Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I finally got around to reading Fifty Shades of Grey.  Everyone is talking about it.  Lately, any time I mention that I like to read or that I recently read a book, or mention books in any way at all, the first thing someone asks is, "Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?"  And I always answered, no.  Honestly, it didn't seem like the sort of book I would enjoy. 

When it first started gaining attention, it was called "mommy-porn."  I don't know what that means, but being that I'm not a mommy and have no desire to ever be a mommy, I figured this book wasn't for me.  I avoided it.  Every once in a while, I joined in conversations ridiculing it, even though I'd never read a word of it.  But more and more people that I knew were reading it.  Even my students (I teach at a high school) were talking about this book.  Out of curiosity, I put my name on the library's waiting list for the Kindle version of the book.  I was number 48 on the list.  By the time I got the notice that it was available, I had forgotten that I'd even requested it.

One of the boys at school says he didn't read the book, but his sister did and then much to his horror, asked him to pick up the second book in the trilogy on a trip to Wal-Mart. He says he didn't.  He warned me to stay away from the book.  "You'll hate it, it's a story about an old man and a young girl.  It's going to gross you out, you know you hate stuff like this."  He's known me for four years, he's familiar with my feminist rhetoric and it's true, I'm a bit disgusted by the idea of old, wealthy men taking advantage of young women.  I'm very big on telling my students that women are capable of taking care of themselves, they don't need a man and should aspire to do more with their lives than "find a man."  I told myself that if, indeed, this was the story of an old guy and a young girl, I would stop reading immediately.  I was relieved to discover that the "old guy" was 27.  When I was 21, I dated a 27 year old.  I didn't feel like that was a big age difference.  In hindsight, maybe I was wrong.  He was so not Christian Grey - thank goodness - but he was kind of boring, boring enough that I realized if that's what relationships were about, maybe I'd just stay away from them.  And I did for a while, which actually worked out well for me.  But this isn't about me, we're discussing Fifty Shades of Grey.

The book wasn't anywhere near as horrible as I expected.  It was quite readable.  There were little things that made me cringe - that she kept falling, and not just stumbling, but falling flat on her face - on multiple occasions.  She's twenty years old.  There's clumsy and there's: maybe she's suffering from some severe balance issues and needs some help.  And the pigtails.  Does anyone over the age of six wear pigtails? -- unless, of course, they're serving tables at a breast-a-raunt and trying to increase their tips by looking like pre-pubescent girls that gross old men find attractive.  What bothered me the most throughout the book though was the battle between the subconscious and the "inner goddess."  At no point was this "inner goddess" even explained, or if it was, it didn't stick with me.  Why was she suffering from this multiple personality problem?  If an editor had gone through and eliminated all mentions to this "inner goddess" I think I would have rolled my eyes much less while reading this.  It was just silly, made the character seem like an immature teenager.

She's not a teenager, but she isn't very experienced, and she's very naive and very drawn to this gorgeous, wealthy, successful man.  And he seems to be equally captivated by her.  I'll admit, I'm a sucker for stories about beautiful men who fall in love with plain women.  Aren't we all?  That's why we're at home reading romance novels, right?  Okay, fine, maybe that's just me.

I was okay with the story until Christian Grey presents Anastasia with a "contract" explaining the terms of the dom/sub relationship he wants to have with her.  That's when my head exploded for a moment.  If the dom/sub is what you're into, great, that's cool.  I have no problem with consenting adults doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own home.  But Anastasia was a virgin until she met this guy and he expects all of this of her.  It's ridiculous - he's dictating what she can eat, how often she exercises, when she can make eye contact with him.  To someone like me - this is horrifying.  No one tells me what to do.  And how dare this guy take advantage of this young woman's inexperience.  (In hindsight, maybe the boy who told me to stay away from this book knew what he was talking about.)  She's so overwhelmed by him and all he has.  I was impressed that she did try to stand up to him a few times, she's seeking compromise, wanting a real relationship, not what he's presented to her.  But she doesn't want to lose him and he's got issues, so many issues.  He describes himself as "50 Shades of fucked up" - hence the title. 

I didn't find their story to be especially romantic or erotic.  If someone has to be told that what is being done is for "her pleasure" because she can't figure that out on her own, maybe they don't need to be doing it.  I thought the story was sad and I thought Christian Grey was cruel and arrogant and felt he could simply buy Anastasia.  I HATE people who think they can have anything and anyone they want because of their money.

As for the sex scenes, I've read better.  I said this to a co-worker and she looked at me like I'm a deviant.  Oh well.  Sorry, I'm an adult and sometimes I read books that have sex in them.  Is that only acceptable when reading Fifty Shades of Grey?  And yes, the books I read have better sex.  I don't equate kinkier with better.  I suppose the books I tend to read feature "vanilla" sex, but the descriptions are much hotter, and don't involve the woman being whipped and powerless.  Seriously, I can provide you with a list of titles.  Sometimes they involve demons or vampires, but they're much nicer in the bedroom.  On that note, I kept thinking I would like Christian Grey much more if he was a vampire, then he would at least have an excuse for being so cruel and well, inhuman.

I know that a lot of people like this book, love this book.  That's great.  We all have different tastes.  I didn't like it all that much and I'm probably not going to read the other two books in the trilogy.  I prefer to believe it ended with the end of this book.  It's just  not my thing.  But if it's your thing, that's cool.  Enjoy. 

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