Thursday, 30 August 2012

On NOT reading Fifty Shades of Grey

As part of my preliminary thoughts on reading The Hunger Games, I made the point that I am somewhat allergic to lots of hype (see here) - whether it's about a book, a movie, whatever... One of my regular followers, The Novelist, posted a query on my Facebook wall some time back asking if I was going to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and before I could respond, another of my blog groupies, The Teacher, bounced in with the comment that it would make so much 'fodder' for my blog. At that point, and don't ask me how I managed this because I couldn't tell you, I hadn't even heard of the book. A quick dive into a bit of Internet research and I emerged to reply to them both that it was most unlikely, with my limited time to read and write about my reading, that I would add this book to the TBR pile.

However, it didn't end there... DB and Sixteen do tend to get caught up by hype about certain things - witness the ongoing viewing of the numerous television singing contests at our house... So, I suppose it was inevitable that at some point, the subject of Fifty Shades of Grey should surface. The trigger wasn't the book itself, as DB hasn't read it, although I just found out Sixteen has (more about that in a minute) and I would assume that there could be a number of Sixteen's girlfriend's cronies who've smuggled it into their current reading matter - that, based on a recent blog post I read by someone going to buy it who had to reach through the crowd of blushing, giggling adolescent girls to get her hands on a copy...yet another example of my one of my previous soapboxes - do you know what your children are reading/watching/playing?

Anyway, the conversation with DB and Sixteen started when something flashed past on the TV about it, I think, and DB, always impressed by a big monetary success, waxed lyrical about how many copies had been sold and what that meant for the author, etc, in terms of it being a literary success. Interestingly, Sixteen unexpectedly agreed with me when I said that just because a book had sold millions of copies, it wasn't necessarily a literary success. It's certainly a commercial success, and E.L. James will never have to write any more than this trilogy (and from some of the reviews and commentaries I've read, I'd have to say it's to be hoped that she won't) in order to bolster her financial security.

DB says Sixteen read it because he "wanted to see what all the hype was about"... Sixteen also said I'd be horrified because it was so very badly written. But, it bolsters my case for the marketing and Internet sensation these books have become. The Novelist says she's going to read it to check out the sex scenes because she's writing a novel and wants to see how someone else writes a sex scene. The Teacher read the whole trilogy and said she couldn't put them down but wanted to... And then today, another friend on Facebook, lets call her Young Writer, put up a post saying, 'Hi my name is ... and I have a problem with 50 Shades of Grey/bullshit and the people who read it. Don't hate me. You don't need a "sexy book" to feel good...' A fellow blogger - you know who you are - read and blogged about this book recently and was hugely amused at my comments after his initial post.

And then - which is why I caved to write this blog post - I came across a review of the book in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It never ceases to amaze me, the books and films that get reviewed in this mag - although, there's a certain logic in a deeply conservative diocese pushing particular views of elements of popular culture. The writer of the review acknowledged the hype at the beginning of her piece, and then said it became obvious that it had to be the airport book, as she was heading off on a longish flight - the mind boggles at the thought of a planeload of people all reading this book at the same time... Again, I read a commentary on the quality, or lack thereof, of the writing. Given the forum, there was also a significant portion of the review that spoke to Christian values and the overt subversion of anything healthy and realistic about the relationship between the main protagonists. 

Have I read this book yet? No. Am I going to? No. Why not? Because, beyond the hype, enough commentary that I respect - including the blogger I mentioned, who spoke also of the poor writing - has reinforced the fact that I don't want to spend money on trash. I don't have time to read badly written books. And I also don't need this sort of shallow, gratuitous over-developed fan fiction on my bookshelves. When I think how many really good writers are struggling to get their work out there, I don't want to support bad work. 

And, an end note to my Hunger Games experience... My regular readers will recall that I made a similarly vehement statement about not wanting to see the movie after my reading of all three books in the trilogy. Just recently, DB downloaded it to watch at home, coming to let me know it was about to start so I could join he and Sixteen. He was somewhat taken aback by my instant refusal and I was equally taken aback by both of them clearly not having taken me seriously when I said I didn't want to see it...many times. About halfway through they took a break, and I went out to make more tea... DB was clearly quite shaken and his quote, which says it all was: "I don't know how you read these books, this is really messed up."

At the end of the we have to read stuff, or go to see movies, just because 'everyone else is?' My grown up self says, of course not. I do remember the pressures of a younger age when doing what everyone else does was what kept you in a group, and that felt more important than suffering through whatever the current thing was. However, these days, given the level of so many of the hyped up things that are having so much collective power, I'm becoming an advocate of rugged individualism! Wouldn't it be a great thing to see the growth of a cult of eccentricity among our young people that allowed for them to follow whatever interests they had and for their peers to celebrate that individuality? Just a thought...


  1. OK - there seems to be an issue with the comment function on my blog... This from The Teacher:
    I bashfully bought the first installment of this trilogy a couple of months ago on a friend's recommendation. It will never see the light of day outside my house. Ever. In fact, it is relegated to the darkest, dustiest corner of my bookshel
    f. Perhaps there is some potential for deep psychological analysis in amongst the 'mummy porn fantasies' but it is so poorly written (just like the Twilight series to which it owes part of its popularity - even the cover resembles the twilight design!!! I mean, really??) that any possibility of its salvation is quickly extinguished.

    I've heard countless embarassing stories about people unfamiliar with the series purchasing it as gifts for their mothers or grandmothers (awkward!). Just the other day I was listening to a well-known youth radio station and the hosts were talking to teenagers who had bought it themselves or had it given to them by an unassuming parent or grandparent. As you point out Karen, once again it raises the question of do people know what their kids are reading.

    Conversely, I heard another teenager talk about how her grandmother had read it and recommended it to her. I, for one, am still somewhat in denial that my grandparents ever had a sex life and the thought of my lovely, innocent grandmother perusing one of these books makes me squirm.

    I am realatively conservative but I wouldn't consider myself a prude. But this is one young lady who will not be indulging in the rest of the sociopath/sexually distorted Christian Gray's twisted lifestyle.

  2. ...and this, from The Novelist:
    Good for you! Like you, I don't like following the crowd and the more hype something receives the less likely I am to read or see it. I'm curious about this, not because of the hype but because of the subject matter. So far, I've resisted because of the negative things I've read about it. It's a bit of a moral dilemma for me.

    1. My apologies to The Novelist, who has NOT read the book - and I thought she had...

  3. I enjoyed your post and I identified at some levels. I too have chosen not to read Fifty Shades mainly because I have read numerous reviews complaining of how poorly written it is. I had not read the Hunger Games but went with my teenage son to see the movie and he liked the special effects but found the premise horrific. He loves Zombies and Aliens and does not have a week stomach for violence.
    The idea of a society that delights in children murdering each other was horrible and I was very glad he reacted that way. I became curious and asked a friend who read if I guessed the premise of the second book correctly and she was surprised, I thought it was predictable and chose to read just the last book.
    I was very mortified that the age group reading this is quite young. Will this teach children to avoid war? I was also disturbed by the explanation of the horrible fates that befell the winners...Now to 50 Shades; I am very concerned as to the young kids that are inevitably picking up the book. They hear the Moms touting it as the be all end all and I bet they are reading it as well which in formative years can be in my humble an observant no-psychology background, a most damaging thing.
    You posted a comment by the Teacher that states "I am relatively conservative but I wouldn't consider myself a prude. But this is one young lady (I would wager there are MANY such young ladies out there) who will not be indulging in the rest of the sociopath/sexually distorted Christian Gray's twisted lifestyle." I am by all accounts a liberal very hands-on parent who feels very in tune with her comment. Liberal does not mean irresponsible and I for one would love to see books RATED as movies are; and the whole YA phenomena is very confusing because the subject matter can be very heavy and not appropriate for a mind at a formative stage lacking discernment.

    1. Hi Catalina,
      Thank you for your comments. I think that we have, as a society, lost sight of the brevity of childhood in our rush to see our children grow up and succeed at earlier and earlier ages, and that's one contributing factor to how early they're accessing literature, other entertainment and adult trappings way to soon, in my opinion. I know that makes me sound like a dinosaur, but at Sixteen's age, while I was experimenting with makeup and breaking boundaries, my friends and I were also spending time together out doors, ridding bikes, horses, motorbikes (off road - I lived in the country) and just getting tired and dirty... I don't know many kids these days who do this stuff. And I find it a bit sad.

  4. Hoo, boy, where to start... I'm in my sixties, which basically means that in my youth, vast numbers of people lined up to experience something because it had quality. Forty years later, my observation is that people line up to experience something because it's shallow, and doesn't require any involvement of their brains in order to follow; crap sells. Hence you see talent competitions breeding like bacteria, daily pushing any sort of programming that requires actual thought closer to extinction; I don't care whether you think you can dance, and I don't care whether your dance partner is an NFL wide receiver. I just don't. You go away now, please. I likewise don't care whether you can sing 99 Bottle of Beer all the way through a capella, or whether a fat pig from New Jersey drinks enough to make her fall off her bar stool this episode. So my question, my friend, is from whence your surprise originates when you see people lining up to buy books about gratuitous sexual behavior or children murdering each other for the entertainment of salacious adults?

    As a footnote to make my point, isn't it interesting that when people do line up to see something that has depth and quality, it's never modern, is it? Lord of the Rings was huge; penned during WWII and released in 1954. The Hobbit promises to surpass it; 1937. Modern blockbusters take the form of movies about comic books, and are marketed on the premise that "this movie has the biggest explosion you've ever seen!" I'm sure those who still actually bother to dump money in movie theaters can name a dozen more examples that will help me prove my point off the top of their heads.

    As an oldster, I've spent my life watching entertainment slide down the toilet, with those producing it seeking to minimize cost, and those consuming it seeking to minimize effort; it's a self-perpetuating downward spiral that has led to rounding up a dozen disgruntled housewives and giving them $10,000 to spend on a shopping spree. That, and the hand-held camera used to film the ensuing catfight becomes your entire budget, and the brain-dead cretins point and laugh, and expound about the profound heights the state of entertainment has reached since their generation took over. And don't waste my time telling me about a modern movie's $100,000,000 budget until you convert that to 1939 dollars and compare it to Gone With the Wind. It's hard to say who is the most deluded, those greedy housewives, or the people who think they're watching great art unfold before them. My take: This is one area in which it's good to be old. I'll be checking out soon, and all you youngsters who created this crapfest can wallow unapologetically in the mudhole you've dug...

    1. Oh Jack - one of these days we're going to have an actual chinwag - much as I do enjoy our correspondence and your always grounding and refreshing comments here on my blog!

      Interestingly, on watching a re-run of friends last night, there was a short conversation that ensued about how amazing it is that it continues to be replayed, AND pull the ratings, as to countless other older shows - sitcoms and dramas alike... The reason is largely because there simply haven't been shows made since of any quality that comes remotely close - they've been replaced by all the reality shows.

      But, that's another conversation!


  5. Now I feel better for knowing I am not the only one resisting the ridiculous marketing hype surrounding this book. My reason for not reading it is not the content as such but the fact that it does appear to simply be a poorly written work, I have read reviews and extracts from the book itself. My daughter was disgusted with her housemate for buying a copy afterthey both read extracts online, her disgust had nothing to do with the content, but that her friend would spend money on this book when there are so many good books by talented and struggling authors.
    It does bother me a bit that young women, teenagers will read this and the distorted view of female sexuality they will be left with, I am no prude either but it does concern me that we seem to be immersing our kids in what does not appear to be an in any way empowering culture.
    Oh and reality tv is another pet hate.

    1. It's been a really interesting twelve hours or so, Arabella - by and large, the comments and feedback from other avenues have been positive. Interestingly, there's been some aggro at home - I've been on the end of being called a 'literary snob'. If I earn that by making a decision to choose not to read bad writing, I can live with it...

      Apparently, in some places in Europe, the book is now being sold with a few 'toys'... As I said to DB on being told that, it does nothing to encourage me to change my view point on the book, and much to suggest that this book does not belong on general bookshelves if the marketing is going to be driven by the sexual component of the content - on the basis that there are kids reading this who will possibly, as you say, end up with a very distorted view of sexuality and relationships.

      Good to know I have some company on my lofty, snobbish hill!!!


  6. Ah, two of my favorite ladies! I just want to add a quick note that may aid with your comfort zone about some of this. My daughter-in-law (mother of 4 of my grandkids) is Mexican. My oldest grandson, 13, is and always has been what their Mexican culture calls a "softheart," meaning he protects smaller children, cries when he sees roadkill, and like that. The fact that he has for years been allowed to play Grand Theft Auto, a video game in which he shoots cops, pulls senior citizens out of their cars and bludgeons them in order to steal their cars, sells drugs, beats up shopkeepers, and dozens of other equally dispicable acts hasn't affected who he is in the slightest. In that game, he's B-Dog, and a whole city is terrified by his barbarity; here in real life, he's Brian, and teachers, parents, classmates, and smaller children love to see him coming. The entertainment hasn't changed the real person. I know he's only one example, but he's the only example I have, and maybe there's hope that the rest of them, the good ones, anyway, won't be ruined by this garbage.

    Now if you'll excuse me, we have to go finish watching the end of Season 8 of "Seinfeld."