I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I Flipped through E L James's Fifty Shades Trilogy and (I'm Ashamed to Admit it but) I Liked It

My copy:
Box Set of 3 Trade Paperback 
ISBN: 978-0-345-80404-4
Read: August 25, 2012
Fifty Shades of Grey - 514
Fifty Shades Darker - 532
Fifty Shades Freed - 579
Total Pages: 1,625 pages! Wow! Yeay me!

There is a category of books called "Books You Have to Read Just to Understand What the Hype Is All About." This is one of them.

For me, this category of books I was suckered to read out of social pressure include the Da Vinci Code (sucked) and Twilight (I have no strong feelings for this book-neither hated, nor loved it). In other words, I usually end up regretting the waste of precious reading time for books from this category.

Now this--Fifty Shades of Grey. I felt pretty sure I wouldn't like it. First, it's romance. And I'm not overly fond of them. Seeing shelves of Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, and Jude Deveraux usually makes me turn a different direction. I'm not a book snob--I've just been out of the dating slash seeking Mr. Right scene for more than a decade that I can no longer relate to boy meets girl stories. Second, people said the writing is abominable. Third, it is a fan fiction byproduct (which is usually worse than the inspiration) of Twilight. 

And then the book starts with the paragraph about the wayward hair of the character in a voice that sounds whiny and immature. That uneasy feeling of regret (I bought the boxed set!) set in. 

But I gave it a chance and read on. I don't know at which point the tide changed, but soon I was enjoying it. I mean really enjoying it. No, not (just) because of the dirty parts, but because of the fantasy that is Mr. Christian Grey. Yes, fantasy. Nobody on earth could be that rich, good-looking, and perfect! Well, perfect except for having a really messed up sexual history. The other thing that would classify this as fantasy is the notion that a woman can so quickly and easily change a man--he started changing almost immediately after meeting her. Acting differently and doing things he's never done before, like staying the night with a woman. 

N.B. I started this post some months back and have forgotten all about it. And tonight, as I was about to write a new post, I discovered this draft. I am trying to bring myself back to the moment when I still had feelings for Mr. Grey, but my poor memory and short attention span have made me move on. And so, I'm struggling to complete this post. 

Anyway, let's get this over and done with. 

So what I can remember is this--I enjoyed reading it. I have not been reading much this past couple of years. And 2012 was absolutely dismal, embarrassing for somebody who has founded a book club. I have finished none of the books that we discussed last year. Either I could not attend the meeting or I just could not finish the book. But this trilogy--I consumed it voraciously and quickly. It was the first time for a long time that I felt that grip, that hold a book has to make you itchy and antsy to drop whatever it is you're doing so you can get back to the book. And I completed the trilogy! It is embarrassing to admit that it took a trashy book to wake me up from my reading doldrums. 

So, I'm not going to review the book anymore. There are millions of reviews online. Besides, the feeling's gone. I'm over Christian.

I'll just post my comment in one of our book club's threads. But first, a background for you to understand the following excerpt. I have never heard of 50 Shades until it was suggested in our book club's Facebook group page. Yes, I was living under some kind of rock called home office, where there are no water coolers to gather round as employees talk about the latest phenomenon. Anyway, it was a read-along, meaning we would read the book on our own, but we should follow a certain schedule. We give our reactions online. And after all that was over, we met for a dinner discussion. Now, here is my post:

"I really enjoyed the FSoG reading experience. The poll to select a book and the ridiculous, exasperating result that against Russian classics, we chose the modern day cheese. The community reading aspect of it. The read-along. The online discussions that went beyond the merits and demerits of the book, and got us even to share intimate tidbits. The dinner discussion when everybody came in grey outfits. The fantastic giveaways. The post-discussion lamentations. And now, the planned movie watching activity. Fabulous experience that got me out of my reading rut, albeit temporarily. It's what book clubs are about. And how the book reading future is not just about technology, not just about high tech, but also about high touch. Loved it.

And really, even if the writing is crappy and the dialogue ridiculous, I have great respect for writers who stand out enough to sell in blockbuster numbers. They keep the industry alive and get non-readers to read.

On the personal level, I am not a romance reader and it surprised (and annoyed) me how much I enjoyed reading it that I could hardly wait for the next chapter, the next book. And as a teacher who has waded through gazillions of student papers that made my eyes droop at the first paragraph, I can recognize that this ability to make the reader keep on reading is a learned skill as well as some kind of voodoo magic gift. Plus the writer being in touch with, or having the same secret desires as her readers.
I've been wondering what made this book so appealing to women, specifically British housewives--and it reminded me of a certain research about why women loved watching soap; they watched soap because it's an escape from the all-so-real reality of their lives--of career work and housework. It's their pocket of me-time. And it's their middle finger to a world that wears them out and robs them of their identities and burdens them with responsibilities. It's actually a feminist act of asserting themselves. I will not go as far as say that FSoG is feminist, but I think the reason why it appealed to women is specifically because a lot of women have bought into this feminist notion. A lot of women are in charge almost all the time--at work and at home, and maybe in bed. And it can get pretty tiring to be always in control. And it has become a fantasy to let somebody else take over and have his wicked way with us. To just sit back and relax and let somebody do all the work.
And Christian Grey is hot!" 

What's missing in above is how I, like my book club friends, enjoyed the witty email exchange between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. 

In summary. Yes, believe all those reviews that say it's crap. It is crap. But it is very enjoyable crap. 


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