I must hold back on continuing my review of The Hunger Games trilogy as I have a more pressing matter to attend to. It came to my attention several weeks ago that a book known as “Fifty Shades of Grey” was attracting people across the nation as well as worldwide. As an English major and avid supporter of the written word, I felt that it was my obligation to look into this just as I had done with “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games”.
I don’t like romance novels, plain and simple. I willingly admit that I was bound to dislike this book, but I must also admit that it being a romance novel has nothing to do with my reasoning for writing a blog post about it. There are several other reasons for my distaste that I will outline below, but I must first explain what really got my attention, or rather who: my sister.
It has to be said that I have no idea where my reading/writing obsession came from in regards to the gene pool. While my parents and sister enjoy reading (let’s not get started on my brother), they tend to enjoy a different writing style than me. As a retired police officer, my father sticks to Vince Flynn and James Patterson crime and mystery novels. My mother primarily reads biographies and autobiographies of her favorite Republicans and celebrities/”celebrities”. My sister – like many general audience readers – is attracted to books that others recommend. While there is nothing wrong with this on the surface, the past few weeks mixed with my knowledge of “Fifty Shades of Grey” makes it impossible for me to leave the matter alone. I shall now stop pulling a David Letterman and get to the real story.
The “Atonement” Debacle
My sister asked me a few weeks ago to recommend her a couple books that I enjoyed reading that I thought she might also enjoy.
Initial thought? She wants to be a literary reader! #everythingiswonderfulandnothinghurts
Reality? Operation This-Will-End-Badly is about to commence. #firstworldproblems
I decided to start her out with “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro and “Atonement” by Ian McEwan. Ishiguro and McEwan are two of my favorite authors, so the choices for me were no-brainers. Perhaps I got a little carried away, but I spent the next few days looking to see if the page marker moved further through “Atonement”, her first choice. She returned the book to me about a week later after reading the first page, claiming that she “just couldn’t get into it.”
I. Wanted. To. Cry.
I am a firm believer of personal preference, but a part of me was wounded, and that isn’t something that goes away as quickly as one would think. I was on a secret mission to get her to try “Never Let Me Go” when she announced to me that our mother loaned her “Fifty Shades of Grey” instead. I already knew about the book, so naturally I was floored. I started to second guess myself. How could McEwan’s brilliant storytelling and beautiful prose disinterest her after a page? How could E.L. James do this to me? To her? What was the world coming to?
Needless to say, we’ve had several discussions on the matter, and by discussions I mean me somewhat verbally attacking her for having such unfortunate taste in “literature”. I’ll stop being beastly towards my sister now and get to the actual reasons for my not liking this book, but I had to make it clear that setting bad literature on my couch results in a post like this.
I remember going to see one of the Twilight movies and listening to “Twi-moms” talk about how sexy Edward/Jacob are. This group of four women were middle-aged, all had children, and risked a long Friday morning at work to attend the midnight premier. I have no issue with people of any age being out late at night, but being out late at night to swoon over teenage male vampire/werewolf characters is just awkward. I had to start there because “Fifty Shades of Grey” took mom obsession to a whole new level. The series is being called “mom porn”, something to read as a way to escape everyday working woman/mom life. Not only is this becoming an obsession much as Twilight was and still is, but children are getting embarrassed and husbands are becoming concerned, even jealous. What is it about this series that makes people go crazy? Honestly, I have no idea.
I can only approach the book the way I would any typical book I read. I look at the characters, plot and writing style. While I admit to have only read enough pages (10-15) to justify my initial assumption, I can imagine that reading the entire book would result in me furthering my negative viewpoint, so perhaps it’s a good thing I only read a preview as well as snippets online.
Characters & Plot
I don’t have a wealth of information in regards to the characters, but based on what I read I can only imagine the details. The main theme is obsession. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey cannot stay away from one another no matter how bad things get or how wrong it is. This idea of obsession is similar to that of Bella and Edward in the Twilight series, so much so that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is in fact based on Twilight fanfiction that E.L. James wrote before writing the series. Of course she had to change the names as well as remove the vampire theme to make it less obvious, but the fact remains that the trilogy is based on fanfiction. As previously stated, the romance (smut) within the novel makes it something I wouldn’t typically read anyways, but learning that it was based on Twilight fanfiction turned me off further. It felt too familiar and twisted in a bad way.
As if the above wasn’t enough of a reason for me to dislike this book, I will add that it was poorly written/edited. Writing style is important to an English major as well as a writer, and I have no shame in saying I’m disappointed in anyone who allowed this book to be published. I’ve worked on editing teams for both short stories and poetry and have screened prose manuscripts for publication, and I know that the quality of this book in fact lacks quality. There is a lot of awkward phrases as well as words that were thrown in on purpose but have no place in the sentence. I also find it strange when the protagonist narrates in the present tense and does things like describe their own hair and eye color while essentially looking in the mirror in a frazzled state over a situation that isn’t that ridiculous to begin with. Also, it’s full of “first world problems” … enough said.
I was going to spend some time dissecting various passages, but I feel that I’ve done more than enough damage control. I will forever believe that people have the right to read and enjoy anything they choose, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will love it. My sister agreed that they aren’t written very well, but she enjoys the plot and finds it entertaining. While I don’t agree, that’s her business to read what she wants, and it’s my business to read what I want. This experience has taught me to never get too excited or have expectations when someone asks to borrow one of my books. It has also taught me that there are some people who prefer “popular fiction” to “literary fiction”, and that there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it.
If you have read “Fifty Shades of Grey”, how do you feel about it?
If you haven’t read it, are you going to? Why or why not?