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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fourth-Grader reviews "Portnoy's Complaint"

Fourth-Grade Summer Reading: Portnoy’s Complaint

By Jacob Lambert posted at 11:38 am on August 11, 2010 9

[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

The 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?

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Support the Millions, subscribe to our RSS feed, become a fan on Facebook .9 Responses to “Fourth-Grade Summer Reading: Portnoy’s Complaint”


at 6:16 pm on August 11, 2010 Hey, kid, it could be worse: when I was even younger than you are, I tried to read my mom’s copy of _1984_… Ick! I had nightmares about rats for weeks!

If you want something MUCH better than DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, and without words which Ms. B. won’t want to see in your Book Report, check out SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD by Diane Duane…

Seriously, this was a HOOT. Thanks.


at 10:32 am on August 12, 2010 Mrs. B, he should read HIS MONKEY WIFE next! It’s about a monkey! Who is also a wife! I say that because he says he likes monkeys and plus I like monkeys, too. I don’t know if I like wives yet but I think I might.


at 11:19 am on August 12, 2010 This post reminds me of when my 11th grade English teacher suggested I write a book report about FANNY HILL. My parents brought me to the book store and we bought it; I think my mother knew what it was but figured I was old enough to read it. My recollection is that my book report focused on FH as a cultural phenomenon.

I still haven’t read PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, which I heard about as a child: I thought the title was “PORT NOISE COMPLAINT,” probably because I lived on an island with a power plant.


at 7:40 pm on August 12, 2010 The book seems like it was written by a fourth-grader, so I guess it makes sense to have it reviewed by a fourth-grader.

Zachary Overline

at 11:36 pm on August 12, 2010 Hahah. So delightfully inappropriate — love the post script.


at 2:33 am on August 13, 2010 There’s nothing in Portnoi that the kids haven’t already sen and heard in reruns of Friends and Seinfeld and their Mom’s box set of Sex and the City.

Reading List: A 10-year old reads “Portnoy’s Complaint” and more… « New Voices

at 1:32 am on August 26, 2010 [...] What happens when a pre-pubescent non-Jewish kid reads a revolutionarily risque Philip Roth book about a frustrated MOT? Sentences like, “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!” and “What’s a ‘vaselined upright?’” [The Millions] [...]


at 5:55 pm on September 10, 2010 GuiltyFeat, not everyone lets their children watch tv unsupervised. I hope you’re not a parent.


at 11:25 pm on September 14, 2010 And I thought reading Oedipus Rex in 4th grade was bad haha, this is amazing, thanks for the laughs, and trust me you dont want to know the meaning of those things, at least for now……ahhh the innocence of being a kid, wish I could go back to those days ;D

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Portnoy complained about EVERYTHING. I probably should’ve picked Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

Jacob Lambert is a regular contributor to The Millions. He is a freelance humor writer and columnist in Philadelphia, where he lives with his wife and itty-bitty son. Through the wonders of Twitter, you can follow his work here.

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