What can I possibly say about E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey that hasn’t already been said in the news, on TV, or in the 11,000+ reviews that have already been posted on Amazon? Rather than summarizing the plot, I’ll give my thoughts on why this book is a bestseller and also why it shouldn’t be. First, why it shouldn’t be:
If you know the book’s story, then you know it was originally written as fan fiction for the Twilight series. Fan fiction is where readers borrow an author’s characters and write their own story lines about them. While the majority of fan fiction is also written poorly, it has a strong following.People just don’t want to say good-bye to their favorite vampire or heroine after the original author has closed the book.
That poor quality shines through in the writing of Fifty Shades. It suffers from the overuse of a middle grade thesaurus. For example, every time Ana is around Mr. Grey she either blushes or loses her breath: Her breath hitches, she thaws, she blushes, her heart stops, she turns beet red, she blanches, she glows…you get the idea. The overuse of descriptions to say the same thing over and over is a sure sign of amateur writing or at least of an editor that should quit his day job.
Next, the two lead characters are clichés of nothing more than a Harlequin romance, and badly clichéd at that. Ana is presented as a stupid innocent blond, at times defiant, but also lazy and winy, a sex object in need of a strong male character to show her the way and care for her. At first, Mr. Grey is painted as a dashing rich and handsome hero who turns all the ladies heads, but later becomes an effeminate puppet with emotional issues who enjoys dominating women. He basically becomes the “gay” best friend that many chicks fell in love with back in high school or college who would never reciprocate that feeling. I’d almost bet money he represents a gay friend who E.L. James herself had feelings for.
Put bad writing and bad characters together and there really is no hope. So why are people reading it and making James and her publisher rich?
The book was first self-published, an industry with its own reputation for poorly executed books being churned out by the thousands every year, most who won’t see sales past their author’s own bookshelf. But remember, James already had a strong following from her fan fiction. And let’s face it, sex sells. Once you get beyond the bad writing, you really have nothing outside of the Playboy Confessions pieces some of us actually read after we were done with the pretty pictures. In steps Random Houses who took notice of James’ self-pub success and wanting a piece of the action. The book soon got global distribution, professional reviews, and got people to talking. Next thing you know, “mommy porn” is on the NYT bestseller list and Hollywood came calling. Those are the things that authors’ dreams are made of – those who can write and those who cannot.
As society dictates, we all want to do what our friends are doing. So, if your best friend is reading Fifty Shades, then you want to read it too. And so on and so on. That’s exactly how I picked it up. Being a strong fan of the written word, I love the effects a simple book can have on our culture. How does a book like this get people reading, who probably haven’t read a book since Dick and Jane back in grade school? I wanted to find out for myself, and the results were quite humorous. No, it’s not the next great American novel or some classic literature piece Oprah is “blushing” over. Instead, it’s badly written sex scenes laced together with a bad storyline. What does that say about our society? I’ve read Facebook posts from drunken friends that held more merit.
But still, any book (good or bad) that puts a dollar in a bookstore’s cash register these days is a book worth some kind of merit, no matter how bad its written. I respect the book and E.L. James for that. As for those of us who enjoy a book that doesn’t lower our IQ, I suggest you turn fifty shades in the other direction.