The Fifty Shades Fiasco

I wasn’t going to say anything about those ghastly Fifty Shades books, in the hope that the whole thing might just go away, but I’m so sick of reading about them and hearing them hailed as something good that I could restrain myself no longer. Be warned, I could subtitle this piece In Which We Consider The Power of Delusion. Let’s not kid ourselves that these books are anything other than really atrociously awfully written porn without a shred of merit of any kind, and the fact that they can cause a so-called phenomenon is a poor indictment of our society.

Several years ago now, I wrote a book on pornography with a colleague. We were looking at the literary end of the market in France – some of you may have seen films by Catherine Breillat (like Romance) or read books by Michel Houellebecq. We wondered why French art was borrowing all these tropes from pornography and set about analysing a large range of novels and films. This is what literature is good for: it magnifies and challenges what’s implicit in mass market stuff, it obliges the reader or spectator to question their expectations and intents.

Drugs: Just say No

In brief, what we found was that porn is not so much a genre as a sexual practice in itself, designed to be undertaken in the absence of a living, breathing, consenting other. It’s the nearest art comes to a drug, given that it is created to produce a direct response on the body. It is also fraught with anxieties about sexual identity and performance, and about genuine relationships with other people. It almost always taps into the least attractive and most regressive of gender traits, the male need to dominate, the female readiness to submit, a pattern which is reproduced in works concerning same sex encounters. It often feeds off hostility and resentment of the needs and demands of others, and the fact that we cannot be fully autonomous. It is very close to violence, degradation, humiliation and pain. For the most part the consumption of porn is not wrong, but it is a little sad and lonely. It often indicates such insecurity and such isolation that only fantasies of absolute mastery and flawlessness prove satisfying. The fact that Fifty Shades of Grey has been hailed as ‘mommy porn’ (and lets pause to consider the perjorative nature of that term – how come the previous century of porn hasn’t been entitled ‘daddy porn’ or ‘bachelor porn’?) really says something for me about the damage done to mothers by our excessive insistence on attachment parenting. If I ruled the world, I’d take the copies of Fifty Shades out of those womens’ hands, and try to give them some of their life back instead.

The fact that people need porn isn’t really my issue here (the fact that we laugh indulgently about it rather than wonder what the hell is happening to our society is more of a worry – is this what ‘liberal’ has come to mean? Never saying no?). No, what really bothers me is that these books are so excruciatingly bad. I was in the big bookstore in town the other day and overheard two young women reading passage of the books out to one another in dramatic voices and laughing. Then they put the books back on the shelves and went to browse the tables of new publications and I really felt like going over and shaking their hands. People who saw clearly! I mean, I never minded Dan Brown (who looks like Tolstoy in comparison), and I wasn’t about to hop on the coat tails of all the sneery critics dissing the Harry Potter novels. Those books had good stories, and if the prose wasn’t consistently beautiful, it wasn’t really that bad. But Fifty Shades? People, how can you bear it? It’s so awful it hurts! And now, what’s happening but a mass migration of sheep-like publishers onto the erotic bandwagon. Oh please. The wonderful Kim at Reading Matters has an excellent post on all the Fifty Shades wannabees that are destined to hit bookstores and ereaders in the near future. I found it depressing, that in an industry centred on imagination, those in charge should show so little of it.

The Bride of Frankenstein in literary form

And what upsets me most of all, what made me nearly crash the car when I heard it reported on the radio news, no less, is this plan to rewrite classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with sex added in. So hold on a minute, what are we saying here? That we’ll take books that have survived for hundreds of years because they have never failed to delight each successive generation with their rightness and ability to entertain, challenge and enthral, and we are going to graft wholly unnecessary, misplaced sex scenes in, written by some hack with less talent in their entire being than the Bronte sisters contained in their little fingers? The Little Professor says it so much better than I could, but essentially, adding sex to those books is to misunderstand and deform them entirely. It is ALL KINDS OF WRONG.

We’re headed towards one of those ghastly self-fulfilling prophecies. If we insist on saying that crappy stuff is good, and the literary is bad, i.e. hard work, difficult, then it will become thus. We will come to associate anything that does not give instant gratification or require the least possible effort on our parts with some sort of tedious chore. When did the requirement to read slowly, carefully, thoughtfully turn into an unreasonable burden? I’m not saying: read only literary works, never genre novels. I’m saying: enjoy the use of discernment. Never stoop to the lowest common denominator because corporations desperate for whacking great profits tell you it’s okay. Don’t get suckered into thinking that the classics are for other people or that literary always means inaccessible; never underestimate your own capabilities. We were all born with the extraordinary gift of a brain; wouldn’t it be the most ungrateful waste not to use it to its full extent? For what, exactly, are we saving up our mental powers?

Right so here’s the real message of this post: people, respect quality. Quality. It is not an elite term, it is not judgemental, it is not exclusive. It is a recognition of the best we humans have in us. It is a subsection of the divine. Let’s think about living lives of quality, of enjoying the best quality in whatever it is we choose to consume. If we care about what we put into our stomachs, then shouldn’t we care as much about what we put into our heads? Let’s put the Fifty Shades books in the bin, and get something properly life-enhancing off the shelf.

58 thoughts on “The Fifty Shades Fiasco

  1. Oh, well, I think these books are nonsense, but I don’t have a terrible problem with them, apart from that I totally judge people who think they are good. They obviously are no good whatsoever, and we’d rather our bestsellers were books of quality etc. On the other hand, there have always been crappy books that have sold well, as well as good books that have sold well. I don’t think it’s anything new to have porny versions of awesome things, you know? Nobody’s going to think they’ve read Jane Eyre because they’ve read Porny Jane Eyre.

    • Really? Hmm well I wish I had your confidence. When my students seriously hoped that watching Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame would make a good substitute for Hugo’s novel, my belief in the ready discernment of readers took a bit of a knock. I don’t mind crappy books selling well in and of itself; it’s publishers’ limited resources being directed towards the endless long tail of crappy similar books that is somewhat galling.

  2. Oh is this post right on the mark, Litlove! I do not understand the phenomenon of these books! You are right that they are merely porn under the guise of literature! I do not have a problem with sex in literature (or in movie or tv, for that matter) as long as it furthers the story, but to have books that are solely about the sex lives of individuals because of the titillation factor just seems vapid and fatuous. But then, when I look at those people who are actually proud to be reading these books, it does not surprise me. The people I know who enjoy these books have never picked up a serious piece if literature (or really an another other piece of literature) and they are reading a very poor substitute! And yes, I agree with you that the fact that these books have caused such a sensation is a poor indictment on our society! Okay, now I am off my soapbox!

    • Absolutely, the erotic is an important part of life – but it’s better dealt with in the context of life, as part of its mesh and weave. Just porn doesn’t do good things to the mind after a while. Believe me, I was glad to see the back of that particular research. I also completely agree with you that it is not a gateway into other books, but something of a cul-de sac. But if people think this is adventurous or interestingly transgressive in some way, ah, I think not. There are much braver things we could be doing.

  3. Well said. Most definitely agree it is an abominable piece of writing, and the sex scenes aren’t anything compared to the real thing or even the internet thing. Most of all, I think the success of fifty shades behooves us to realize that most people don’t have brains, and not to get upset about it.

    • Ach, Shanghaijin, I do so want to believe that everyone has a brain and with the right encouragement will use it to its full. But the bad writing really is beyond appalling in this case.

  4. Amen, sister.

    I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend recently … this friend believes pretty firmly that either I am the only man alive who doesn’t enjoy porn, or that I am lying about not enjoying it. I have explained to her numerous times that I’m not a prude; it’s just that I find it alternately boring and/or just plain funny. She also firmly believes that her sex life, in which she shares porn with her husband, is far healthier and better than mine. And yet, recently, she told me that when they watch porn together, it makes her worry about the kind of woman he might choose as a mistress, were he to be unfaithful to her — because the women in the porn films, whom he seems to like so much, are young, and physically perfect, and have a sexual invention and stamina that she herself cannot possibly rival. I would say that her appetite for this kind of thing is equal to his, but it clearly makes her unhappy as much as it gratifies her … exactly like an addiction.

    She is a writer, and also thought that Fifty Shades of Grey was atrocious, though she is firmly wired for BDSM sex, and is sexually submissive … she was very, very excited by the idea of the book, and then disappointed when it was so poorly written. I wondered what would have been added to her life if it had been well-written.

    • If it had been well-written, or challenging in any way, or self-aware, then it might have given her some perspective on her own feelings and choices. I mean there are very interesting books out there with erotic components. But as she’s demonstrating herself, porn is anti-reality, and so it gets in the way of reality. It offers an image that ordinary people can’t reproduce (or not without risk of putting their backs out!). Give her Michel Houellebecq next time, and see what she makes of that! And I’m right with you: you don’t have to be a prude to think that porn doesn’t have a lot to offer.

  5. Oh how happy I am to hear you say all this. I have been similarly worried by this phenomenon and what it implies about the world we live in. Thanks very much for saying it far better than I could ever have done.

    • Hurray! You’re welcome. Normally I’m the first to say any reading of any kind is good for you. But with these books I find I have to draw a line.

  6. This is a tricky discussion, I think! My own reaction to the excerpts I’ve seen from the 50 Shades books has been much like yours–they sound very badly written, I have no desire to read them myself. But there’s something uncomfortable about the way readers are being shamed and judged for liking them–this is something familiar to some extent to all avid readers of genre fiction but it’s exacerbated for readers of romance and erotica (and are these books porn, or erotica?). Is crappy violent fiction really less horrid than crappy erotica? If readers think that these books offer good stories and can put up with the bad writing as a result, as you say you are OK with the Harry Potter books (though I know you don’t consider them nearly as bad…) — well, isn’t that their choice and their taste? If we move into ideological critique, then the issue would be some kind of consciousness raising, I guess, and this has always been a challenge for feminists: do you dictate to women what they should like, or approve of or advocate respect for their choices? But if the choices are made in ignorant or are careless about issues that really matter (from literary quality to personal integrity), and there’s also a huge marketing machine pushing people towards a certain kind of product, then how autonomous are those choices really…?

    So for me it is genuinely tricky, not what to do myself (I have no plan to read them!) but how to think about the whole phenomenon. I think Jenny is quite right to note that there have always been bad books that sell well, and though I too cringe at the sexed-up classics (not least because the whole concept ignores how sexy they already are, though in much more subtle ways –it’s not as if you have to add sex to Jane Eyre!), well, the originals will still be around and the zombie versions didn’t hurt them either.

    • If readers want to read porn or erotica (and that’s a distinction I would not want to have to fine slice myself – I read a lot about it for research and the general feeling was that it was a sliding scale with porn representing more climactic sex, and the erotic not necessarily needing such a full representation) then there are much better written books out there. Try Anais Nin, or Catherine Millet, both readily available in English.

      My primary whinge here is that they are SO badly written. I am usually the first to say any kind of reading is good reading, but here I really think there needs to be a line in the sand, or else it encourages publishers with finite resources to publish more books of this level (which they are rushing to do). Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that publishers should have some basic standards, quality of writing being the primary one.

      Having done so much research in porn, no I don’t think it does people any good to read a great deal of it. It sets up impossible standards and is fundamentally alienating. (Have you read Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised? He sets out the problems far better than I could in this short space) Just as I would probably say it doesn’t do people much good to read a lot of really violent and unpleasant books. In either case it indicates some sort of imbalance. Sure, people are going to do it, but I can’t quite encourage them towards it with good cheer. Does that make me judgemental? Well if it does, I guess I can live with that!🙂

  7. This is a really articulate post. I think the writing is terrible in the page or so of the first book that I read. However, what always makes me really sad about the runaway success of books like this, is that there are tons of other books out there that are totally worth reading, that will teach readers something about life and language, and the people writing those books aren’t being paid a living wage, while the author of Fifty Shades is raking in the cash professional basketball player style. There are plenty of better books out there that aren’t being published. And the fact that books like this remain on the NYT bestseller list interminably, encourages artists to produce trash, instead of intelligent literature, or even good stories.

    • Laura, you hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what I’m saying – there are much better books out there of every kind, whatever anyone wants to read. And this is exactly what happens – the spawning of lots of mindless lookalikes that drag down the average quality of publications and send out a very odd message to writers.

  8. Great post! I honestly couldn’t believe it when I saw how these classics were getting sexed up. You’d think that some books would be sacred, but apparently people cannot read if the book doesn’t have copious amounts of sex. It’s really quite saddening.

    • That’s it exactly – let’s have readers try the original classics first! There’s a reason why they’ve lasted for centuries, and after all they date from a time when even well-educated people didn’t have much education in comparison to today’s standards. So what can be so hard about them?

  9. But what is quality? What is life-enhancing? I’m not being fatuous here. For many, many reasons, there is no monocultural definition of “quality” work that most of us are raised with anymore, and so much less impetus to even *understand* that Wuthering Heights is way better than 50 Shades of Grey. Because it’s only better under one particular account of quality, and one that is not being taught in schools nor communicated from most parents to their children.

    Now, that notion of quality means a lot to me, but it’s not one we should expect people just to pick up in passing. There has to be some form of cultural education going on. It’s not just that the popular stuff is inherently bad–popular stuff is sometimes great. But even amongst the literati I doubt you could find people who could give a rigorous account of why “literary fiction” is “better” than 50 Shades of Grey (other than it having proper grammar and such). We lack the shared aesthetic vocabulary with which to make such assessments. And to read Jonathan Franzen, you could hardly blame people for finding 50 Shades more entertaining and less preachy than Franzen’s one-dimensional harangues-masquerading-as-novels.

    • Ack, yes, but that’s no reason to lie down and die about it. What intrigues me is the fact that out of my commenters, it’s the most academic ones who act like cats on a hot tin roof over this issue. That’s so typical of where we are in the upper reaches of education – we can argue black is white and white is black so convincingly that we can argue right through the argument and out the other side. We make it so that there is no stable ground to put our feet on. If it’s not an eternal truth then we can’t use it, and frankly every truth comes with parameters and a sell-by date. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to formulate them.

      I’m not advocating a return to ‘standards’ being decided by two old white guys at Princeton. I’m saying that it’s part of any arts education to get people to keep thinking and keep questioning and keep challenging. To remain self-aware, to turn a critical eye on the society we live in, to push for the very best of whatever we make, produce, discover. Sure, we may never reach a definition of quality we all agree on, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be right in there at the heart of any aesthetic discussion we hold.

      As for me, I think quality is: linguistic – in the way a book articulates feelings, thoughts and realities that I may have experienced before without ever being able to articulate them so clearly, so succinctly, so interestingly. It’s formal, in the way a book produces a deeply satisfying reading experience because what happens is shapely and right, the form complements the content, it provides a container for the drama that adds significantly to the way the book makes sense, and to the sense the book makes. And it’s thematic, in the way that the content explores issues, problems and ideas that are relevant to our lives in ways that ask us to consider them more deeply, to winkle out our prejudices and hidden ideals, to challenge what ‘everyone’ thinks, to show us parts of our lives from perspectives we’ve never thought of before.

      I’m not suggesting that’s a definition for all time – there are probably lots of things I’ve missed out I could have added. That’s what comes to me off the top of my head, first thing in the morning and without, alas, my contact lenses in, so I apologise for the inevitable typos! But seriously, the notion of quality and the idea of pursuing it in the arts is not a discussion we should shy away from.

      • Brilliantly said. You really are a marvel! As usual you bring to mind that “True wit is nature to advantage dressed. What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.”

      • Bless you, Lokesh, you are so kind to me. I’m very grateful to David for having brought up the question. Quality is a vexed issue and it’s important that we keep on discussing the problems that surround it.

  10. Thank you for writing this post. I have a real problem with pornography and don’t see books like these as being liberating to women in any way. I know I’ve not read them, but I’ve read enough about them to imagine they have very little value and find it remarkable that they are selling as well as they do (I keep thinking it is the curiosity factor going on–people just want to know what the big deal is about), but I have not the very least desire to pick one up and read it. As if vampires and zombies weren’t bad enough now we have a year or more of S&M spin offs to look forward to littering bookstore tables and supermarket book racks until the next thing comes along. Gee, I wonder just how publishers are going to market these for Christmas?!

    • Danielle, I always felt that the branch of feminism that tried to rehabiliate porn was somewhat implausible. I don’t think it’s liberating for either men or women. I completely agree that the huge amount of hype around this (sex sells so everyone with something to sell – a newspaper, a magazine, an opinion – is hopping on board) has led to a lot of people buying the book out of prurient curiosity. It’s naughty, we’re not supposed to have it, but look it’s on the shelves of my supermarket so I can read it! But oh heaven preseve me from the endless spin-offs! When I read your last line I burst out laughing! You are so amusing.

  11. I was muttering, ‘Yes! Absolutely!’ all the way through your post litlove, and through the comments too. Part of me has wanted to giggle over this whole affair – publishers discover sex sells – really, you amaze me. But I do object very much to the ‘mummy porn’ label too. Where did it come from?

    While I feel a bit of an old git shrieking ‘Standards gels! and flapping her fan, and also I haven’t read any of these books, I do think that most people recognise crappy writing and publishers should not be publishing it – or at least, not until it’s edited into something readable. I mean – that’s their job. If you’re a gatekeeper, you have responsibility surely, beyond your own financial gain? And if you object to gatekeepers, this is a great moment for you, when it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to find self-published books and to publish without a publisher.

    Do we really not have a shared aesthetic vocabulary of any kind? I think we do, even if it’s not always highly nuanced.

    • Ha, too funny, I am definitely in the old git camp here, and quite prepared to shriek about standards, although I am usually very live and let live. But just occasionally a book plumbs new depths that wake me out of my general complacency. Publishers ARE gatekeepers, and that’s the job that they’ve done brilliantly well in the pre-digital days. If we just accept that crap sells if its sexy enough, then where will publishing end up? It’s like that old joke about the management consultants who were paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to inform publishers that all they needed to do to make money was publish only bestsellers. If this is what a bestseller looks like, then is this all we will be allowed to read? It’s like a kind of Brave New World, only this will truly be a Cowardly New World, based on all the wrong principles, but ruled by the demand for cash at all costs. Argh, I’m scaring myself again!

  12. We seem to have similar blog posr ideas these days.
    I wanted to write about Fifty Shades of Gray but from an entirely diffferent angle. I didn’t do it because I thought any post on this book is a post too many.
    Now I’m tempted again because it the books have hit the German market and – the translators had to spice up the thing because it is so tame and lame that the German market wouldn’t buy it the way it is written.
    I really wonder whether it is pornography, I doubt it is, I think it’s just awfully badly written Erotica and the prude market it hit first called it pornography but to know for sure I would have to read it and I am not interested in bad prose.
    The German newspapers are all aligned in saying “no it isn’t pornography at all”, it just portays a very dubious role model. Weak women who want to be hit. It’s dusgusting and badly written but not because it is porn.
    For me to be pornographic a book has to be explicit. Which it doesn’t seem to be at all.

    • Oh Caroline, that is so funny about the German translators having to spice things up. Yes, I can well believe that is true. I think that Continental ideas of what constitutes erotic literature are very different to American ones. But I can’t believe that America is okay about all the hitting involved. I mean, even if this were well-written, then that sort of message, surely, would have to be handled with a huge amount of delicacy and insight to be acceptable? If you could ever do that? Like you, I’m not interested in bad prose in any form, and once you couple it with an appaling message to women it just seems so unpalatable.

      • Hello again.
        I’m going to be a tiny bit contradictory. I think these parodies/rewrites of the classics are a very healthy thing to do. In practice, most of them are utter rubbish. But there’s a long and honourable history of re-using ‘classic’ texts for new purposes – think of the thousand Renaissance reworkings of Greek and Roman literature, or Shamela, the Rape of the Lock, or more seriously, The Wide Sargasso Sea. Don’t forget too that Jane Austen was a parodist too – the wonderful Northanger Abbey is a vicious satire of the gothic novels I love reading so much.

        They’re sociologically and culturally important, and they provide a counter to the canonisation of texts as untouchable ‘classics’. One of the things I give my Shakespeare students is exposure to the bowdlerised Shakespeare plays – tragedies with happy endings tacked on, and so on, to demonstrate the vicissitudes of Bardolatry, and the cultural contexts around it. We shouldn’t be too precious about ‘classics’: they’ll survive. In fact it’s healthy to open them up to ridicule – the great texts will survive and the weak ones will wither. Who now (except me) reads the rural novels that Cold Comfort Farm satirises, for instance?

        I still think my original point is right – that adding sex merely demonstrates that the intended readers have missed the repressed sexuality already present in Austen, the Brontës and so on – but I think we should be amused by the sex/zombie/whatever parodies, rather than disapproving. Cultures reuse and recycle what they’ve inherited. I’m far more bothered by the reactionary politics and terrible writing found in 50 Shades and so on than I am by Pride and Prejudice With Zombies. It’s pop-postmodernism, and won’t do any harm.

        I don’t buy fiction that’s focussed on sex, so wouldn’t know whom to recommend (it was all Lawrence when I was a lad, but I now find his novels unreadable), but I don’t have a problem wanting sex fiction. I just wish they’d read something a little less viciously reactionary and better written.

      • I think this was what i wanted to say with my comment, people are so focussing on whether it’s pornography or not that they seem to forget that even if it wasn’t we can hardly want a character who is still a virging at age 20+ and then succumbs to a rich and dominant man.
        Is that really what the average woman dreams of?
        All that wrapped in really bad writing?

  13. I haven’t read 50 Shades, and don’t plan to, but enough people I know and respect have done so and tell me they’re utter rubbish (and deeply reactionary). My friend Roland found the repetition the most dispiriting aspect of the novels – his Youtube reading of these bits is magnificent (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5BQU5rgH30&list=UUCPaJJDR2sYsT9FqD5kwvFw&index=1&feature=plcp)

    As to the sex remixes of classics – I’ve read a couple – Szereto’s Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts and someone else’s The Lost Sex Scene of Jane Austen. They’re done for laughs and are pretty good, mostly because the authors clearly love Austen and have a far better grasp of Regency dialogue than P. D. James’s awful Death Comes to Pemberley (are sex reworkings worse than any other kind?).

    My main objection to non-humorous sex-classics is simple: lots of these novels are already packed with sex, Austen as well as Eyre. It’s just subtle, understated or implied. These books are essentially proclaiming that we’re all lazy consumerist readers who can’t take a hint because we’ve lost the art of close reading. (My students ALWAYS miss the sex scene in Paradise Lost).

    • Thank you for that link – it’s priceless.

      I am relieved to hear that there is humour in these new rewrites, and some affection at least for the originals. This is where I get uptight and truly prudish as I don’t like messing with classics. I didn’t like zombie mash-ups (although I kept quieter about that one) and I really don’t like erotic rewrites. Go on a fan fiction site and write them if you must, but I’ll never believe they are real works of hommage.

      As for your point about the sex being already implicit, I think you are closer to the points of The Little Professor. I also think that we have lost – or are losing – the art of subtle, delicate, understated, etc, in the screaming rush for sensationalism. That does not sit well with me, either.

  14. It is horrifying that anyone would consider rewriting a classic like Pride and Prejudice to “sex it up” – I cannot imagine for the life of me the purpose behind that (beyond making money, of course). What way to ruin the pure romance of the book! And I agree with your regarding Fifty Shades of Gray – I flipped through these books when I was at a nearby big box store because I was looking for somethign that wouldn’t keep me up at night while Sam was out of town and after one paragraph I was groaning and put the book back on the shelf – the writing is just terrible! The women in my office have been making horrible fun of these books while despairing over their publication!

    • Courtney – my feelings exactly! And in many ways I think that your office mates have it right, and that all we can do is groan and laugh about them. But gah, it just annoys me that we have all these fantastic books out there, and then a combination of aggressive hype and prurient curiosity leads people to this sort of tripe. The writing really is awful, which makes me feel for all the aspiring writers out there, doing their level best to craft a story, and being bulldozed by something as truly dreadful as these books.

  15. I love this post– well done. Though, if we’re generalizing, I’m going to say that the mommies I’ve spotted around town reading this book have hardly been the attachment parenting kind…

    • The only person I’ve seen reading this book was a gentleman of about 60, who was standing beside me looking at the books in the supermarket. I’ll bet he would have put it back pretty smartish if his wife had come round the corner. Other than that, I haven’t actually seen anyone buy a copy.

  16. I had no idea what Fifty Shades of Gray was about…and no one I know has mentioned reading it (them? I guess it’s a series). In fact, I can’t recall anyone I know mentioning them *period*. But I am not shocked that they are best sellers. A lot of real stinkers are – and that’s a shame. But, pulp fiction has always sold well. I’m not sure what that says about the general readership out there. But to keep it all in perspective, many very good books also become successes in the marketplace. In any event, I think Danielle is correct…brace yourself for the spin off wanna be’s.

    • Grad, I looked on amazon today because I was curious to see the reviews, and I have never before known a book to garner over 2,000 of them. Mind you, the one star ones were so funny that they may get a book of their own in time. Everything seems possible right now. You are one lucky lady to have avoided all the hype, although I wonder how you have managed it. As for the spin offs, have you checked the link to Kim’s site? She lists some of them there, and they are enough to make your toes curl.

  17. Having written what is, by my own definition, a “parody” of Jane Austen’s P&P (Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts), I hear what you’re saying. My book was intended to be just that: a “sex” parody, much as the zombies version was a “horror” parody. All good fun and not meant to be taken seriously or written to ride on anyone’s coattails.

    However, what is now being hailed as a new trend re sexy rewrites of classics is far from it. Aside from my own title (released more than a year ago!), other authors have done sexy rewrites of the classics. This is NOT new. What IS new is that the e-publisher who is endeavouring to ride on the bandwagon by putting out what are simply top-shelf versions of classics has hired a PR firm to get the word out. As Jane would say, I find it “positively shocking” that respected newspapers are actually allowing themselves to be used as unpaid publicists on behalf of a publisher.

    The fact that everyone has discovered “50 Shades” as if this too, is anything new (see my blog post http://mitziszereto.com/blog/50-shades-of-nothing-new/) – well, erotic books have been around for eons, and many are far superior in literary quality to this title. This just demonstrates how effective a PR campaign can be! It seems literary success now depends on how much money you’re willing or able to pay for it. Sounds a bit like American politics, eh?

  18. Good post, Litlove. I have heard of the “50 Shades” books but have ignored them, as I ignore so many other things in popular culture that don’t seem healthy to me (like MacDonald’s junk “food”, for example). A friend of mine sent this link though, and I thought I’d share it, just so you know that there’s an odd silver lining to the craze for these books.😉

    www2.macleans.ca/2012/05/03/book-boost-fifty-shades-of-grey-helps-between-shades-of-gray/

  19. Pingback: A Common Event – A Continuation « The Ladyboy Mirror

  20. Bravo! I am all in favor of quality, and I worry about a society in which people go ga ga over horribly written books. I don’t feel I can properly respond, because I haven’t read 50 Shades, and I have a feeling I never will (although “never say never”. Sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me). I CAN say that, although I enjoy what has come to be termed “chick lit” immensely (especially when every day brings more heat and humidity, and I feel like even my brain is dripping sweat and needs a break), I don’t like the books that have obviously just been written in a huge rush and had pretty covers slapped on them. There are writers out there who are educated and who can write (Sophie Kinsella, Marian Keyes, Jill Mansell, etc.)who have chosen this genre as a means to make their money as writers, and they’re fun to read. I applaud them.

    Austen and the Brontes with sex scenes? That’s just. plain. wrong.

  21. I am really sick and tired of these books, they seem to be everywhere I go, they are even being discussed all over the library world – should libraries put them on their shelves? I surprised Bookman the other day with a big rant about how libraries should absolutely NOT have these books on their shelves not because of the content but because of their inferior quality. It is so incredibly sad and disheartening to me that so many people think these books are fantastic. I even saw them appear on a list of top ten erotic novels of all time right next to Story of O and a string of other well written novels. My only consolation is that by this time next year the world will have moved onto something else. At least I hope so, oh how I hope so. Also, the thought of adding sex to classics breaks my heart. Zombies and vampires was funny (however poorly done) because it was so outrageous, but adding sex scenes is so very wrong.

  22. Hear, hear, David and LL. I am just not wired for porn either. Fifty Shades of Shit sounds really dire – I have happily missed this little ‘phenomenon’ and it sounds like I was lucky to dodge it. Bad writing succeeding is always depressing. I take it so personally. And sexing up the classics? Oh dear.

  23. Couldn’t agree more. After I posted the great chart of alternate summer reading suggestions, a friend of mine asked if I’d read the series and said I really should try them. They have been the talk of the pre-school birthday party mom set that I periodically find myself among, but they try to hide these discussions from me, since I am the rabbi’s wife.

    Look, the rabbi and I shared an apartment when we were 19, and that is why we are married now. The rabbi’s wife isn’t anti-sex. She is anti-wasted-reading-time. When the friend said this to me (she’s one of the preschool moms, but an older one like me), fortunately on facebook, so she missed my rolling eyes, I just thought, “ok sure, right after I finish all the 1001 books, the Bookers, the Pulitzers, the Nobelists’ complete works, the Orange Prize winners, the National Book Award winners, the National Book Critic Circle winners, I’ll get right on it. NOT.”

    • The minister’s wife here is also anti-wasted-reading-time and is glad to hear she’s not the only one who sometimes gets snatches of whispered conversations because others are worried, due to her husband’s occupation, that she might be anti-anything.

  24. Thank you for this post. Thank you thank you thank you! I’ve had people nearly sneer at me for NOT reading them. “But Jen, you’re a big reader! Why haven’t you read this smut that everyone is talking about?”

    I don’t read books because they are popular or because they are making a media splash. Bah!

    When I heard about the intention to shove sex scenes into some of the beloved classics of all time I felt sick to my stomach. No, just no.

    I’m so glad to have found your blog, happy reading!

  25. Thank goodness for your excellent thinking and writing… I would probably trust your point of view anyway, but all the more so because of the question you asked and answered in your investigation of the French literary relationship with the tropes (initially mistyped ‘tripes’) of porn.

    Thank you for sticking up for quality and for making some kind of intellectual effort. I am so often in despair, but this gives me hope.

  26. I missed this post but I totally agree with its content, especially now that I’ve read the book.
    What shocks me the most is that it’s supposed to be the dream relationship and for me, it’s kind of sordid.
    And the style is appalling, worse than anything I’ve read, except maybe Gérard de Villiers.

  27. This is the most scholarly thrashing of the Fifty Shades books I have come across so far :)… While your passion for great literature is seeping through the post, I feel you can rest assured from the fact that for every reader who loves these books there are two who hate them! I feel the huge sales are purely out of curiosity about the hype and I will be much surprised if the next set of erotic novels from another yuppie author become equally popular..

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