I read Fifty Shades of Grey. Hey, it was for my job! So I could discuss the most popular book in the nation with patrons! Nothing to do with dirty bits and kinky sexual practices. Honest!
And I’m afraid I’m late enough to this show that I don’t have much say about the book that hasn’t been said. No, it’s not very well written. But neither, in my opinion, are many other bestselling works of fiction (I’m still waiting for the International Court of Literary Justice to convene and give me back the four hours I spent reading Angels & Demons). Mostly, it struck me as oddly retro, a throwback to the romances referred to these days as Old School — of the Kathleen Woodiwiss/Rosemary Rogers 1970s-80s school. No rape scenes, thank God, but a lot of the touchstones were there. The heroine is virginal and insecure. The hero is dominant (literally, in this case), but tortured by his past, yet still able to recognize virginal heroine’s stunning beauty when no one else had noticed. And also induce her to multiple orgasms the first time out. And like a lot of the older romances, it’s epic in length — three books at more than 500 pages each. And I feel confident that the vast majority of its readers understand this is a fantasy. Lots of us think of ourselves as insecure but goodhearted people — and wouldn’t it be nice if the one person who recognized our qualities was an incredibly goodlooking billionaire who flies his own helicopter and practices global philanthropy and is extremely good at sex, even if he has some serious issues — that only you can help him get past? Like I said, fantasy. Just like vampires, dragons, elves and whatever that guy does in all those Clive Cussler novels that fly off the library shelves. (5/23 update: See last link below for an opposing view on this issue.)
So instead of opining further about the book or trying to diagnose the social factors behind its unlikely and astonishing success, I’ll simply share a few links worth reading if you’re curious.
- First up, there’s the bizarre action of the Brevard County Library where they yanked their 19 copies of Fifty Shades off the shelves.
- My favorite response came from Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books who had this to say about the Brevard County decision. (Warning: that last link contains explicit selection from books that are in the, wait for it, Brevard County Library collection). I’m sorry to report that we don’t have any of those, um, Longarm books in the Monroe County Public Library collection. Though one of my colleagues had the brilliant idea of requesting them via Interlibrary Loan. From Brevard County.
- Wendell has had a number of interesting posts about the Fifty Shades phenomenon - she’s as good as anyone about discussing the appeal of certain books and how romance, even erotic romance, is different from porn.
- In case you were wondering, yes we have all three Fifty Shades books in the Monroe County Public Library collection, both as an ebook (it’s the whole trilogy at once; sorry it was just far more affordable that way) and as individual titles on paper. And yeah, there’s a waiting list. For all of them. Fun fact: Overdrive, our ebook service, places the Fifty Shades trilogy in the Literature collection. That’s them, not us.
- Another good piece on the Fifty Shades phenemonen was posted over at Bookriot where they read and discussed the book in two parts — the second part is here. I liked their take on it, which was realistic (some of the lines ARE hilarious) without being cruel to either the book, its writer or its many, many readers.
- And finally here’s a more critical take from The Rumpus pointing out that maybe these books and their popularity is not all harmless fun after all.
- 5/25 update — really finally — one last link.
- 10/1 update — OK I shouldn’t claim really finally because this puppy has legs but this one from Dear Author was too good not to share.