So something happened (almost a month ago?), and I thought I was over it, BUT I AM NOT OVER IT. In fact, I just had a sort of internal rage-dialogue with myself in the shower, which is what led me to my computer with wet hair at midnight on a Sunday.
The folks at Book Riot posted a list of 100 recommended titles for those who wish to call themselves “well-read.” This was bound to be a controversial list no matter what ended up on it, because everyone has favorites that may not appear on THIS particular list for any number of reasons, and because the meaning of “well-read” is itself subjective. And I get that the purpose of the list is to represent a sampling from a wide variety of genres that would engender a sort of well-roundedness in the reader who tackles them all.
Well, 50 Shades of Grey is on the list.
The argument for its inclusion—as far as I can understand from the lively comments section—is that, whether we like it or not (we HATES it, Smeagol), it is a permanent fixture in popular culture and has made important waves among the readerly and not-so-readerly masses. The other part of the argument is that you can’t have an informed opinion about something unless you experience it firsthand.
Let me just say, I respect and am quite fond of the people who presented these arguments. I will forever and always look to them as People Who Know a Thing or Two About Books, and I admire the way they push the Literary Elite’s buttons on the regular.
But I really just have to call bullshit on this one.
The second part of the argument sounds uncomfortably akin to the one I used on my parents when they tried to warn me, based on their years of experience as adult humans, that my awful boyfriend was, in fact, awful. “But, Mom and Dad . . . how will I KNOW for sure unless I experience firsthand his meth-induced rage while trapped in a moving vehicle with him?” (True story.)
On a very basic level, I think we can all agree that triangulating opinions from respected sources (or, in some cases, just one REALLY GOOD source; hi, Mom and Dad!) will give us a pretty good idea of what we’re dealing with, whether the subject under review is a book or a potentially disastrous dating decision. And learning from other people’s mistakes so that we don’t have to make them ourselves is not inferior to firsthand experience and does not disqualify one from holding an informed opinion (notice that I specify informed opinion). The information just didn’t happen to come from experiencing the terrible thing firsthand. AND THAT IS OK.
The first part of the argument is a little bit more tricky and also the bit that sparks my shower-fury, apparently.
YES, correct, E.L. James HAS written a thing that has subsequently gotten people talking . . . and talking and talking. But has she added anything NEW to the conversation?
Let me just check on a couple of things here:
- Is the main female character of 50 Shades of Grey still an infantilized adult virgin who repeatedly and nauseatingly refers to her “Inner Goddess”?
- Is the main male character of 50 Shades of Grey still a wealthy businessman with “singular erotic tastes” and “the need to control”?
- Does the plot still revolve around him dominating her through a BDSM crash-course on sexuality while she meekly submits at every turn?
The answer to all those questions is STILL and always will be YES.
So I am at a loss as to what this book is adding to the CULTURAL (pop or otherwise) conversation that might raise it above the level of Honey Boo-Boo, just for example. Because for one thing, BDSM erotica is not NEW, and for another, as far as I can tell, this particular specimen of BDSM erotica is just perpetuating the same old unhealthy message that has caused such a problem for women who want to be taken seriously since the beginning of time. That is BORING. I am bored with that.
And I don’t need to waste several hours of my life (a generous time estimate) reading this book to figure out that it's a waste of time.
If that’s not an informed opinion, then dammit, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. But at least I have this cookbook that teaches me 50 things to do with chicken.
|Except the opposite of that, |
because I welcome your thoughts and comments.