Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fifty Shades of Surprised


I’ve said this on more than one occasion. I’m often the last one to jump on the hottest new thing. Call me skeptical, but just because something is hot doesn’t mean I’m going to rush headlong into buying it. Apparently all those warnings about not jumping off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it stuck. Thanks, Mom!

Nevertheless, not long ago I caved in and started reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” for two reasons. One, I listened to a podcast on Slate discussing the book, and it piqued my interest. The conversation was an intelligent critique of the story and romance in general. Plus, the podcast made me laugh. Secondly, my husband bought the book for me, so I started reading it.

I know this book is a hot button topic for many authors, so I don’t want to start a discussion about fan fiction, quality of writing, etc. All I’ll say about it is writing is tough and books don’t write themselves. We each do the best we can at different stages in our development. Any work that encourages people to read and opens them up to trying a new genre benefits us all. I’ve had more opportunity to discuss my books with people who never read romance until they picked up “Fifty Shades”, and I’m grateful for that. I was also very excited to have “Lady Amelia’s Mess and a Half” suggested to fans of "Fifty Shades of Grey" as a romance that "serves up love like we like it" by B&N. Click here to view the B&N blog

What I would like to discuss is how I went into the experience only halfway open minded and I was pleasantly surprised. From the beginning, I found this book compelling. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure what hooked me in those first few pages. I’ve been asking myself this question over and over again. I felt neutral about the heroine. I thought the hero was scary stalker-like and the repeated reference to his long, long fingers and messy hair made me picture Edward Scissorhands.

The dialog made me chuckle. What twenty-seven year old man uses phrases like “beyond the pale” and “press his suit”? Oh, that’s right! MY twenty-seven year old, eighteenth century Regency gentlemen. And granted, I’m out of touch with the twenty something crowd, but even when I was in my twenties, no one used the word smitten. That’s something a grandma would say and her grandchild would roll her eyes—uh, I mean politely listen and “hold her counsel”.

But these are minor things in the grand scheme of the work. They didn’t turn me off and apparently they don’t bother tons of other readers either, which just goes to show perfect writing does not mean a book will speak to readers. So what is it about “Fifty Shades”? For me the answer is I can identify with Ana Steele, especially as the story progressed.

A long time ago I was twenty-one, naïvely hopeful, and eager to find love. I was also very curious, and Christian is a mystery to solve. I felt Ana’s awkwardness and I was embarrassed with her. I wondered if Christian Grey would have taken me in, too. He has moments when he’s playful and tender, which makes it seem like he has the capacity to love. Yet, he also clearly has severe intimacy issues. Watching Ana enter into a relationship with Christian was like watching a speeding train race for a brick wall. I wanted to shout, “No! Trust your instincts. He really is a control freak!”

Ana lacked confidence, but Ms. James showed us flashes of her defiance and in the end, she is much stronger. I believed in her character arc. I know some people don’t like heroines who make ‘stupid mistakes’, but I think it makes a character seem more real. I don’t know how anyone avoids making mistakes in her life. Yes, mistakes are painful, embarrassing, and can make you want to hide under the covers, but they are also opportunities to grow and learn about ourselves.

I’m looking forward to reading the other books, so I guess you can count me in the group of people lined up to jump off the bridge. Sorry, Mom.

When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised by something you didn't expected to like?

16 comments:

  1. I made it through the whole trilogy, and I share your sense of somebody else's "too stupid to live" tends to look a lot like, um, me at that age, at least in terms of naivete. I also found the occasional Anglicanism (surplus to requirements, bespoke suits), but figured the editors had made the decision not to mess with the prose that had been so successful in the fan fic phase of the story's life.
    I'm still puzzled though. If the title had been the Billionaire's Virgin Spunky Sex Slave would it have sold like this?

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  2. I doubt it Grace! Look for an upcoming release: Fifty Shades of Gray Wolf! :)

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  3. LOL, Grace! I can't imagine people would be carrying around a book that announced exactly what they were reading. I think you mentioned something this weekend about the packaging having something to do with the success. I know my husband's cousin picked up the book without having any idea what it was about. Her mom had heard others talking about it and had mentioned it to her. She bought it at the airport and her eyes about popped out of her head when she started reading it on the airplane. I doubt she would have felt comfortable asking for "The Billionaire's Virgin Spunky Sex Slave". :D

    I started the second book, but I'm not as enthralled.

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  4. Terry,
    I bet people will be lined up around the corner to buy "Fifty Shades of Gray Wolf". :-)

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  5. Didnt care for the series. Not my cup of tea but had to see what it was all about. Skimmed thru the first one and read 2 and 3 - 3 actually had a good story.

    And yes some the the phrases were hard to beleive coming out of almost 30 something's mouth - laters baby or whatever that was.

    To each his own. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Pat L.

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  6. Pat L,
    Laters, baby struck me as odd, too. I wonder if ANYONE says that. :)

    I think my enjoyment of it was somewhat affected by not having high expectations going into it. I was interested in the progression of the relationship given the characters' flaws. It wasn't the subject matter that grabbed me so much.

    Thanks for sharing today.

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  7. Didn't read it but I'm still giggling about Grace's Billionaire title! Can't you just see some little granny gasping over that title and buying the real 50 Shades without blinking an eye because she thinks it's got to do with hair colors?

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  8. Okay, I'm going to admit I haven't read it. I can hardly keep up with reading my friends books! And I was fortunate enough to judge in both rounds of the RITAs this year--18 books Total for that. I enjoyed them all and I'm sure they were all just as fabulous as 50 Shades of Grey. So I don't think I've missed any good reads!
    Amelia

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  9. I just love seeing people reading the books--on my commuter train and the NYC subways. Lots of people carrying the books around. I even spotted a guy reading it on the train.

    Re. the title, I almost spit out my water when I read Grace's suggestion. It's very possible the subtle title and coy cover are part of the appeal, but it's impossible to tell. As someone who works on the titling process, I can only imagine what the title evolution was for 50 Shades! Maybe Billionaire's Virgin Spunky Sex Slave was on the list!

    50 Shades is definitely a conversation opener. I find people even more curious about romance as a genre. Yay all around.

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  10. I read a sample and just wasn't all that intrigued. It's not the kind of thing I would normally read, and I've never been one to read something because everyone else was--which is what I would have been doing since I wasn't pulled in.

    I think my life is pretty boring because I just write and take care of my daughter. She is constantly surprising me. Last night I got her undressed for her bath and potty time and she "helped" me by taking off her dry(!) diaper and throwing it on the floor. As I was putting it in the diaper pail, she said, "Mommy, hurry up. Don't want to have an accident." I'm all for no accidents! I didn't realize she was on board with that policy, though.

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  11. Carolyn,
    Too funny! I take a pilates reformer class with two grandmothers - it's just the three of us - and they have been talking about the books for weeks! They weren't shocked in the least, and I love it! I definitely think I'm the bigger prude in my class. LOL :)

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  12. Amelia,
    That's an impressive number of books to read in that short amount of time. I'm sure they were wonderful. :)

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  13. Cat,
    I think that's one of the things I appreciate about the book's popularity, too. Yes, there are many, many books that deserve the same attention. And now maybe readers who have never tried a romance in the past will find these other books because a door has been opened to a world they never knew existed.

    Thanks for stopping by today. It's great to see you here! :)

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  14. Shana,
    How cute! Kids are an endless source of surprise, mostly pleasant. ;D

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  15. The books are on my very long list of TBRs. I have been fascinated watching the response to it but I am always happy when anything makes people read more since I think our society spends too much time zoned out in front of the tv (just my personal bias). Thanks for the alternate title, I will be chuckling about that one for awhile.

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  16. Elf2060,
    I couldn't agree more about society spending too much time in front of the TV. I used to be one of those people, and I was blown away by how much more time I seemed to have once I gave it up. I do watch some shows on occasion, but nothing like I did. And I'd rather spend time writing or reading. :)

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