I wasn't going to talk about Fifty Shades of Grey, because this is a blog about books for teenagers (mostly), and I write and read books for teenagers, and also I am very, very tired of conversations about Fifty Shades of Grey. However! People have been asking what I think of it. Frequently. Including a twelve-year-old in a school session a couple of weeks ago. Which was strange. And I have met lots of teenage girls who are reading it. So! Teenagers are reading/thinking about this new publishing phenomenon (get ready for me to use that word a lot in this post). And hey, I think everyone should be allowed to read what they choose! But why read this?
To start with, I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey. (I am desperately uninformed, forgive me.) Recently I was in Big W purchasing a $10 cardigan, and having an ethical breakdown because said cardigan was likely constructed by a ten-year-old in a sweat shop earning three cents an hour. (I still bought it, but every time I wear it I mentally apologise to this fictional kid in my head. The cardigan is terrible, anyway, fabric is totally not breathable.) There are displays of all three books in the Fifty Shades series throughout Big W. And also in Myer and David Jones and Kmart and Target and every single book shop in the entire country. You can never escape it. Whenever I go into a shopping centre (this is the Gold Coast, the place is 90% shopping centre, so this is frequently), there's Fifty Shades of Grey looming threateningly, staring at me from one of those rotating book racks.
I'm not jealous. That's one of the first things I feel I need to say. I think if a writer criticises a more successful writer too frequently they're just accused of being jealous and that's not always true. I don't really want to be preposterously rich and successful. I want to write nice books, that comfort and entertain people, and earning a decent amount of money would be nice. (If I wrote a book full of sex scenes I would be embarrassed, though. I feel embarrassed if I read a book full of sex scenes. Luckily there are not a lot of these in YA. Yes, I am a twelve-year-old.) I don't particularly wish to be the next Stephenie Meyer, because I know that wouldn't bring me much joy. The level of criticism would probably drive me to insanity. So good on E.L. James and her runaway success - I don't want to be in her position, though.
So! I am in Big W. I pick up a copy of this book. I open it. I read a sentence.
Then I'm permanently and irrevocably mentally scarred because of 1) the worst dialogue ever written and 2) the weirdness of out-of-context lines in sex scenes. (Even in context, it was weird. There are lots of very entertaining, very involved critical reviews of this book on the internet. If you have not read any yet, go Goodreads it up. See how I turned that into a verb? You're welcome, Goodreads.)
It should be said that these are not my sort of book. But I can recognise good writing. (That sounds ridiculously arrogant, but I think most readers can.) And from what I tried to read of Fifty Shades, there wasn't much of that.
This is what I don't like: from everything I have read and seen and heard about the Fifty Shades series, it is poorly written. Not a lot happens. The central romantic relationship is disturbing and emotionally abusive and unbalanced, and it's still framed as romantic. That worries me a lot. I really hate the saturation of books for teenagers with these sort of disturbing romantic relationships (usually the love interest is a vampire or werewolf or fallen angel or something, though, which somehow makes it more acceptable? But the guy in this book is pretty much Patrick Bateman out of American Psycho, and supposedly human).
But, Steph, this is a book for grown-ups! you say. Grown-ups can read poorly-written disturbing romance novels to their heart's content!
A lot of people are reading this book, folks. Including lots of teenage girls. Lots of the people reading this book think the creepy, abusive love interest is super romantic! That worries me! I tried to read it from the start but it began causing me physical pain. Why can't the books that become phenomenons feature, you know, strong female protagonists? Hey? I don't even care that much about crap writing, just less disturbing passivity of lady-characters, especially if it's all about *female empowerment*. I would prefer fifteen Da Vinci Codes to this!
Also, it started life as Twilight fan fiction. And it makes Twilight look not quite as morally repugnant.
Also, there are so many good and excellent and brilliant and wonderful and intelligent and non-disturbing YA titles with romantic plotlines out there, so if you are a teenage girl, why are you reading this book?
I don't have a problem with sexy books, or teenagers reading them. I do not think exposure directly relates to corruption. I am sure there are many wonderful erotica novels out there, I don't care to read any of them, but good for you if you want to! I am not sure this book is one of them. Also there's an abundant amount of fan fiction you can read on the internet for free. They kill trees to publish this stuff, you guys!
Also, E.L. James, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. But I really think you should try coming up with your own characters and also not presenting abusive relationships as ~romantic~.
And why is it so popular? It's easy to read. It's escapism. Once something reaches a certain level of popularity, everyone else will read it just so they can converse with people about it. Top conversational topics in the world today: 1. the weather, 2. Fifty Shades of Grey, 3. how busy we all are. It's a way to bond. It's the same as every other book that becomes massively popular. You just have to get non-readers to read it! Which is obviously super simple and why writers can easily become massive phenomenon on demand (the publishers totally have a formula for this stuff. They know how to make something a bestseller, and they're just keeping the information secret. I just know it).
Also, publishing? It's about making money. I tire of hearing that people have lost faith in the publishing industry over this. Folks. They're not benevolent fairy godmothers who are trying to shape the world for the better. We've got this thing called capitalism now. Editors have to make a living too.
No one is to ever ask me what I think of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon ever again.
Has anyone reading this blog read Fifty Shades of Grey? Why did you read it? What did you think?
To quote Fifty Shades of Grey: laters, baby. (Literally that line is in the book. I know. I don't want to live on this planet anymore either,)