Fifty Shades of Grey, a Discussion

This post is intended for adult readers over 18.

I don’t do book reviews, although I might be posting another blog on that topic soon. What I do do (heh) are book discussions. My favorite books to discuss? The mega-popular bestsellers that create polarizing opinions, such as Twilight. So surely y’all knew I would hit on Fifty Shades of Grey, right? (That’s right. I read them so you don’t have to. Sure.)

One of three covers you’ll see in every airport.

For those of you living under a rock, Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book in a trilogy by author E.L. James. It’s erotic romance in the BDSM sub-category, detailing the love affair and kinky sexual escapades of awkward, virginal Anastasia Steele and sexy billionaire Christian Grey.

The elephant in the room just got her period.

Okay. Right off the bat, let’s address the obvious: this book is about sex. It has lots and lots of sex, and that sex is very not-vanilla. I am constantly amazed by how many people are shocked by this. I guess they didn’t get a warning and/or don’t understand what these genre terms mean. Let’s break it down:

Erotic– As in graphic sex. And yes, the aim of erotica is to arouse the reader. If that makes you uncomfortable, this isn’t the book for you.

Romance– As in a relationship. A lot of romance novels weave in some sort of outside plot-line like the mysteries in Elizabeth Lowell’s books or the action plots in Celeste Bradley’s. Personally, I could do without these side-plots. Let’s be honest: most of us read romance—especially erotic romance—for the sex, not the murder mystery in the background. So why get upset when the romance is the plot? I don’t know. An unwillingness to admit to liking romances, maybe? Personal taste? Either way, Fifty Shades does away with everything but the central love story. If you need a plot outside of the relationship, this isn’t the book for you.

BDSM– As in an alternative sexual lifestyle between two consenting adults. Think: bossy dominants, handcuffs, whips, etc. There are many levels of BDSM, some of which many people actually practice in their sex lives without even realizing it (biting) and some of which most people would find highly disturbing (caning). This book floats somewhere in the middle.

Why are so many people scandalized (in a good or bad way) by these books? Probably because they had never read anything else in this genre. They say that’s how “housewives” (God, I hate that term) made this book popular: word of mouth about this new, racy thing. Truth: this is not a new genre at all.

Was I scandalized? No, although I do imagine that books 2 and 3 will get further into the BDSM side of things. Maybe I wasn’t shocked because before Fifty Shades came out, I was already very familiar with the later books in the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton as well as the Loving on the Edge series by Roni Loren—both of which I loved.

The bottom line on the BDSM stuff? If the thought of a person willingly being tied to a bed horrifies you, this isn’t the book for you.

Let’s say it straight: these books started as Twi-hard fantasies.

Normally, I’m sort of a stickler for not bad-mouthing a book if you’ve never read it. That has always seemed incredibly hypocritical (and cowardly) to me. If it’s worth your time, read it and form a legitimate opinion. If it isn’t worth your time, why discuss it at all?

But Fifty Shades might be an exception. Pretty much every writer I’ve talked to about this book has one major, enormous, whopping problem: it started out as fan fiction for the Twilight series.

I genuinely haven’t made up my mind as to what I think about this aspect of the books. James changed the world they live in, their ages, professions, their personalities, and the plot. Is that really so different than a writer using a unique new genre to capitalize on someone elses’s success? (You know, those mid-list authors who pitch their books as “Someone Else esque.”) Is it morally wrong to lift an author’s characters and profit from it? I’m not sure. Does it feel sort of skeezy? Oh yeah. But it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

But is the writing any good?

I think Nathan Bransford has said it best in this post. Short answer: no, not really. It’s not horrible. I’ve certainly read worse. But my critique group could have this baby polished and tightened up in a month, and the book would be better for it. I’ll break down some of the things that stood out to me.


Lots of internal dialogue of the gee-golly-whiz variety. Too often, too enthusiastically, and too innocently. I got sick of reading “jeez,” “Wow!” and “Oh my.”

An inability to use the appropriate words for sexual anatomy. Most importantly, female genitalia. I.e., she says “down there” a lot. If you’re going to write R-rated stuff, embrace it. Go for the four-letter words. Hell, she can’t even say “ass” or “butt”; she uses “bottom” or “buttocks.” In the middle of a sex scene. Come on.

I will say that I agree with Nina Badzin on this: if I never hear the phrase “my inner goddess” again, I will die a happy woman. James was going for a personification of Ana’s conscience and sexual appetite, and I respect that sort of risk, but it didn’t work for me.

The ending is not truly an ending. It is very clearly the first book in a series, which I don’t like. To me, that is just lazy plotting.


It reads very fast. I could barely put it down; finished it in three work days. To me, that sort of momentum is fun to get wrapped up in, even if the book isn’t perfect. I’ve heard more than one person say they got bored during the sex scenes, which I’m baffled by. But then again, in my teenage years I devoured cheesy romance novels like they were free pizza and I was a starving college student, so maybe I have a high tolerance for extended sex scenes.

I actually found the characters pretty charming. Ana is delightfully awkward and usually pretty straight-forward in what she’s thinking. She’s innocent, but not in a “oh no, not Mr. Big Bad Wolf” sort of way… more of a “I don’t know what’s going on, but I damn sure like it” sort of way. In other words, she knows what she wants (sex with this hottie) and she goes for it. And Christian… well, he freaks a lot of readers out. Yes, he is overbearing and stalkery (which I happen to adore in a literary love interest… Heathcliff, anyone?). But he’s also sweet, clever, and intelligent. I liked him. I loved the two of them together.

The sex is sexy. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There were emails back and forth throughout that I found absolutely adorable. I chuckled aloud several times. Ana and Christian had some nice wit going back and forth. They had fantastic chemistry.

Thoughts about sex as a social issue, and what writer responsibility has to do with that.

I’ve blogged about this concept before, here. I think it will be a tad easier to cover this time, since these books were never intended for teenagers. The whole “is it BDSM or sexual abuse thing” is further from the conversation, as these are both consenting adults. (And I will say, the fact that this book is inspired by Twilight does support my theory that Edward and Bella were just kinky, not in an abusive relationship. But back on track.) On the other hand, this meme:

No no no no no. That is not how it works, fellas.

just goes to show that even adults have a hard time seperating real life from fiction. So yes, some of the sexual implications in this book bother me–although they’re probably not the ones you’re thinking.

The virgin myth. Entire books have been written about this. It’s too involved to really get into here. But it’s an important issue, and Fifty Shades plays right into it. Ana is a lovely 22 year old virgin who’s never even gotten to second base or had a boyfriend. Okay, sure. There are some of those out there. But what’s the point of making this subsequently sexually explosive character one of them?

Female anatomy. Okay, beyond the fact that every sexually active human should thoroughly educate themselves with both male and female anatomy (it’s not simple, folks; do your research), it seems to me that an author writing primarily about sex should DOUBLY educate herself. Which means (as I mentioned above) not being afraid to use the right terms, as well as knowing that the hymen is outside the body. And, even better, not mentioning the hymen at all. Many modern virgins don’t even have them. Why on earth is the romance genre so obsessed with hymens?

Presenting the hero of a BDSM novel as “fucked up” emotionally—and using that as the reason he’s chosen that sexual lifestyle. I’m a little conflicted on this. On one hand, I appreciate that James gave the character depth and internal conflict. On the other hand, I think the BDSM community is stigmatized enough without her justifying his choice through abuse, etc.

Orgasms. Another topic that deserves an entire post of its own. I’ll shorthand it: too many orgasms. Too easy (she’s a virgin who’s never even masturbated). And many of them with no clitoral stimulation. Isn’t it time we stop portraying sex this way? It makes women think that’s how their bodies should work and it makes men think that’s how to get things done. Just… stop it.

The hilarity factor.

Just like sparkly vampires, Fifty Shades is an easy target. Some strange writing quirks make it easy prey. Add to that: everyone loves to make fun of something that’s popular, sex makes people uncomfortable, and this sex is non-standard and people fear what they don’t know. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to mock.

A little bit of poking fun is fine. Some naughty puns. This one of “Morgan Freeman” (comedian Josh Robert Thompson) doing a “reading” is particularly funny, in my opinion, especially taken out of context. (Warning: this is from book 2 or 3 and does contain a spoiler.) Good natured teasing, I’m all for. Blind bandwagon jumping? Not so much. At some point, you have to stop and ask yourself why you’re making fun of something.

So, is it worth a read? (Final thoughts for readers.)

This is actually a complicated question. Did I enjoy the book? Yes. I gave it four out of five stars on Goodreads. (Although, to be fair, I rate different types of books independently of some cosmic scale where all books are equal. In other words, The Giver and Twilight do not get judged by the same criteria.) I will definitely check out the sequels from my public library. Would I recommend the book to a friend? Probably not. Definitely not without some discussion first. So, dear blog reader, should you read it?

Reasons yes:
It interests you.
You want to form your own opinion.
You love the BDSM erotic romance genre.
You’re curious and open-minded.
You’re a writer who wants to learn.

Reasons no:
It doesn’t interest you.
Mediocre writing is a deal-breaker for your enjoyment.
You don’t like reading kinky or graphic sex.
You passionately hate Twilight.
You’ve already made up your mind.

Final thoughts for writers.

A lot of writers waste a lot of energy hating on and slamming books like Twilight and Fifty Shades. But in my opinion, that’s useless. What do we gain from that? Bitterness? The real questions we should be asking ourselves: why were these books so successful, and what can I learn from that?

~ * ~

So, have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? What did you think? Rants and raves alike welcome below. =)

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  • Bree

    I just finished it last Thursday and I’m interested to keep reading the other two.  At first I was uncomfortable, because I haven’t really read erotica before, just the vanilla-y romance novels.  But like you said, the banter between them was fun and it wasn’t horrible writing.

    I was unaware that they had anything to do with the Twilight books though…?

    • Yes, apparently they started out as straight-up Twilight fan fiction, with the main characters’ names being Edward and Bella and everything. But then she decided (presumably after much positive feedback from the fan fiction) to change their names, ages, and make them not vampires, etc. and publish as an unrelated book of its own. And perhaps most intriguingly, the Fifty Shades series has gone on to outsell the Twilight series. It’s an interesting happening; I’m not familiar with anything else like it.

      • Krissie

        I once found the fanfic…it was called Masters of the Universe, and she took it down when she tried to get published, but some people have saved it…and from the parts I read, she actually didn’t change anything but the names. I did a side-by-side comparison for a little bit…I got bored…and the book was identical to the fanfic, other than the names.

        • Oh, that’s fascinating! So in her fanfic they were never vampires at all? I’m baffled by that.

          • Krissie

            Yup, Bella and Edward were obviously the mains, and I believe her roommate was Rosalie.

  • Addy Rae

    For your amusement, I was a 21 year old virgin.  No second base, no boyfriend, just a couple chaste kisses in 8th, 9th? grade.  My best friend was a 20 year old virgin, and my other best friend is 26 and still a virgin.  (Although she’s a virgin for religious reasons, and we other two were just not interested up to that point.  We had more important stuffs to do than date, and we were focused pretty heavily on that.)

    So, we do exist as you pointed out.  Just not commonly.  🙂

    • Addy Rae, I had no intention of implying that 20-year-old virgins were the problem. Everyone has to decide when they’re ready to have sex; there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a virgin at any age.

      The problem is the extreme prevalence of female virgins in romance novels, and perhaps the unbalanced lack of male virgins to partner them. For one thing, it implies that only virgins are sexually desirable. It also creates an unfair gender stereotype that women should be chaste while men should be sexually practiced. And finally, having a 20-year-old virgin go from never even having masturbated (like Ana in this novel) to being instantly orgasmic with a male partner is misleading. Sexual satisfaction, like anything else in life, takes learning and practice.

      So yes, there are absolutely adult virgins out there. Good for them for taking control of their bodies and their beliefs. But why the heroine of so many romance novels seem to be one is the issue I’m getting at.

      • Addy Rae

         I totally get that.  I’m always irritated when a novel treats virginity as though it’s expected for women but a embarrassing thing for men, or like the woman being a virgin is an extra special she’s-more-desirable sought after thing.

        I was just amused that I mostly fit your example. 🙂

  • Regina

    I bought 50 Shades but I only made it about a third of the way through. Not because I was scandalized. I wasn’t. I was flat out bored. I was bored at about 20 pages but kept reading because I didn’t want to be the only writer on the block who didn’t know what all the other writers were talking about and I reasoned where there was smoke, there must be fire. But when I found myself picking it up every night with a more-homework-sigh and having to force myself through another few pages, I just finally decided it wasn’t worth it and I found something else to read.

    Like your new novel, Annie. Which is awesome! Thanks for letting me beta it.

    • Regina, I totally respect that. I like the fact that you actually picked it up before forming your opinion. That’s all I ask! =) Nothing wrong with just not liking a book. We all have a right to personal taste.

      And I’m happy to hear you’re liking my WIP. Can’t wait to hear all of your thoughts!

  • I was definitely looking forward to this discussion! 😀 

    Have you read all three already? Or are you planning to?

    I’m actually only about 70% through the first at the moment, but I can’t help but dive in to this discussion. I’ve read enough to know what I think at this point, and well, I’ve already had the ending of the first spoiled for me in reviews, so… lol!

    I’m finding the writing basic, irritating at times (like you said), but overall, not that horrible. I really wasn’t expecting much more than basic here. 

    The sex. Half the time, it’s not bad, but the other half the time (basically every time she comes on demand) is utterly ridiculous! I just couldn’t help laughing out loud and rolling my eyes out of my head. Plunging into her “virginity” like he did, the magical 1-minute orgasms. Just no. *shakes head*

    But somehow I really enjoyed Ana. I’m in love with Kate! I really love the friendship between the two of them. I loved the emails between Ana and Christian too, but as it stands, I really don’t like Christian very much at all. I do respect his complexity though, and I am rooting for him to pull his head out of his ass and give back as much as he’s expecting her to give to him.

    But yes, all of those complaints you had with it, ditto! The virginity, the magical orgasms, the “uncomfortable BDSM stuff”. BDSM novels don’t bother me, but this one does. As presented through the 70% I’ve read so far, Ana is NOT a submissive, and she does not seem to find any enjoyment in being one either. Oh man, in parts, I just wanted to cry for her. There’s a difference between liking pain in sex and being a submissive – some people might be both, but Ana is clearly not one of them. Granted, it does make for a gripping story – she loves the man, but she doesn’t love the sex he wants to have. That’s a good story – an intense conflict that has no easy answer. I’m holding my judgement to see how it ends and how that’s resolved through the next couple of books (and I do think I’d like to read them). 

    I also don’t like that she paired the BDSM with his childhood abuse. There’s another talkable point in the way of author responsibility – sure, it might actually happen that some people are abused and turn to BDSM as adults, but should we portray it that way in fiction? Is it the reader’s responsibility to know that the two are not automatically linked? This is adult fiction, after all, so perhaps – as adults – we should be expected to know better. Though I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t know better.

    Overall, I am not hating it as much as I thought I would. There’s saying something, right?

    As a comparison to Twilight, which I think is fair and inevitable given its origins, I actually liked it a bit better. I didn’t read past the first book of Twilight, but I am considering reading the sequels here. (From the library, at least.) It has sex, which is one good reason to spend time on it, lol! But also, the characters are more complex and genuine, which I’m enjoying. And I can definitely see how far she’s taken it from the original source, and I’m feeling more okay about it as being inspired by Twilight rather than being a copy of it, which I first feared it was. Bella and Edward were really blank slates. Ana and Christian have a lot more complexity than that. She has changed quite a lot and added so much that is her own, and at some point, we are all inspired by all kinds of things in our writing, aren’t we? Never thought I’d feel that way about that issue, but I guess I do, lol!

    • Laura, you’re awesome. I totally agree with everything you’ve said! I think the sex scenes are fun, but I read them knowing they’re silly and fantasy-driven rather than reality-driven. The whole orgasm on command thing is part of what worries me in regards to men using this as a how-to. How awkward would that be if some guy tried that with his partner in real life? Lmao. She’s just like, “Um… I need a minute.” XD

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one to like Ana! I like Kate, too. I do think James did a much better job with characterization than Meyer did overall, which I agree is part of the reason these books don’t seem so much like Twilight in the end. Although strangely, I liked the relationships with Bella and her mother and father better than Ana and hers. I feel like they’re a bit too heavy-handed in Fifty.

      That’s a great point about Ana not truly being a submissive. Good source of conflict. I haven’t read books 2 and 3 yet, so I have no idea how that will turn out. Personally, I’m rooting for Ana to embrace her inner sub rather than Christian “overcoming” his BDSM predilections. I’ll be pretty pissed if Ana ends up “curing” Christian. Hopefully I won’t read any spoilers before I can get my hands on the library’s copies of those!

      Great thoughts, as always, Laura. I look forward to comparing notes on book 2 and/or 3. =)

  • Mary Kennedy Eastham

    Thank you so much for giving a very well balanced account of Fifty Shades. I read it in about an
    hour in Barnes & Noble. I didn’t get the hype to be honest. But I’ve always owned my own
    sexuality and never aspired to be a housewife. Would I as a writer LOVE, repeat, LOVE to
    have one of my books become a household name, which would result in my checking account
    having much much MUCH more money in it, HELL YEAH. I didn’t even know what Fan Fiction was. The guys selling Nooks at B & N filled me in. I probably would have given the book 3 stars on
    Goodreads. That’s the only way we differ. I write literary fiction. It’s really different than EL James.
    My second book Squinting Over Water – Stories is due out in October. Fingers crossed! 
    Mary Kennedy Eastham

    • Hi Mary. I almost gave Fifty Shades 3 stars as well, due to the sub-par prose. In the end, I decided that any commercial fiction that I was pulled to read that quickly–and that made me laugh out loud–probably deserved 4 stars. But of course, that’s all a matter of taste. Good luck with your new book.

  • 83october

    Hi Annie,
    I’m a fan of your book discussion. I’ve never read the book and I won’t read it anytime soon as i’m not a fan of romance novels and whatnot. But you bring up an interesting point of discussion here and its always nice to read someone tackle the issue with objectivity.

    I do agree that we cannot diss a book just because we don’t like it. I may never appreciate this book (I’m not into twilight either) but book are a personal preference. And yes, to its detractors its popularity is the main issue. Detractors feel James doesn’t deserve the popularity her books has at the moment. But what’s more important to ask is why is it this popular. Does this reflect something about society? Are we in search of entertainment?

    Anyway, i really just dropped by to say hi and its always a pleasure to read how you present your arguments and discussion. Your list of why and why not to read the book made it clear that i should stay away from this book. Haha. But again, i personally don’t have problems for ‘bad’ writing being popular.  It might not deserve a literary price, but its what people want to read. What can we really do about it? Should we take offense? I don’t know…

    anyway. once again, great discussion!

    • Hey 83! It’s very nice to hear from you. 🙂 I’m glad you liked the discussion and thought it was balanced. Honest and balanced are what I aim for with things like these. Also, I’m happy to hear that my evaluation saved you from reading a book you obviously wouldn’t like! Nothing worse than wasting time on a book that’s not for you–especially with so many options out there.

  • I think it is successful for the same reason Harlequin romances are successful (whatever mojo that is). Haven’t had an urge to read those either, could be fun though – so not saying never.Should we give kudos for securing 15 minutes of fame? I suppose. I mean, Dan Brown had the DaVinci code and it blew up. The book was mediocre at best though (IMO) and I wouldn’t give it a high rating just because it got caught up in the gears of the Marketing Machine.

    As for magic orgasms, well, frankly its wish fulfillment and that sells. Its like a guy writing a story about a magic bean that makes his..errr…stalk grow. Generally though, this is below “popular” fiction level and maybe more along the lines of a “Dear Hustler” letter. 

    Still, someone -could- write a story about a girl (or guy) that has magic orgasms and make it worth reading. Or you could write something the equivalent of literary hardcore porn and sell it by the truckload. Cause, well, porn sells – always has.

    • Of course porn sells! Everyone likes sex. What’s interesting is how reluctant everyone is to admit this fact. I think most mainstream erotica (and by that I mean in print in stores instead of online) is published for women, although I don’t have any sources to back that up.

      So yes, the magic orgasms could be wish fulfillment. Or they could be lazy writing. (Or both.) To me, sex scenes in a romance novel are like scary scenes in a horror novel: they need to be properly led up to to have the full impact. Having a sex scene with five orgasms in it is like having a scary scene with five murderers in it; you better have a damn good reason that there are five instead of one. And the murderer is always scarier if you can’t see it at first. The longer the build-up, the better the pay-off. Which is why I suspect magic orgasms might be equal parts lazy writing with wish fulfillment.

      Also: actual magic orgasms could make an awesome story. I’m imagining erotic comedy. I’d read it!

      • Ok, so because of your post I -tried- to read it. Call me judgmental, it sucks. Horriffic suckage. Skimming by 1/2 through first chapter and throwing in the towel at the end of that chapter.
        “I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.” I mean wow. Really? First sentence? Wow. Then direct into a mirror scene to describe the protag? What? Extraneous clauses, preposition madness, it was impossible. Annie, if that isn’t horrible writing, I don’t know what is! And the Dialogue is terrible!

        Someone sold a rough draft of a porn novel and sold the heck out of it. Wish I could say I was happy for them. And I’m all for the porn 😛 – but seriously?

        Thinking of all the people I know that have struggled for years with writing as a craft and have a desire to published as serious writers…I think a little part of me died inside after reading that.

        • Lol, I don’t think you’re judgmental. If you read it and hate it, that’s totally reasonable. And yes, the opening line is just awful. I almost put it down there too, but I feel the way Nathan Bransford feels: mass market commercial fiction books like this aren’t written for aspiring writers with breaking hearts; they’re written for the masses–many of whom don’t even normally read at all, much less care about the quality of the prose. Yes, it hurts for writers of more quality work who care deeply about the craft. But no, that doesn’t change that the general public doesn’t care.  I’m not unsympathetic, believe me. I have my moments of outrage and disdain too. But the bottom line is that most casual readers want fast stories, sexy plotlines, and characters that are more vivid than they are realistic. They do not care about redundant adverbs or weedy prepositions.

          The good news is that contrary to how aspiring writers might feel, this does not take away our own personal opportunities. If anything, super-popular books like the Fifty Shades series bring non-readers into the realm of our industry, raising the purchase of books in general and increasing our chances of being picked up by expanding opportunities. So yes, it hurts to read a low-quality book when we’re struggling to break into the industry. And there’s nothing wrong with disliking these books because of the poor writing. But it doesn’t do much good to let it get beneath your skin. Keep chugging along, putting effort into your craft, and you’ll find a market eventually. Hang in there, buddy.

  • As always, my objection to the major criticisms of a book (series) like this is IT IS FICTIONAL. Fiction should not be seen as a true and accurate representation of people or their relationships. The point of losing ourselves in the lead male who is controlling, egotistical, and the whole Alpha Male business is that it IS a fantastical setting and does not automatically reflect what a reader wants in their reality. Do people complain that children shouldn’t imagine swordfighting dragons because, realistically speaking, they would all die? No, not usually. People disparage these kinds of books for being a “bad influence”, which robs people/parents of their responsibility in thinking and discussing and educating the youngsters (and each other) about how fiction can impact your life, but is still a method of entertainment.


    • True true. I completely agree that the ultimate responsibility resides with each individual reader. But I also think writers should be aware of the messages they’re sending. Not that they should only send good, happy, healthy messages. But I feel like sometimes writers don’t even think about the implications of their choices. I will always defend an author’s right to say whatever he or she wants, but that isn’t going to stop me from judging what they say. That, too, is our right as readers.

  • Melissa

    I haven’t read this series (nor do I plan to) for the one “not to” reason you list: “Mediocre writing is a deal-breaker for your enjoyment.” I’m pretty open-minded, and if the writing were being raved about, I’d give it a shot probably. The oh my’s, jeezes, and wows would have gotten to me, no doubt.
    Also agree that the key questions we should ask after every book we read are: Why was this book successful? What can I learn?Great post, Annie.

    • Well then it sounds like my break-down of why to read or not was a success. =) Personally, mediocre writing isn’t a deal-breaker for me, depending on the type of book and my expectations. Going into major bestsellers like this, I kind of expect the writing to be sub-par, so I’m not disappointed by it. Usually, but not always, the super popular books are more poorly written than those with a smaller fan base (which could make an interesting discussion of its own). But yeah, I can totally understand why writers especially would prefer not to read poor writing. Thanks Melissa!

      • Melissa Crytzer Fry

        I would LOVE a discussion on this topic (but how to do it without sounding like a literary snob?). I never thought about it this way, but by golly, I think you’re right. And somehow this makes me feel better. Enlightening.

        • It could get tricky, for sure. I like the idea though. This goes in my list of blog topics! =)

  • Great analysis here! 50 Shades is also the only lengthy (and negative) review I’ve ever written. I think you ask a great question at the end: should people read it? I have a hard time staying away from things that “everybody” is talking about. I guess it’s my constant to need to #1 form my own opinion. And #2. share it! 

    • Mary Kennedy Eastham

      This is a great discussion. I agree. I tend to NOT read bestsellers or books I’m 
      ‘supposed’ to read ‘cuz lots of peeps are reading it. What I have learned from the
      enormous amount of attention Fifty Shades is getting is to make darn sure my own
      stories have great characters. The readers of Fifty Shades has spoken and they are
      telling us writers that is ALL about story…

      • Thank you, Mary! Yes, there’s much to learn from readers. Many factors can’t be controlled by the writers, but some can, and I think it’s wise to consider those–and learn from them.

    • Well, obviously I share that temptation. =) I think there’s a lot to be said for being a part of the popular conversation–and even more to be said for forming your own opinions instead of trusting everyone else’s.

  • Haven’t read the books and probably won’t (mediocre writing isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but I need a compelling reason to read past it), but I’m really intrigued by the social issues you raise since these don’t seem to be getting much attention that I’ve noticed. Western culture has such an obsession with virgins and such a weird, conflicted relationship with sex in general. It’s either ridiculously awesome or a morally depraved act that ruins everyone. I agree, it would be wonderful to see more realistic, honest portrayals without all the weird extremes.

    Of course, this is wish fulfillment and not literary realism, but I think you’re also suggesting that more realism doesn’t have to mean less wish fulfillment. Either way, this is a really interesting addition to the discussion surrounding these books.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what I’m getting at: wish fulfillment that’s grounded in reality. I wish there was more of that out there. It’s true about the topics being discussed. It seems like all anyone can see is the whole BDSM thing because it’s so exotic, but I think the other issues are equally important. Thank you, Lura.

  • -j-

    I’ve been wanting to read this post since you popped into my inbox (because I DO subscribe sometimes!), and I finally had time this morning. EXCELLENT post. I won’t read 50 Shades, but I love that your writeup makes me more sure I shouldn’t, as opposed to guilty of pre-deciding or shaming me into it. I don’t have any interest. Mediocre writing is a deal breaker for me. And the things you listed as cons are the kinds of things that make me crazy in a book.

    Here’s what I love best about this piece, Annie. There’s no book snobbery here, no judgment. In fact, you admit to your own ambivalence on the subject of uber-successful fan fiction… which made me think about how I’m never bothered by fan fiction until it starts making the author tons of money. That’s stupid. Either fan fiction is okay or it’s not, and that’s the question I need to answer for myself (or decide that I’m okay with my own ambivalence).

    Thanks for writing this. Made this morning’s coffee time especially enlightening and provocative. xo

    • Thanks J! I’m glad you subscribe. I know that’s what a lot of readers prefer, which is why I offer it, but it’s just not for me.

      I think it’s pretty interesting that a few readers have decided they don’t want to read Fifty Shades based on my thoughts. I’m glad I was objective enough for that to work! I definitely aim for groundedness. One of my pet peeves involves music snobs, because I’m not in any way involved in that industry and I sort of resent being told that certain music isn’t “worth liking,” so I definitely aim not to be like that within my own industry. Not that I always succeed—I definitely have my moments of snobbery—but I’m glad my efforts show. =)

      That’s also a good point about fan fiction. It does seem that profit is the deciding line in people’s opinions, which raises some interesting questions. All great food for thought. Thanks so much!

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  • Cricket

    ARE YOU SERIOUS? Sorry did that book really start out as twilight fan fiction? Wow I feel so much better now I kept swearing up and down there were so many similarities especially in the first book. I feel less crazy now thank you. I admit I love a good dirty book for time to time my only problem with this book is its similarity to twilight in the da little boring girl who no matter how much the book says is “smart mouthed” is actually docile and pathetically weak. Also as somebody who was in a BDSM relationship I recognized the fact that she really didn’t research it. It’s actually pretty offensive how she portrays it, but it kinda doesn’t matter it’s just meant to be a dirty little break out the “me” time book. And in that aspect it does its job.

    • I’ve heard lots of other BDSM folks say the same thing online — that James was inaccurate in some way. I would love to know how, if you feel like sharing.

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