I’m not sure I agree that you are what you eat. This phrase, secured with a magnet on my grandma’s fridge, always inspired images of personified tomatoes and potatoes chips. But I would say you are what you think, what you say, what you do, and even what you read. The choices you make at the bookstore represent your interests, your values and what influences you. This said, I certainly enjoy my fair share of ‘beach reads’ (as well as potato chips). When I heard how quickly 50 Shades of Grey was selling, I joined the millions and grabbed a copy for myself.
Taking the book for what it was, x-rated fan-lit inspired by Bella and Edward from Twilight; I didn’t have high expectations. Author EL James admits she wrote 50 Shades on her Blackberry commuting to and from work, shortly after she read Stephanie Meyer’s entire series. It didn’t bother me (much) that this best selling book was devoid of dimension. What bothered me was the focus (abuse as a context for love), carelessness for clarity, overuse of phrases, and if you look (not so) closely the exact replication of the Twilight plot. And in the end, if the book is selling for its sex scenes, I think we all could imagine something a little darker than restraints and plugs. The book’s lack of creativity is astounding. James says she doesn’t read her book’s reviews, and I can understand why.
As I turned the pages I quickly became uneasy with this so-called love story. My biggest problem with 50 Shades was the romanticism of a sexual abused child acting out his horrific past on women who resembled his ‘crack-head’ mother -which essentially is where the relationship begins for this charming couple. The plot later includes extremely unhealthy doses of jealousy, manipulation, and control based on monetary power. I’m indifferent to what people do in their bedrooms, as long as it’s between two consenting adults. But when women all over the world are devouring an erotic book based on an emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive relationship, I’m concerned. It’s unclear whether this tryst is a dark and haunting story of sex and love, or an adorable tale of a closet freak waiting for the right ‘dom’ to come along to rescue her from the monotony of life. Because James accomplishes neither, I’m left to wonder what it’s allure is.
Beyond my worry for woman using 50 Shades model for love, I was shocked with the writing itself. I can’t tell you how many times I had to flip back and forth to make sure I hadn’t already read a particular passage; only to confirm that she’d use the exact (dialogue, phrase, sentence) once, twice, or seven times before. It’s almost as if James knew she could get away with horrible writing, as long as she included enough graphic sex to make you forget her lack of talent. I found it insulting that James and her publisher put this book on selves, as if it had never been edited, knowing full well that the sex would sell it. Though I can understand why men all over the country are happily purchasing it for their partners, I can’t understand why women are finishing it.
With so many phenomenal contemporary writers; Orhan Pamuk, Dave Eggers, Mario Vargas LLosa, Haruki Murakami and Stephen Kelman, to name a few – who possess the ability to transform us with their words, it saddens me that we continue to invest our time and money in books like 50 Shades. Oscar Wilde said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” Whether or not you think 50 Shades is a moral book, I think we can all agree that it was (very) poorly written. I urge us willing readers to select a book that would make our world a more interesting, dynamic, smarter and thoughtful place. So, what are you reading?