Saturday, May 26, 2012

5 thoughts I've had about the kerfuffle that is 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

I have read Fifty shades of grey by EL James. Actually, I've read it twice. Well, no, two and a half times, to be precise. You can take that a couple of ways. Either it was so awesome I couldn't get enough of the spatula (as Ellen would say, don't eat pancakes at Anastasia's house, and if you haven't seen Ellen's clip where she tries to read passages from the book you should, it's hilarious) OR it wasn't quite what I thought it was so I had to read it again just to make sure I wasn't mistaken. I've been conflicted about this book and the mainstream media reaction to it. So much so that I've sat on this post for about three to four weeks now. Every night I pull it up, read over what I've written so far, delete huge chunks of it, add in some more, wince and pull a face, and close it off again. The next night I'm back to try again. Sometimes I get no further than where I was the night before. I could feel myself getting too ranty about it. To the point where it was more Ms. Cranky McRanty Pants than anything else and, although this might be a good space to be so (what kind of library blog doesn't have an opinion about books?), I didn't want to strike the wrong tone. In the end I realised what the problem was. I was trying to combine two separate issues into one: the quality of the writing AND my thoughts about the media hype. Sorry 'bout it, people, I've had to break this in to two posts, instead. This being the first. Aren't you lucky? *she asks hesitantly* Seriously, be thankful you're getting a shortened version of the thoughts I've had about this. Just to reiterate, today I'm not going to list my opinion of the book. Well, not yet, anyway. I'll save that for later this week. I want to make it clear upfront that I doubt any of my thoughts below will add anything of value to what is already floating around the interwebs about this particular book. I feel, though, that I needed to puzzle through this/work this out aloud. And so I did: 5 thoughts I've had about the kerfuffle that is Fifty shades of grey. For better or worse.

Would you read Fifty shades of grey?
Have you read it?
Would you recommend it to others?

Fifty shades of grey began life as a fanfic story based on Meyer's Twilight series
You've heard me talk about fanfic here on the Top 5 blog before. Last month I wrote about my dirty little reading secrets on the Auckland Libraries blog, and I gave a very brief explanation of what fanfic is: fictional stories written by fans of an original work. In this instance the fictional story is Fifty shades (although its fanfic title was Master of the universe and yes, that truly was its title and no, He-Man and She Ra did not feature in it), and the original work is Twilight. See? An original work based on an original work. Sure, there are a few differences. Fifty shades is what we call AU, or Alternate Universe. AU means that there are changes to characters, plot and/or setting. (That's probably a very simplistic explanation of AU). In Fifty shades the characters do not possess paranormal abilities. Edward is Christian Grey, a business tycoon, and Bella is Anastasia, and Jacob has been turned into Mr. Douche McDoucherson. No vampires. No werewolves. No gnomes. (What do you mean Twilight didn't have shapeshifting gnomes? Pfft!). You all know that I adore fanfic - the good, the terrible and the brilliant. Some of it has made me cry, made me laugh, made me rationalise quite complex issues, and kickstarted emotional relationships with some 'verses.. The fact that James wrote fanfic is nothing I take issue with. Neither do I have a problem with the fact that she is now a published writer. She's not the first to have made the jump, and I'm certain she won't be the last. When I break it down, I guess what I'm conflicted about is what this means for the future of fanfic. I've always read it, recommended it, adored it with the idea in the back of my head that the original story is somebody else's intellectual property, and that we do what we do - read/write fanfic - for love of our fandom, and we do it for free. It makes me uneasy to realise that someone took a story/characters that weren't theirs and sold it. Had James written Fifty shades without it having started life as fanfic, we wouldn't be having this conversation. It would be a stand alone story of its own, minus all of the hoopla. But it did, and we are. And it's not, and it isn't. I can't help but wonder if this is just the start, if we're going to see more fanfic writers doing what is, at the heart of it all, re-writing their fanfic for mainstream publishing. I don't mind admitting that I'm uncomfortable about that. It's a grey area (and no, that isn't a pun, it really is a grey area). At the end of the day, I see it like this: Fifty shades wouldn't exist without Twilight. It's that clear cut for me. Perhaps I'm making it too simple? On the plus side, the world is talking about a book. There is worldwide acknowledgement that people are reading. As someone who is first and foremost (and forever) a reader, this pleases me. (Yes, even when it's about books that I didn't enjoy such as this one).

I can barely believe how this has all played out. I'm both impressed and horrified. This book must be every publisher's dream. When you think about it, it pretty much sells itself, thanks to fanfic readers, word of mouth advertising, social media, newspapers and, now, even news channels. It's huge. Even more so since mainstream media picked it up. Some American libraries are refusing to allow it in their buildings, and others have had to re-revisit their collection management policies. It really has made that big of a splash. Hand to heart, I walked into a bookstore a couple weeks ago and they wanted to sell me a copy to give to my mum for mother's day. I love my mum lots. I'm not buying her a copy.

Media label this book as 'mummy porn'
And that makes me grumpy. The first time I read the term it gave me pause, and I couldn't quite pinpoint why. So I ignored it. Suddenly the term started popping up everywhere - YES MAINSTREAM MEDIA I'm looking at YOU! - and I realised what my issue was: it's dismissive, and demeaning. It's a judgement value about what women are reading. It says that this book is little more than porn. (Which I think is wholly subjective when it comes to romance novels because I firmly believe that one woman's OOH is another woman's EWW). Another problem I have with the term is that it applies some sort of feeling of shame, as if to imply that women - that WE - should be ashamed of reading erotica. That for some reason we should be ashamed of our sexuality. I don't like that. I don't like the inference that our sexuality is something dirty. Or is something to be made fun of or giggled over. We don't all read erotic romances just for the fun sexytimes the characters have. It's also about the relationships between the (depending on the pairing) hero/hero, or heroine/hero, or heroine/heroine. Erotic romance novels are meant to make you feel a little hot under the collar. They're erotic romances. D'oh. I expect the characters to get a little forward. (Oh, how quaint a term that is!). They're meant to have FEELS and HOTS for each other. What kind of erotic romance novel wouldn't? That'd be a huge case of #fail. And 'mummy' porn? Do mums not have a sexual drive? Do they not want romance? Or happy ever afters? Why this idea that they don't have an identity outside of being a mother?

It's only housewives who are buying the eBook
Do we still use the term 'housewives'? I find it old fashioned and somewhat pejorative. Maybe that's my hangup? A couple of things bug me about this. Even if it is 'only housewives' buying the eBook, so what? Does the fact that they're housewives mean they can't read? Don't read? Could care less about reading? Or was the term housewife thrown in because James is a housewife-turned-author? Which leads to a whole other set of questions. Housewives can't be more than one thing at a time? They aren't allowed to write? Or consider being anything else? When did we get the idea that being a housewife is, firstly, a bad thing and, secondly, all that they ever want to be? Any one person wears many hats at any one time. Why is a housewife any different? And seriously, that term needs upgrading and people need to learn to say it with a little less sneer, and a lot more respect.

The reason housewives are buying the eBook is because they want to read their dirty books in secret
eBook sales were high because the book was, initially, only available in this format. The fact that it's now a printed book is a recent-ish happening. Print sales aren't slacking, either, from what I can tell. I popped in to our local Paper Plus store and spoke with the manager who confirmed that, a week short of Mother's Day, they'd sold out and were awaiting another order. I can't tell you why thousands of women have chosen to read the e-copy. As an avid reader, I can only tell you why I did and none of my reasons have anything to do with my being embarrassed about reading dirty/sexy books (even bad ones): it was cheap, it was convenient, it was available immediately and my library didn't, then, have a copy. When I look at it like that, very possibly other women bought their e-copy for those same reasons, too. Nothing secretive or shameful about that at all. Talk about a storm in a teacup.


Kelly M said...

good post! I'm hanging out for the next part with your actual opinion of it before I seriously think about adding it to my request list, lol :)

tosca said...

Gidday! And thank you :) It'll be Thursday's post. Assuming I can stop angsting over the writing of it lol