BOOKS: Black, White and Grey All Over

The high-fashion, Rachel Zoe look-a-like was reading it at Starbucks. It was the first thing to hit me in Books-A-Million (for all your northerners that’s our version of Barnes & Noble down south.) And it seems to be on just about everyone’s (every woman’s, I should say) “Summer’s Must Read” list. Though when seemingly illiterate fashion blogs (that I frequent, I’ll add) began featuring it, with discussion already in the air about a movie in the making, I started to wonder what all the hype was all about. You’ve probably heard about it, or maybe you’d recognize it by it’s cool and dark Twilight for the grown up looking cover. In fact I even expected fantasy or some vampire drama to be the substance of the story from the looks of it. Boy, was I ever wrong. It’s called 50 Shades of Grey. 

The books description was enough for me to realize that I didn’t need to invest anymore time on this book to get the idea of it’s synopsis. Though critics and readers reviews have really varied it hasn’t stopped the book from breaking record sales. Interestingly, many of the comments can be summed up by this one featured on Amazon.com:

          “The books are not written well, incredibly repetitive, there is little
          character development, and the sex scenes are, well, vanilla. Naive college
          girl meets tormented man/boy, man/boy has ‘issues’ which the girl is able to
          help him overcome when his therapist couldn’t, a very predictable threat
          (or two) to their happiness, etc., etc., etc…. ho hum.”

Assuming this commenter may be onto something (with about the 2000 who “feel the same way”) what is it about these books that have drawn such a massive readership of women? Because it turns out that a sweet, little romance between an innocent Bella and vampire Edward, who at least has enough chivalry to contain his thirst for blood, is altogether too sweet a story for the more “mature” women. Apparently across America, and elsewhere, women are hungry for things to get kicked up a notch. Though in quite a “shady,” if I may be so tongue-and-cheeky, unsettling direction.

I haven’t read these books. I don’t intend to. And typically when that’s the case I try to keep a subject at arms length. I hate when people write what they don’t know about. But here I am. Because frankly, I don’t think I’d be writing about it if I was reading it.

If you could judge a book by its cover, this one might have looked more like a deranged Danielle Steele cover for the 21st century Starbucks-drinking, Apple-carrying and fashion-savvy generation. And let’s be honest - likely it would be shelved in the far, dark corner of a book store. But it is apparently “hip” to be reading this erotic and quite unromantic tale right now; a tale that tells the story of an objectifying and dispassionate relationship, that women are eating up like discovering a hot-fudge sundae for the first time.
I don’t blame E. L. James, the author, for how this book will and is certainly influencing the future of fiction and, no doubt, the film industry.  After all, masses of love-starved women are reading and buying this stuff. Though there is a wide-range of opinions on the positive and negative effects of this trilogy, I won’t be so bias as to plainly disregard them all. Yet… the subject matter of this novel, that is referred to as “engrossing” and “addicting”, is turning female sexual hunger over to a glamorized depiction of female subjugation. There were once romantic tales like A Room with a View, The Princess Bride and any Austen novel – though they were fantastical love stories that likely fogged some of our rose-tinted lenses towards romance, this trilogy is a far cry from romantic. But it seems to be what women are soaking up. If it’s in high demand, you know it will be well supplied.

If this is what we are calling romance, how will such material affect our grasp of relationships or our understanding of romance?  Worse, how many girls will become the object a man’s demands and somehow interpret that as romancing or endearing due to the convoluted message such literature sends out – regardless of how this story ends? Already we lack the kind of chivalry or gentleman-like qualities among relationships – men who open doors for a women, ask for a number, patiently wait until being wed to share intimacy ( crazy idea - I know.) This once was thought of as romantic. So since many women don’t have this and there seems to be a lack of a pursuit of women for the sake of companionship, romance and intimacy, instead do we accept this as “romantic?”
With all the materials out there to be read, with all the history, insight and knowledge to be discovered, why this women? When we can enrich our minds, why cloud it up? While we’ve seemed to work so hard to not be objectified and made an “accessory” for a man, it’s slightly humorous how females can be so entertained by it. Though popular now, it’s hard to imagine that 50 Shades of Grey will go down in the books as the next Great Gatsby. There are some trends just not worth investing in. I dare say this one doesn’t deserve your time.