Fourth-Grade Summer Reading: Portnoy’s Complaint

August 11, 2010 | 1 book mentioned 9 4 min read

[Recent studies] suggest that children learn best when they are allowed to select their own books… [According to one researcher,] “I don’t think the majority of these kids ever read during the summer, but [being] given the opportunity to select their own books and discuss what they knew… was, in itself, motivating to them.” The New York Times

My Summer Book Report
By Zach McCormick
Mrs. Bianco’s class, Grade 4

coverThe book I picked to read during my summer vacation was Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth.  I picked Portnoy’s Complaint because it was right on my dad’s bookshelf and also because the cover was very yellow and the writing on the cover was very swirly.  And I was also pretty curious about Portnoy and his complaint.  What is he complaining about, I wondered?  I like to complain sometimes, like when my mom forgets to put Fruit By the Foot in my lunchbox, or if she puts a plum in there instead of Fruit By the Foot. So I thought it would be neat to see what he’s complaining about.

The first thing he complains about is his mom.  I don’t think he likes her very much, because she does really bad things to him.  She won’t even let him eat French fries or hamburgers!  She says, “Don’t eat French fries with Melvin Weiner after school.”  My mom doesn’t want me to eat French fries that much either, but Portnoy can’t EVER have them or he’ll get in trouble.

Portnoy also complains about his dad, because he doesn’t know how to hold a baseball bat!  Portnoy also talks a lot about his dad’s rectum, which is WEIRD.  I never read a book that had the word “rectum” in it before, except maybe the dictionary.  I know it’s in there because I looked it up when I was reading “Portnoy’s Complaint.”  It means “tush.”

Also, besides “rectum,” there are a LOT of bad words in Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth!  Portnoy says the “f” word a LOT.  I felt kind of bad when I was reading it, because I knew I wasn’t supposed to see those words, and my dad might catch me and then I wouldn’t be able to watch “Phineas and Ferb” for a whole week.  That’s what happened when I used his drill, even though I was wearing goggles and I didn’t go ALL the way through the car door.  He never caught me reading Portnoy’s Complaint, though.

Portnoy also says “bullshit” and “nipple” and “bitches” and “whore” and “ass.”  Also, he says “prick” and “tits” and “sex.”  And also, “suck” and “crap” and “diarrhea.”  (Sorry, Mrs. B!)

There are a lot of words in Portnoy’s Complaint that I didn’t really get, like shtupp and schlong and shmutzig and punim.  I don’t know what they mean, but they’re really fun to say!  Shtupp shtupp shtupp shtupp schlong schlong schlong schlong!

There’s a whole part in Portnoy’s Complaint called “WHACKING OFF” that I didn’t really get.  Philip Roth, who wrote Portnoy’s Complaint, keeps talking about penis, so maybe it’s about peeing?  Which I like, especially after asparagus, so it smells like asparagus pee.  But Portnoy doesn’t talk about asparagus pee at all.  Maybe Portnoy isn’t talking about peeing?

What’s a “vaselined upright”?

I guess the main part of Portnoy’s Complaint is how he has all of these girlfriends, but he doesn’t really like them, and that’s sort of WEIRD.  I don’t have a girlfriend really, but I think if I did, I would like her.  DON’T TELL HER, Mrs. B, but I had a SUPER HUGE CRUSH on Danielle S. last year.  She wasn’t my girlfriend because I never talked to her, but I really sort of liked her and never threw at her in dodgeball, except the one time when I hit her in the ear and she had to go home.  But Portnoy even calls one of his girlfriends a monkey!  Monkeys are cool, especially ones that wear clothes, but I don’t think I’d want a monkey for my girlfriend.  She’d probably smell bad and have bugs on her, and also she’d try to eat my Fruit By the Foot.

I wonder if you had a monkey girlfriend though, if you could play baseball with her.  I saw a movie one time where a monkey was a pitcher on a baseball team.  That was the best movie.  If my monkey girlfriend could play baseball than maybe it would be okay if she was a monkey.  Portnoy never did that with his monkey.  They were always doing something else, I think.

But Portnoy doesn’t like his monkey girlfriend, especially when he calls her a “crazy bitch.”  (Sorry, Mrs. B!)  He doesn’t like ANYTHING, to tell you the truth.  He doesn’t like his parents, or his girlfriends, or even himself, really!  He says he’s a barbarian, and a pig, and also “psychoneurotic,” which I’m not sure what that means, but it doesn’t really sound very great.  We had an assembly last year where they did this play, and it was all about how you should like yourself.  They sang “I’m unique and unrepeatable” a bunch of times, and it got stuck in my head for about a month!  I don’t think Portnoy saw this play, which had puppets in it.

I didn’t really like Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, even if it had a yellow cover and swirly letters.  It was pretty hard to read, because I didn’t understand a lot of the words, and it made me feel kind of gross, like the time I ate all those Rice Krispies treats at the beach.  There were a lot of curses, and Portnoy was angry all the time.  He complained about EVERYTHING.  I probably should’ve picked Diary of A Wimpy Kid for my summer reading book.

P.S., Mrs. B—what does “Jewish guilt” mean?

is a staff writer for The Millions and an associate editor at MAD magazine. Find links to more of his work and follow him @Jacob_Lambert.