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Cannonball Read IV: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

By nidaros | Books | December 28, 2012 |

By nidaros | Books | December 28, 2012 |

… another Fifty Shades of Grey review. I felt compelled to write this after seeing yet another bizarre defense of these books. I mean, I get it… James and Meyer have both tapped into something. Whether it’s a “right place, right time” kind of thing, or something else - time will tell. Good for them for being so successful. It is amazing.

So about the Shades of Grey books: the popularity of which I firmly believe was initially due to the Twilight connection and then because word got around that the books were naughty. Sigh… This is the thing that bothers me the most - It’s as if erotic fiction that women would read/enjoy/talk about did not exist before this book came out.

There is a heck of a lot of erotic fiction out there and I would wager at LEAST 70% of the genre is better written. Much better. Take the authors Emma Holly, Kate Pearce or Sarah McCarty… or the Victorian era stories The Memoirs of Fanny Hill and My Secret Life. The Story of O, for goodness sake. That’s a classic! Most of the “mature” stories on are better written - but then again they are short stories. ( is where Ms. James was “discovered.”)

And what is with this “mommy smut” label people keep using in reference to these Shades of Grey books? I find this fascinating. What does that even mean? Mommy smut as opposed to childless women smut? Or opposed to daddy smut?

Then there is the whole power aspect of this - not the BDSM thing, but the momentum these books have created. Back in the day, I used to manage a bookstore and then became the librarian in a small town. The majority of my patrons were women 45 yrs old and older. These ladies pretty much broke down into 2 camps - those who read murder mysteries and those who read Danielle Steel, Rosamund Pilcher and the like. I would try my best to get them to read a book out of their comfort zone… books I knew they would enjoy… but I was rarely successful.

Then Oprah started her book club.

Holy cats! These ladies started reading authors I would never have dared to suggest to them. It was astonishing! Oprah had some great titles in her club, particularly in the early years. The fact that these ladies read and enjoyed these new & different books made them more open to other authors & genres all around. Seriously, it was truly amazing!

There were also a lot of new readers coming into the library due to Oprah’s book club - I have heard this also happened with the Twilight books and continues to happen with the Shades of Grey books. This is impressive. It takes a lot to get a non-reader* to be interested in picking up a book. That is a powerful thing.

In some small way I hope that all the Shades of Grey hubbub will do something similar for the book/publishing world… get people taking about and looking for other authors/titles in the genre, or read more of any genre. There is so much momentum here. But it seems that unless an author/book has been somehow “Twilight approved”, most fans are not going to veer too far from the path. This is what makes me sad. Guess I’ll have to take heart in the growing popularity of the Vaginal Fantasy book club.

I read someone describe Shades of Grey Trilogy as “Twilight without the subtext” - that is perfect description. As messed up as the relationships are in Twilight, they are an order of magnitude more realistic than the relationships in 50 Shades. I mean ALL of the relationships, not just between Christian and Ana** - friendships, parent-child, the whole thing.

Honestly, this reads like tepid young adult fiction with some mildy hot scenes thrown in. There are popular romance novels that have scenes more risqué than 50 Shades, so I have been a bit confused with all the tittering about how naughty these books are.

Knowing that Ms. James was discovered as a fanfic short story writer, it does explain why this book felt like a set of short stories loosely tied together to form a enough content for a book.

Since these stories take place in my neck of the woods, I will give Ms. James credit for decent portrayal of Seattle, Olympia and Portland. I happen to have a friend who was staying in the Escala building. While we were walking to his place one night, I told him that the penthouse in his building is where the main action in the book takes place. He about keeled over laughing. He knew of the book, but had no idea it was set here in Seattle. Escala is very swanky building, but it’s a bit over the top. Which is perfect for Christian Grey.

Worth reading for the cultural phenomena aspects, and that’s about it.

* New readers and non-readers being people who do not read for pleasure, not illiterate folks.

** I had to go look up the lead female’s name. I had already forgotten it.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of nidaros’s reviews on the group blog.

You, too, can be just like nidaros in 2013. Sign up for Cannonball Read V!

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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