Scandalous! Is 50 Shades of Grey Better Than You Think It Is?

Photo from ScreenCrush

Welcome back to Scandalous!, in which I dauntlessly voice an unpopular opinion about a popular book.

So here's the thing about 50 Shades of Grey: it's not as bad as you think it is. I know that seems impossible. Here's a book that started its life as erotic Twilight fan fiction published in eBook format, and all of a sudden it's everywhere. It's on every bookstore's most prominent display. It's constantly referenced on blogs and websites and in the news. It's a trilogy being made into a movie for which every casting rumor gets a headline. On top of which, like Twilight, it features a strong man dominating an unsure, younger woman. And do we really need more books like that?

So I get it, I certainly get it. And yet the backlash against the book and its sequels has taken on a mean-spirited, sexist tone. The phrase "mommy porn" in particular is condescending and crass. I don't believe in ridiculing a huge group of people who like something that I don't like. I don't believe in the right or wrong of a preference, or in presuming that every fan of a certain property must be stupid. There is no accounting for taste, after all. Erotica may not be your cup of tea. Twilight might not be your cup of tea. BDSM may not be your cup of tea. eBooks may not be your cup of tea. But what is it about this particular cup of tea that creates such widespread disdain? 

I don't believe in ridiculing a huge group of people who like something that I don't like.

I imagine that most of 50 Shades of Grey's detractors have never read the book, and therein lies my dislike of its criticism. For those who have read it and offer a thoughtful, informed appraisal, I have no beef. In fact, I probably agree with you. My problem is with the ceaseless contempt for the book and its fans by those who have never read it - in particular men who think it's gross and absurd for middle aged women to read popular erotica, or god forbid in the case of author E. L. James, to write it. 

Or perhaps the contempt stems from its Twilight origins. Twilight is another series whose fans receive universal mockery, to the point that a middle-aged woman who was hit by a car while waiting in line for the Twilight panel at Comic-Con became an instant punchline. I don't care for the Twilight series personally, but any book that can move a huge population of people to read voraciously can't be all bad. How many Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey fans weren't big readers before, and have since been inspired to move on to new, better books? I'd wager quite a few. Juicy, shallow books are like gateway drugs; I got started on Christopher Pike before I moved on to Stephen King, and from King to DeLillo. Onward and upward - but Pike was that first hook for me, and I'll always be grateful for that. 

It's possible that people hate 50 Shades of Grey because James first self-published it as an eBook. Writers in particular might feel affronted that such an inferior work should become so hugely popular when their own magnum opus sits collecting dust on a shelf. We can all relate to that sort of professional resentment, and when I feel that way about another writer, I remind myself of what Julia Cameron says in The Artist's Way: "Very often audacity, not talent, makes one person an artist and another a shadow artist—hiding in the shadows, afraid to step out and expose the dream to the light, fearful that it will disintegrate to the touch." Don't resent another author's audacity in publishing a work that isn't as good as yours. Admire that audacity; learn from it.

I have read 50 Shades of Grey. And you know what? It's just fine. It's not ingeniously crafted nor staggeringly original, but I certainly don't begrudge any mom who chooses to get her rocks off to Christian Grey, a gorgeous billionaire who knows his way around a bedroom; or who can relate to Ana Steele, a college senior who never feels quite comfortable in her own skin. The book is serviceably written, and it offers a fantasy element that is undeniably alluring - even if I don't particularly enjoy the gender politics promoted within. Hell, it's hot. It's dumb but hot - not unlike a large portion of mainstream media. I am certainly not defending dumb but hot as a philosophy, but I don't think it's fair that 50 Shades of Grey has received so much more derision than Baywatch or Transformers.

Of course, we hold our books to a higher standard than films or television, and I believe in that. But what I don't believe in is snobbery or knee-jerk ridicule for a commercial property that I haven't even read. I read 50 Shades of Grey because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. It's short and easily procured, so why not read it? I wanted to have an informed opinion, and my informed opinion is that this book is harmless. I see no difference between it and any other trashy beach read. 50 Shades of Grey is no more insidious than a Daniel Steele novel, or the Sookie Stackhouse series, or a Jackie Collins book. If you are outraged by the existence of this entire genre, than sure, go ahead and take dead aim at 50 Shades of Grey. But only if you've read the book first. 

So speak up in the comments. Even if you haven't read the book, I'd love to know if you had a strong reaction to it, and whether you stand by that reaction. And if you have read it, tell me what you think.

Image of Fifty Shades Trilogy (Fifty Shades of Grey / Fifty Shades Darker / Fifty Shades Freed)
Author: E L James
Price: $26.49
Publisher: Vintage (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 1625 pages

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Comments

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading July 27, 2012 - 8:16am

Bashing 50 Shades of Grey is that thing you do when you don't know how to bash books.

Raul Felix's picture
Raul Felix from Huntington Beach, CA is reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X July 27, 2012 - 8:33am

I didn't even know what I was until I heard so many people mention it. I never read it because its not my thing. I have no opinion on the matter and its most likely harmless. Let people enjoy their own thing. E.L. James had the balls to publish a book and take whatever criticsim and money that comes with it, she deserves it. No body remembers the critic. 

JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings July 27, 2012 - 8:39am

All I know is it let me make the joke about Susan Boyles erotc novel 'Fifty Shaves a day' and it got me a truck load of traffic to my site. Oh and E. L. James fan hate lol!

.'s picture
. July 27, 2012 - 8:48am

I jumped on the band wagon of hating 50 Shades Of Grey but I've started to back up on it, realizing that I have not, and will never read it. It's a convenient store novel, nothing more, nothing less. I like the term trash novel more though. They sell these books at airports so you can read them once and throw them away. Singling 50 shades out is just unfair to say the least. It is the coolest kid in the chess club. 

I think what really pushes people's buttons is the sales figures. This chick can make six figures writing crap so middle aged women can flick their bean to it while talented writers live off of tv dinners and coffee trying to forge the next Ulysses or whatever.

It still tempts me to give up principles in favor of writing vampire/erotic/insert teen fad e-books for sales like that. Or cheap dime store novels. But not until I find a sexy, non-threatening, female pen name.

 

alisia's picture
alisia from Byron, NY is reading The Goldfinch by: Donna Tartt July 27, 2012 - 9:04am

My sentiments exactly! I have not read this book, because I downloaded a sample to my Kindle and it wasn't for me. I also did not read Twilight. Still, I think there's something to be said about these women. They're lucky and they get people to read. The whole thing with bashing this novel is insulting to the readers. I have widely defended this position myself, and am glad to see there is someone on LitReactor who feels the same way. 

Also, I like to look at it in a more positive light. If these women can do this, then anyone can. This gives hope to all writers who are looking to break out and be noticed! If they can get famous, so can we. If they can be rich and successful, anyone can! This is proof that people like all sorts of things and that your novel, my novel, can break out and be a success - even if we don't live in NYC and have agent friends and know others in the business. It only takes an idea and a book to be written. In Stephanie Meyer's case she woke up one night after a dream and wrote Twlight from middle to end, went back and wrote the beginning, joined Writer's Market and then had a bestseller on her hands. 

lspieller's picture
lspieller from Los Angeles is reading LEVIATHAN July 27, 2012 - 9:27am

I applaud this article. I had a lot of reservations about Twilight when my younger sister started reading it, so I picked up the first book. It was fascinating in its awfulness -- poorly written, clunkily imagined, and sexist at best. But I read the first book, and then I read the next one, until I had gone through all four.

Once I had done this (and yes, I'm proud of this), I systemically explained to my sister all of the reasons that the book is awful. And now she not only agrees with me, she comes up with brand new reasons to dislike it all on her own! (My favorite thing she's said recently about Twilight: "Katniss [of Hunger Games] is the antidote to Bella for teen readers." YES.

So, moral of my story: if you dislike something, for whatever reason, make sure you have a good reason, because once you do..you might actually be able to do something productive with that dislike, like save your younger sister from idealizing a sexist pedophile.

DaveShepherd's picture
DaveShepherd from Calgary is reading No Country for Old Men July 27, 2012 - 12:15pm

Eh, hating something without experiencing it is nothing new. Same thing with loving something -- how many critics got roasted over bad reviews of The Dark Knight Rises before the fans had even seen it?

These days we live in an all or nothing culture -- nothing can be mediocre, it's either the best thing ever or the worst thing that ever existed.

As for 50 Shades, I don't anticipate ever reading it, but I don't hold anything against people who do. I know not everything I like is the pinnacle of artistic creation, but if I enjoy it, that's all that matters to me. Not everyone wants to read David Foster Wallace (and I say that as someone slowly making my way through The Infinite Jest. Very slowly).

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books July 27, 2012 - 12:21pm

I'll go ahead and say I dislike it because it was so poorly written it was hard to follow. The female lead was unbelievable and not fully realized. The sex was not sexy.

I didn't read any of the books in their entirety, but I read a large number of excerpts. I really do not understand how people like it. The best I can come up with is that, for many people, it is the first time they have been exposed to erotica/BDSM and that is a powerful experience.

Limbless K9's picture
Limbless K9 from Oregon is reading Wraeththu July 27, 2012 - 12:49pm

I've read excerpts. It's bad. Although there was a post on here where the guy who voices Duke Nukem reads it. It sounds like something the Duke would write. I agree with Sparrow that it's probably shock value of having your first experience with that sort of stuff that is making this book popular. People need to watch more porn. 

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from Danville Virginia is reading News of the World, by Paulette Jiles July 27, 2012 - 4:44pm

I'm with Sparrow. I don't care that it achieved fame & fortune as an ebook. More power to James, and her particular path to publication may be the wave of the future, this may be good for authors/books/publishing yadda yadda. Likewise, I don't mind that it's BDSM, which has received some fascinating treatment, literary and otherwise, in other hands. I'm thinking of everything from"The Story of O" to "Secretary" to "Kushiel's Dart." no, I hate 50 Shades (and "Twilight" before it) not because I'm snobbish or prudish or sneer at mommies/older women (I'm both a mommy and an older woman myself) but because both of those books are execrably written. If I had had to read Ana gushing over Christian one more time ("he's so hot!"),  or witnessed Edward stalking Bella one more time while she brushed her teeth, I would have puked. I have read the first books in both series. I hated them both. I hated them both for the bad writing, and that's the only reason I hated them. IMHO, that's the only reason anyone should hate them. Oh, ok, if a book were horribly racist, I'd hate it for that reason too, but come on! This. is. bad. writing.

JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings July 28, 2012 - 1:12am

To be fair SparrowStark, my book is poorly written and hard to follow... and I've had none of her success! lol

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books July 28, 2012 - 11:33am

Ah, but your book was FUNNY! In an intentional way.

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne July 28, 2012 - 4:02pm

I can't agree with you, and this article ticked me off. I'm probably going to insult you, and for that I apologize since you may be a perfectly lovely person. Hopefully you're one of those people who writes an article and never actually reads the comments. But seriously, you ticked me off.

Along with many here, I'll state that my dislike of these books is due to the horrendous writing. It has nothing to do with the subject matter or the people reading it, the fact that it's popular, that I'm not into BDSM, or whatever else. I do find their roots in fan-fiction offensive (it may not be plagiarism exactly, but it's bloody close enough), and I find it disgusting that this pile of garbage is making so much money, but that's only because the books are so terrible.

These books are not "just fine" and I'm baffled that anyone literate enough to write professionally would condescend to defend them. I haven't read any of them in their entirety, no, but seriously, pick one up and open to almost any page, read for a paragraph or two. Read some of the pathetic dialogue. You don't even have to get into how paper-thin the characters are, the absolute lack of believability, any of the other now thoroughly-documented issues at work in the text. And if that's not enough to dissuade you from wasting your valuable time, I don't know what to tell you. If it wasn't making one of the worst writers currently in print so obscenely rich, I really wouldn't really care or bother to say anything.

But seriously, you expect people, especially other writers—writers who are reading this article at a site dedicated to the improvement of craft, no less, some of whom pay hundreds of dollars for classes taught by professional writers whose work they admire and have been moved by—to say these books are "serviceably written"? People who bleed for their work, sacrifice free time, money, social lives; who balance their embattled selves between defiance and dejection daily as they strain to improve; who will be rejected constantly over the course of their lives, probably see limited exposure and success at best, and who will often be rejected despite having excellent work because it simply can't find a foothold in the tsunami of modern media? These are the people you're suggesting shouldn't be put off by the success of a worthless hack who wouldn't know a coherent paragraph or original idea if it buttfucked her manuscript? These are the people you're suggesting shouldn't mourn the decline of what the common person considers literature? And I don't mean just like, "Hey, this was some dumb fun," but people who worship this the way writers worship literary figures of value who pushed the boundaries of language. E L James is pushing it, sure, but not because she wrote Naked Lunch or fucking Finnegans Wake.

I have nothing against romance novels, erotica, BDSM, or anything else. The 50 Shades books aren't trash because of their subject matter, they're just trash. They're an insult to those who produce real romantic or erotic work, especially work that actually manages to like... actually be erotic. Which is of course somewhat subjective, but come on. As far as I'm concerned, this crap is too laughably-written to turn on anyone but those too dumb not to find it laughable. And I don't even know how to address the assumption that many who haven't picked up a copy of 50 Shades and read to the last page must be uninformed reactionaries, or possibly even perpetrators of gender bias.

Jane and several others have it right, and bless her for saying so more succintly than I have. But even beyond that, I'm in direct opposition to your main point here, mostly because I think it's a thousand times more snobby to say, "But look at me, I read it! And just because you didn't, clearly that means you're too stupid to possibly come to a logical conclusion using readily available data." It's like saying that unless you go shoot a bunch of heroin under a bridge you can't possibly figure out that it might be a bad idea, or that you have to regularly get blackout drunk in order to earn the right to even suggest to someone else that maybe such behavior could be bad for your health.

It's perfectly reasonable to pick up one of these books and read a few pages, a little dialogue, one or two of the sex scenes, then read an article or forum discussion dilineating the glaring problems with plot, character, etc., and go on to condemn them for being crap. I disagree with reviews all the time, sure, and if I pick up a book and say, "This strikes me as not being so bad, maybe there's something to it and the internet review I read doesn't apply to me," then I may well buy the book or get it from the library to form my own conclusion. One doesn't have to do that here. If you can't see how bad 50 Shades is within a few pages, your problems are your own. And if you have enough time to consume the entirety of every last thing you ever decide to form and voice an opinion about, you must have a hell of a lot more free time than I do.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like July 28, 2012 - 4:22pm

If I can't trust the zeitgeist enough to make fun of the books (and I have, even though I haven't read them) then we're all screwed anyway. 

A "book" is either a concept or an expression of concepts (or both) and its creation and presentation are, in fact, distinct apart from the experience of "actually reading it." 

Ever make fun of someone's shoes?  Their voice?  Their hair?  Their drink of choice?  I'd say that's all worse than making fun of a book.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. July 28, 2012 - 6:13pm

you must have a hell of a lot more free time than I do

This cracks me up, because your response was almost the same length as the original article.  But on the whole serviceably written idea, I think that she picked the perfect way to phrase it.  

According to a google search:

serv·ice·a·ble/ˈsərvəsəbəl/
Adjective:
1. Fulfilling its function adequately; usable.
2, Functional and durable rather than attractive.

Sound right to me.  Like when my uncle fixes things - it'll work, but it ain't gonna be pretty.

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne July 28, 2012 - 7:49pm

I guess for me I don't really think it fulfills its function of being sexy or titillating because the writing is so bad. And it certainly isn't durable. The thing falls apart without the least provocation.

And yeah, it was a bit of a long response. I found the whole thing sort of in poor taste, especially to post at a writing workshop. But for time... why read an entire crappy book just to confirm that it's crap? That strikes me as a colossal waste of time since it really isn't all that difficult to identify a lousy book. Certainly if you read the thing from cover to cover you'll have more to say about just how bad it is and why, but that doesn't mean you can't call it garbage with relative authority from simply having had enough exposure to the content to confirm that opinion.

Paul Parsons's picture
Paul Parsons from Vancouver, BC is reading The Force Is Middling in This One by Robert Kroese July 28, 2012 - 8:45pm

Well, it's eviscerated on Amazon, and that's ostensibly by people who've read it. Personally I just read the preview to see what the fuss was about and felt it was too boring to go any further.

Push comes to shove though... I watch Michael Bay films. Stuff blowing up, shiny objects. What's not to like? Are they going to win an oscar for best screenplay? Heeeeelllll no. But if people enjoy it where's the harm?

It's got crappy writing, so what. If you don't like it don't read it. You know what else has crappy writing? Every single Sookie Stackhouse book. But people buy them, just like they buy 50 Shades. People don't always want to sit down and read Dickens, but reading is better than not reading in my opinion.

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter July 29, 2012 - 9:09am

While I do agree with you, Michael, I do sort of get the idea of analyzing popular fiction, especially in this case because the whole romance/erotica thing is pretty much the mainstream when it comes to books that women read. While "chick lit" style books are always in, the supernatural/dark romance genre has become a huge influence in the last five years, and I think it's something that a lot of women writer's have to look at, primarily because these books are pretty much soley written by women.

It's sad to me, really. I had a similar discussion with a friend of mine at a ladies night when she told me that she just finished 50 Shades. I, obviously, went on a ranting tirade, but my friend still defended the book because she:

1. Doesn't know a lot about BDSM and seemed to have...learned something about it after reading the book.

2. Felt that Christian Grey had some kind of depth to him for his reasoning for being into kinky shit.

I don't agree with her. The book is flat and poorly written and is filled with so much Mary Sue bullshit inner-monologue that it just cannot be sexy. But some people think it is. Some people aren't as well-read. Does that piss me off? Yes, because I see myself as a writer who writes dirty stories, and GOOD dirty stories with literary depth, and yes, I get a bit angry sometimes that a woman like E.L. James can put some shitty sex scenes together with a margin of a plot and sell millions of copies of her books. Yet I can't.

(I don't have much issue with E.L. James as a person, though, because in her interviews she never claims to be a great writer. She's pretty slack, unlike her counterpart, Stephenie Meyer.)

While I haven't actually read 50 Shades, I have read the massive selection of shitty excerpts at the 50 Shades of Suck blog, so I get the gist of the book. I have read the first Twilight book, though. It was probably a waste of my time, but it also kind of wasn't because I do GET it. Women's fiction for the most part (and teen girl's fiction) is pretty much wholly about escaping into some fantasy fairy tale world that's pretty much like reality but filled with sexy men who are into you. It's sad. It's very sad, and I honestly do wish that more female readers were into more than that. But they aren't.

It's sort of looking at culture and seeing that I, as a writer, will probably have no effect on that world. I just have to accept it, that as sexy as my stories are, that I won't be able to get more women to enjoy reading for the purpose of enlightenment, as well as entertainment.

It's just a world I'm not a part of. BUT, I do know that there are people out there who do appreciate my writing, and my stories, and that they enjoy them for many reasons. AND they're both men and women (which is probably the best part because it's kind of a sterotype that men don't enjoy reading works penned by women). So, while most of my middle-aged lady coworkers wouldn't like my stories, at least I know that there's an audience out there that does.

Reading shitty mainstream fads helps me figure out who I am, and where my work needs to go.

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne July 29, 2012 - 9:33am

Well said, Beka, and very well-reasoned. I certainly don't think there's anything actively wrong with taking the time to familiarize yourself with something, or that there's no utility in reading something simply because it's popular or because you're interested in the dynamics of the contemporary reading culture. Hell, there's nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional guilty pleasure either (as long as it isn't your steady diet). And I get why you might deem it a worthy use of time even if it wouldn't be for me based on what I write. But I get irked when it's suggested that this is the only way to have an accurate opinion of something that's obviously garbage, or when someone tries to defend something indefensible.

And you know, it was suggested that 50 Shades and such books aren't dangerous, but I wonder how true that really is. Your story about your friend is something I've heard a lot, as though reading this crap somehow gives you an accurate window in the BDSM world. It doesn't. At all. And the more books like this we see, the more bizarre ideas I see young girls getting about what's acceptable behavior in men, etc. Obviously that's pretty wide. You can get an idea from anything, and there's plenty of crap fiction in the world in many mediums, but you see people who worship this stuff. They talk about it with the reverence and admiration one normally reserves for literature, for philosophy. I do think that's dangerous. I'm not at all suggesting that it should be regulated or censored or what have you, the responsibility always lies with the reader, but still. Something not just this poorly written but this poorly constructed, poorly crafted, poorly thought out... something like that which is taken too seriously could end up being more than a little "dumb fun" for someone. They've only themselves to blame, sure, but it seems another worthy enough reason to join the ranks of the detractors.

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter July 29, 2012 - 9:40am

But I get irked when it's suggested that this is the only way to have an accurate opinion of something that's obviously garbage, or when someone tries to defend something indefensible.

To be frank, actually reading the book would be the only real way of knowing for sure. I'd say the general consensus of the book's shit-factor is fact, but opinion is subjective. Maybe if you read 50 Shades your opininon would be the same, but you might have more ground to stand on to support your side of the argument.

The true question is: Is it worth your time?

The answer is: No, probably not.

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne July 29, 2012 - 10:09am

Right. Obviously we can know nothing with absolute certainty. For all I know every single excerpt posted on the internet is fake and drug overdoses are a myth, because I have no experience with either of those things directly other than the one time I picked up the book and read a few pages, and the one friend I had who called me when she was tripping on shrooms and needed to be talked down. That's not direct experience, it's indirect, so I can't know for sure, not with an absolute certainty. But even if I read the book and hated it, it would still be my opinion so it would still be subjective, no matter how much evidence I had. This isn't diagraming a chemical reaction. I can't prove or disprove anything because the enjoyment of literature is subjective at the most basic level. Some things are equal and yet we like or dislike them regardless of merit because taste differs.

The true question is: Is it worth your time?

The answer is: No, probably not.

That's definitely the heart of it. And I still think you can get enough of an idea at a glance and with the abundance of information around to form a reasonably reliable opinion. It won't be 100%, but I think it will serve you well enough that you can say the book is crap without that much bias.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest July 29, 2012 - 10:16am

"Let the haters hate and watch the money pile up..." - 50Cent

E.L. James is laughing her way to the bank with a big Fuck You and a middle finger. 

It's the hot book right now. Who cares. Get over it. There will be another one in couple of years for everyone to bitch about. It's all part of the game. 

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list July 29, 2012 - 5:02pm

Um. I did read it. Sorry, but I still hate the book. It has nothing to do with the popularity of the book, because I love a lot of popular books and authors that the literary world have deemed a "bad writer." There are many reasons why I do not like this book and here they are:

1. The writing is awful. I believe that our own writing and intelligence level is influenced by what we read. Twilight is, honestly, a better piece of writing than this book.

2. The sex is not sexy. It is awkward and, at times, gross. This is not the first BDSM erotica I've read. There are plenty of well written erotica books that pack a much sexier punch and make me blush, rather than cringe.

3. Anastasia is not relateable. I'm in my final year of college, as an English major, and cannot relate to her on any level. She goes beyond naive and into the realm of pure stupidity. I would even argue that I like Bella Swan better.

4. The author did not bother to research the locations, idioms, or speech patterns of the area. Nor did she bother to do any research on the speech patterns of twenty-something college students, who happen to be English majors. We tend to have a very different vocabulary than a science major, math major, education major, etc.

5. The characterization of Jose is blatantly racist. My town has a large Mexican population and Jose is a badly drawn caricature of their beautiful community.

6. Yes, I am a feminist and the story violates many, if not all, of my closely held principles. I dislike most books which play on the dominant male, submissive female dynamic. This one happens to be one of the worst violators. He buys her a job? Why? Because she couldn't get one on her own merit? Not acceptable!

7. I have read Twilight and this book barely hides all of the stolen material by slightly fudging details. From my perspective, it is plagiarism and I cannot support it. Thankfully, a friend let me borrow a Kindle copy.

8. Christian Grey acts like a child and is not an appealing man. I have several issues with his background and characterization, but will not bore you with my long winded rant.

Many of these are subjective and based on my personal biases, but isn't that reading in general? We formulate our own opinions, based on our own experiences, when reading. People like the book. Good for them. Maybe they will find better reading material. I don't like it and I never will.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading July 29, 2012 - 5:32pm

And then we danced around a bonfire and burned all the copies of the book we could find, and congratulated ourselves on our love of fine literature, admired our own calm in the face of the ancient market-monster, celebrated our triumph against the demon-spirits of popular consensus, and not once did we succumb to hysteria.

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from Danville Virginia is reading News of the World, by Paulette Jiles July 29, 2012 - 7:11pm

Look, I don't think we should burn books like this, and I don't think it's an hysterical reaction to say how bad I think they are.Fylh, I know you're just doing the whole reductio ad absurdem thing (or having fun  trolling!!!), but I don't think anyone was advocating a book burning. Twinkies make me gag, they're poor nutrition, and they're in terrible taste ( and taste terrible). Other people like them and want to eat them. So fine. Im sure whover makes them is laughing all the way to the bank and flipping the bird to Michael Bloomburg. But gag me. And it's ok to have that reaction. Doesn't make me a Nazi Twinkie-Burner to say so.

As for 50 Shades, I did read the whole thing. I do read fast, so it didn't take much of my time. I found it kind of fascinating to see exactly how awful the thing is. I sort of have a professional interest in seeing just how bad it is. But I don't feel the same about bad tv, so I don't bother to watch it. Now that I know exactly how dopey 50 Shades is, I don't feel the need  to read vol. 2 to confirm what I know. But I agree with Michael in his comments above. You wouldn't have to read all of one of these books to know it's bad. If I bite into aTwinkie, I might spit that bite out and throw the rest away-- certainly a wiser course than downing the whole thing and making myself ill.

A final thought: the article begins by saying it's easy to deplore this book (indeed it is) but asks the question, "Is it fair?" I certainly think it's fair to identify bad writing and stand up for good writing. So yes. I think it's fair to say this book is terrible. In fact, I think it would be unfair not to say so if that's what you think.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading July 29, 2012 - 9:32pm

Who here has suggested a better alternative than 50 Shades of Grey?

How many people actively recommend "better" books than Twilight to people?

By the evidence I find on the internet, not many. Okay, we can all agree 50 Shades is a badly written book. It's a very, very badly written book. Add another very, if you want. It's so bad nobody can sleep at night. But if people are nauseated by the success of these badly written shitty awful books, I'm a little nauseated by the self-righteous indignation of people who see this as a zero-sum game. EL James wins — great literature by definition loses, right?

We miserable suffering artists, we unrewarded worshippers of the truly talented — what have we gained from Twlight and its children? Nothing but pain, humiliation and a stuttering eloquence when we find someone who's not quite sure how they feel about these AWFUL!!! books and we can unleash our raging banalities on them, make them see, make them angry, just like us!

Every single time a "bad" book starts trending, struggling writers everywhere get up in arms: "How can that awful book be picked over so many good unpublished manuscripts!" "She can't even do characters!" "Lookit all of these here adverbs, hey?"

Is this a surprise to you? Or to anyone? When you've just polished off your latest manuscript, do you go to a stay-at-home mom you've never met or teenage girl in another state and ask for feedback? Maybe; perhaps they give good feedback. But I'm under the impression that not only do people who bash Twilight and 50 Shades actively hate these books, they are amazed that people could genuinely love these awful fucking books! What scum! These idiots who I'd probably never ask to read my own work anyway — they're enjoying these God-awful stories written by middle-aged ladies. WTF? What about all the hard work people like me put into writing?

It's grating, it's boring, and more importantly, it "not being fair" is not an argument against the success of a commercial franchise. It "not being good" never worked against McDonalds. It "not making sense" doesn't mean a very large group of idiots won't vote for a war-hungry president.

I sat through a couple of the Twilight films and, yes, found them underwhelming. I've read around a bit to see what these awful books are actually like, and yes, they're not very good. So what? Not too long ago, people were bashing the shit out of Harry Potter; then it became so huge, and the movies were so popular, that it's a non-issue. At this point you can say, "But Harry Potter isn't nearly as baaaaad." Maybe not, but it met with a lot of criticism at the start. Maybe you folks don't want to sound like Harold Bloom hatin' on JK Rowling because she overrued a few phrases, but reading post after post of vague statements about how bad the writing actually is doesn't convince me that the bad writing is really that big a deal.

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter July 29, 2012 - 9:51pm

People also listen to Nickelback, so there's that.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest July 30, 2012 - 5:13am

And people watch jersey shore...

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like July 30, 2012 - 9:15am

I don't see any point in getting mad at people who don't like the book. I'm not surprised or shocked at the book's success; I just think it sucks. And I do not think less of people who read it. I enjoy some near-valueless entertainment media, but I usually partake of garbage movies, video games, or the internet rather than waste hours on a bad book.

Is it wrong to dislike 50 Shades? No.

Is it a sign of a weak mind to participate in a nationwide pop-cultural discussion? No.

Any anti-book-hating argument based on the book being "what people like" may be easily applied to the haters also: they like to rail against books they don't like, so we should let them and not waste time talking about it. All this yes/no stuff, when not based on goals or principles, is the very definition of moot (in the "something which may be talked about forever without resolution" sense.)

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest July 30, 2012 - 11:10am

^ Amen

Cade Ezell's picture
Cade Ezell August 2, 2012 - 8:43pm

I just ordered 50 shades of grey for my girlfriend. I honestly don't care to read it but if she says its good I don't mind getting a summary from her

bettegh's picture
bettegh from Tortola is reading Witches, Wife Beaters & Whores, common law and common folk in early America by Elaine Forman Crane August 27, 2012 - 10:18pm

While I (still) have no intention of reading the book, my family passed a wonderful Sunday afternoon reading the Amazon reviews to each other.

Corie Toland McWain's picture
Corie Toland McWain from Kent, WA is reading School Textbooks September 28, 2012 - 6:04pm

Hi Meredith!

I very much enjoyed this article on Fifty Shades of Grey. I just finished reading the trilogy and very much enjoyed it.  There is definitely some less than exemplary structure in the mechanics, though I don't usually tend to read for mechanical merits of a book, but rather how the story grabs hold and won't let me go till the end.  I don't read for anyone other than myself.  Thanks for a great article and diverse discussion in the comments!

Akhbar Quddus's picture
Akhbar Quddus from Lexington MA Stony Brook NY Houston TX Bradford-on-Avon UK is reading 50 Shdes od Grey December 5, 2012 - 10:40am

I am 1 and 1/2 way through the 3 vols and have experienced the normal and sometimes abnormal LOL panoply of emotions and feelings.  Somehow it has opened up several new perspectives and the main characters are now my good friends and I look forward to them exploring true love together with major baggage.  Its sort of like the Thomas Crown Affair so far, with family and friends and enemies and rivals, drama and mucho surprises on so many levels, and I really like it.  I go around all day with a smile on my face and feel somehow liberated into a new dimension of understanding life and living on this planet, and am unafraid to tell others what I am reading.  Wonderful stuff.  Can hardly put it down, and yet sometimes happy to put it down and resonate, percolate with the next new issue  LOL  Fun Fun great read,  and I was an English minor and the only fault I find is the overuse of clambered ha.  Looking forward to finishing and continuing the relationship for as long as it rocks and socks   LOL ooops