does as Shapiro. But I think the writing is too perfect and too well crafted for it to be done by a high school senior.

I took a graduate writing class with Lisa Zeidner, and as a class, we talked about this at length. When writing about childhood, you can take one of two points of view: write it in the voice of whatever age you were at that time, which means you cannot have adult-like revelations and insights, or look back and write about the events as yourself now, as an adult, where you can discuss the events as you see them now.

This should apply to memoir and fiction, and I would like to think that Spanking Shakespeare takes the latter point of view, but that’s impossible since this is the memoir of a fictional high school character. It’s not something that ruined the book — I thought it was very entertaining, and funny — but the point of view thing lingered, like a tickle you get at the back of your throat but can’t get rid of. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s a distraction.

If you’ve been keeping track of these reviews and marvel at my speed reading ability, take heart: I’d already finished Julie & Julia when I started this project. The Four Man Plan was full of pictures and graphics, which sliced down how many words were in the book, and Spanking Shakespeare is being produced as a young adult book, so the type is larger than what you’d find in a for-adults book, which made for another zippy read — plus I’d read half of Spanking Shakespeare before I dug into The Four Man Plan. I have a large, heavy book up next, and I’m reading it for a newspaper review, so I’ll be taking my time through that one. Still, it’s nice to put down three books in my first week. Stay tuned to see if I can keep up with the pace.

Read more about Spanking Shakespeare at

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Trish Ryan on October 18, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    You can do it! Remember, it’s totally fair game to reach back to books you read before, because all we care about is whether or not you recommend it.

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