Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why I Read 50 Shades of Gray

62 followers! Raise the roof! Do people still do that? Probably not. Well, I'm bringing back the roof raising to salute my new followers. Maybe one day I'll have a blog as popular as my mother's, but probably not anytime soon.

But that is not why you are reading this blog, really. If I haven't peer-pressured you into reading it myself, you're probably reading this because the title references 50 Shades of Gray, the S&M erotic romp currently sweeping the world by storm. I should really put 50 Shades in all my blog titles, it would probably get me a lot more traffic. From now on all my blogs will be called 50 Shades of __- it's the only way to beat my mother's follower count. (That is a joke, by the way. I'm not doing that.)

However I'm not here to discuses why these books are so popular and think up all the 50 Shades blog titles that would bring me internet stardom and soullessness (50 Shades of Twilight, 50 Shades of Kardashians (are they even still popular? I honestly don't even know), 50 Shades of Apps, 50 Shades of peanut butter, 50 Shades of biochemistry, an App for all your 50 Shades...ok I'm done). I'm here to talk about why I read the book, even when half of the world, including friends and acquaintances who's opinions I trust, told me it was rubbish. I will also talk about why, even once I started it and, about a paragraph in, I realized that half the world was 100% right, I still proceeded to finish the book, and why I'm glad I did.

This all came about because of a particular friend who genuinely does not understand why I would read a book I knew was bad, and then why I would finish a book I saw for myself was bad. Fair question: this is not something that a lot of people do. We've had the debate for a while now, and he is so articulate and intelligent that I usually just find myself flustered for some reason, and I just end up shouting I WAS JUST CURIOUS OK at him, in which case he usually calmly reminds me that he's not attacking me, and then I just feel like a child and declare the topic dropped. For the record, he is one of my best friends in the world and these conversations are always good-natured. He forces me to think about the way I feel and why I feel that way more than anyone else I know, which at the time is always frustrating, but is always a good thing in the long run (I only get frustrated when I don't know the answer, which is usually). So this is mainly for him, just to fully explain myself since I never seem to be able to in person. I'm much better in words, in general.

And if you still don't get it after this, then FINE, we'll just have to agree to disagree, just like our opinions on expectations and excitement levels at the movies, and whether or not Shepard Book is cool (he's not).

Why I read 50 Shades of Gray:

#1- I was curious. Usually this is the only reason I have to give people, my friend in question the obvious exception. When something is as popular as 50 Shades of Gray, and women world wide are gushing about how amazing it is, that makes me very, very curious. I believe a healthy reading habit is to read a wide range of different genres from different time periods, in different styles. I'm not saying this is always what I do, just saying it's what I think I should be doing. I usually get on either a YA kick or a realism kick or SF kick or something like that, and it's all I'll read for months, but something always breaks it and I head to something else. however, I do think I read a healthy amount of different things. However S&M was never one of them, not that I ever wanted it to be or even thought about it, but the shear number of people talking about a type of book that people are usually too self conscious to admit they're reading, intrigued me.  If I'm going to read a book about S&M to see what the fuss is about, I might as well read one that's a world wide phenomenon. So, for the same reason I read The Di Vinci Code, Twilight and Enders Game (which was absolutely fantastic and everyone should read- but I do admit I just read it because everyone else was), I read 50 Shades of Gray.

#2- Reading popular books is interesting. I think it's interesting to read supremely popular things at the time they are popular. It says a lot about the state of the world we're living in today to read what everyone else is reading. Good and bad, they give us a full picture of the types of things people seem to crave, or think they lack in the world and what they are doing to fulfill those needs. And yes, sometimes this picture is sad: in the case of 50 Shades we see a world full of women who enjoy being beaten and called baby and controlled in every way, but I am comforted in the knowledge that this does not speak for everyone. And really, if that is someone that you like, that's fine- everyone is different. But even if this is not how everyone feels, it's still a large enough proportion to make me deeply curious as to the reasons why. E.L. James admitted that when she wrote 50 Shades of Gray, she was just writing Twilight fan fiction injected with her own S&M fantasies. Which is fine, that's allowed. But who knew so many other women had S&M fantasies as well? What exactly is it about that form of fantasy that seemed to entrance the world? Beats me, personally, because I just thought it was scary and unnecessary. But I find it all very interesting nonetheless. Like, culturally, socially, not know what I mean. How can I keep my blog PG when I'm writing about erotica?

#3- I'm a very fast reader. One common reason to not read a book you're not 100% enjoying is because life is too short to read crap. I understand this completely- I have a huge stack of books next to my bed in my To Read pile, all of which are a million times better and more well written than 50 Shades. So do most of us. I'm very aware that I'm going to die one day without having read all the books in the world that I want to read- it's as inevitable as death itself. However I think I'd revise the above statement to say this: Life is too short to read something you're not getting anything out of. I do put books down sometimes, not often, but it does happen if I feel like I'm not getting anything out of it in any way, shape or form. But, for all the other reasons in this blog, I did feel like reading 50 Shades was giving me a new incite into different topics I'd never given much thought before, or not in the same way. Sure, every time Anna talked about her inner goddess I kind of wanted to strangle said goddess, and every time Christian said he was going to **** her, hard, I laughed out loud, but I still felt like I was getting something out of it, so I kept reading. And, in the end of the day, I'm a fast reader. It did not take up that much of my life to read this book, only a few days. A few days out of my life gave me the perspective and right to debate about one of the most talked about books in the world at the moment and to justify my opinions on feminism and literature today, and you know how I love to justify things.  I feel that my English Major reading speed countered the short-life inevitability of my death. That makes it sound like I'm invincible, which is not what I meant, but we can go with that anyway.

#4- It's all everyone was talking about at work this summer- I was feeling left out. I don't like feeling left out. I worked with a lot of different people this summer, and these books were very often the topic of conversations on days where conversation was all you had to pass the time. Someone lent me a copy, and then a friend lent me one as well, so I figured with two copies lying around, I might as well read it.

#5- I love complaining, and I can't complain about something I haven't read. Ok, ok, so I don't love complaining, I just like picking things apart and putting them back together, analyzing books and stories and situations and talking about why books are good or bad and why I feel the way I feel about them. So essentially, I love talking about books, but I only feel I am able to talk about books I've read. I had read parts of 50 Shades before, enough to know how poorly written it was, but not enough to really feel like I had the right to say it was a bad book overall. I HATE IT when moms at home complain about how awful Harry Potter was and how it was rotting their children's minds and making them worship the devil when they themselves had not even opened the front cover. You just can't do that- you can't judge something or someone or somewhere when you haven't experienced it or met them or been there yourself. It's just not right, and it leads to ignorance and falsehoods overwriting the truth, or at least uneducated opinions. So alright, in this case, all the things I'd gathered form those short passages from the book turned out to be accurate, but still, how would I have known that for sure if I hadn't read it? I don't mind if someone says they don't want to read something because it's not their kind of thing, no problem, but alternatively you can't go around saying it's bad either. I'll give everyone a pass on 50 Shades- it is as bad as everyone says, but, really, that's just my opinion. You might love it. You never know till you try- don't just take someone's word for it. Try things for yourself, form your own opinions. (This is a general You, not aimed at anyone specifically)

#6- It was free. I'm poor. I'd never pay money for something I've heard was terrible, even if I was curious to read it. That's what libraries are for, or in my case two people who wanted to get it out of their house. 

#7- It made me laugh. Honestly, the writing is laughably bad, and some of the situations are just so ridiculously that I could not help but laugh. In that way, I can kind of say I enjoyed it. It did get old, it was very repetitive, but some lines through the whole book made me giggle. We all do this, we all read and watch things that we know are going to be bad for the enjoyment of ripping it apart. I have seen each of the Twilight movies one time only, and each of those times they were watched with my friend Nicole at home. I will only watch Twilight with Nicole, it's like our thing (HERE you can watch us watch Twilight, but you probably shouldn't, because I'm pretty sure we're the only ones who think it's funny) We sit on the couch and gorge on cookie dough and drink super sweet drinks and laugh just about non stop for the length of the movie. Sometimes things are so bad they become good, I mean not like really good, but enjoyable. I'm confident you all know what I'm talking about. We have another supposedly erotic book (when I say 'we' I mean my friends and myself here, because although it was given to me, I don't want to accept total ownership of this book) called Fantasy Lover which is absolutely hilarious, and we keep talking about getting together and reading it out loud in different accents. Again, that would be another evening well spent, reading something poorly written.

Also, for the record, despite the fact that I laughed at the Twilight movie, I don't find the Twilight books funny, mainly because of who they are aimed at. Bad examples for teenagers in books is not a funny thing, but because 50 Shades is for adults, then whatever, man. I'm sure some kids have gotten their hands on it, but it's not targeted toward them, so it can be as smutty as anyone wants it to be as far as I'm concerned.

#8- 50 Shades of Gray has been said to be a feminist book: whatttttt? We'll see about that.  Now, I don't pretend to know that much about feminism, I think that the simple fact that I'm a women and would like all the same opportunities as a man in life makes me a feminist, however I don't know all the different variations on the theme, or anything else about it on any deeper levels. I generally define myself more as a peopleist than a feminist, because a lot of feminists take it too far in my opinion and say that women are superior to men, which I don't think is right at all. I just believe that people should be treated equally no matter who or what they are, and that our differences should be celebrated.

But anyway, I've heard lots of women saying that 50 Shades showed a new trend in feminism, and that Anna is a good feminist example because she is in control of her situation. She does not do anything that she does not want to be doing, and she is fully warned (in long, boring sections where we get to read their actual, word for word contract) of what she is getting herself into. She wants to be dominated, and is, and it's entirely her choice. So anyway, I read about all this, and wanted to read it myself and see what I thought of it all. So I did. And to be perfectly fair, although I don't think that it's a good book, I do think that Anna is a much stronger character than Bella Swan, who she was based on.

Anna is still a moron, but at the end- SPOILER ALERT- she does leave him because she can't handle the situation and does not like being beaten. Bella would have NEVER left Edward for being too domineering, or for any other reason. Even when he leaves her, Bella just tosses herself off a cliff to see him again rather than just moving on with her life. But back to 50 Shades- I do know that obviously Anna gets back with Christian since there are like a million more books, but from what I've read, which is, like I said, all I am allowed to comment on, she does score higher in the back-bone category than Bella. So I'm glad I read it, because I just assumed she was going to be the same. I stand corrected. And now I can join the feminist debate about what feminism means to me, and when someone cites a 50 Shades example, I'll be ready.

#9- I needed something else to talk about other than Twilight. This not a serious reason, I just want to get to 10. But my Twilight rant is getting pretty old by now, and it's nice having some new material, so I guess it's still a legitimate reason.

#10- It made me think. What all of this boils down to is basically that reading 50 Shades of Gray, with all it's flaws, repetition and inconsistencies, did made me think. Even mindless dribble makes your brain work sometimes, even if it's just sifting through the sentences that just didn't even make sense, or the skim reading skills (that I finely crafted in my college years) I had to use to get through certain sections. It made me think enough to defend my reasons for reading it in this blog, and in conversations when I now talk about why I didn't like it, even if I can't properly articulate my reasons. It was a good study in how not to write, that's for sure, if nothing else. I found myself re-writing sentences from it in my head, my inner editor kicking in unexpectedly, which is one of my favorite things to do. And I'm not the only one who found themselves intellectually stimulated (in a roundabout way) by a poorly written book- I just discovered this book called 50 Shades of Feminism, which is exactly that. There are 50 sections, each written by different women around the world from varied social and economic backgrounds- "Daughters and Dames, poets and politicians, composer and psychoanalyst, academics and activists, broadcasters and barristers, mothers and sisters, novelists and impresarios, journalists and comedians, doctor and playwright, cultural commentators and artists, wives and writers."  -ALL talking about what feminism means to them. I haven't read it yet, but I think it sounds AWESOME. Like I was saying before, there are so many different forms of feminism out there, everyone has their own idea of what it is and how to be a feminist and what still needs doing. I think this sort of book is the only way of getting a whole picture of a very complex concept.

In my last blog I talked about Nerdfighters and their mission to decrease world suck. More worthy a cause has never been embarked upon, nor more daunting. There is a lot of suck out there, but the only way to decrease world suck is first to see it. As a book, 50 Shades of Gray truly sucks, but I still feel my time reading it was not for nothing. And in an effort to decrease it's suck in the world, I chose to view it from many angles, analyze the hell out of it, and try and use it's suckage to have intelligent conversations in the future, turning it's suck into awesome.

So, friend, if this has not made you understand why I read the book, then I probably never will. Which is ok, I just wanted to give it a try before accepting defeat, which is something, as you know, that I don't really like doing.

Onward and upward to  better books,


PS- I hope no one reads this as a book recommendation at all- let it be known that I would never recommend this book to anyone. I'm just saying that if you are interested in any of the reasons I have listed, than go for it, but don't come back to me and say 'Maria, you said I'd be intellectually stimulated and have an epiphany about sex and life and all I got was a headache!' Because that is a) not at all what I said and b) probably what is going to happen if you read it (the headache, that is). So I hope this is clear- this is not a book recommendation, this is just why I read it.


Petrina Anna said...

Not to detract from this most excellent essay on why you read 50 Shades of Grey (which I also started reading a while ago just to see what the fuss was about, and the fact that it was free), I just had to tell you that Jason just came from downstairs and said, "I just read our niece's blog". AWWWWWW. So cute.

Charlie said...

Ok, fair play, Goodson. I now understand your reasons for reading said slab of pseudo-pr0n. It's beautifully subjective, in that your reasoning is solid, and yet despite agreeing with all of your individual points, none of them would motivate ME to read the book. The key distinction is that I can now see why they motivated YOU to read the book.

Anyone would've thought subjectivity was, like, a real thing.

Also, you get Awesomeness Points for crafting a considered and thorough response to ease my now-absent confusion. Thanks for that.

Kerry said...

More good writing!!!

Maria said...

Awesome, Charles- that was my only objective. Success! I'm going to start responding to everything I can't adequately explain to you in person via my blog now.

Auntie P- AWWWWWW. Tell Uncle Jason that he has made my day :)

And thanks Kerry!

Nicole said...

What I got from this - you think Shepherd Book sucks?? WHAT???

dolores said...

I knew it had to be Charlie!

Don't discuss it so I don't need to read it!

Jacques said...

Just in reply to your bit about feminism (cause really, you know I have to!) -- If you encounter a 'feminist' who believes women are superior to men, then that person is NOT a feminist. The definition of feminism is the belief that all people, regardless of gender, are equal. So by claiming to be a 'peoplist' you are indeed a feminist. Congrats!

ANNNNNNNND, having read all three 50 Shades books because 1. They were almost free and 2. I can't judge things unless I have the WHOLE Story (though I totally could've done in this case, because after reading the first 5 pages of 50 Shades you basically form the same opinion you will have done by the very end) Anna is most definitely NOT a good feminist heroine. The fact that people would say or think that makes me want to vomit. Ugh.

I will almost agree with you that she has more back bone then Bella, but Bella is still a teenager. Though Edward abuses her in terms of stalking her, being emotionally scarring and inept, and just generally a creepy paedophile, there's no physical harm and he even saves her from some! As a teenage girl, I'm sure it's hard to see that the boy you're in love with is abusing you when you can't actually see the scars. The fact that Anna leaves Christian after he beats her? Wow. Common sense 101 achieved, not any sort of heroism or personality trait to strive for.