Thursday, May 24, 2012

The people I'd like to spank

I recently read the bestselling erotic fiction novel 50 Shades of Grey, a move that prompted the following responses from friends and strangers:

  • Why are you reading that crap?
  • I don’t understand all the hype over that book.
  • Mommy porn, huh?
  • Are you horny?
 For the record, that last one wasn’t my gentleman friend (he’s quite aware the answer is a three-letter word that starts with a D and ends with an –uh.)

But for the others, my response has been pretty simple: Have you read it?

Nine out of ten people shake their heads and tell me no.

Am I the only person who finds this upsetting?

Look, I get it if you’re morally opposed to books that reference blowjobs and sexy spanking. No one’s going to handcuff you to the bed and force to read it. Not even if you beg.

But for those not waving the white flag of vanilla sex, what’s the motive for passing judgment on a book you’ve never read?

I’ll confess right now that I hesitated to read The Hunger Games. I’m not a huge fan of young adult or dystopian novels, and by the time the buzz reached fever pitch, I felt the urge to dig my heels in like a petulant toddler refuse to read it.

What a silly, juvenile mistake that would have been. As it turned out, The Hunger Games is one of my favorite books of all-time. Ditto that for Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, another book I read grudgingly and ended up adoring to smithereens.

And yes, there have been plenty of books I’ve felt bullied into reading and ended up wishing I’d spent those six hours drilling holes in my eyeballs with a corkscrew before soaking my face in battery acid.

But at least the act of reading those books gave me the experience to offer up my own judgment – for better or worse.

As an author, I bristle at how acceptable it’s become for readers to make snarky comments about books they haven’t read. They somehow know without cracking the spine that the book is overrated. That it’s too trendy. That it’s trashy.

And that attitude makes me want to grab all the book snobs by the scruff of the neck, bend them over my knee, and spank them one at a time until my palm tingles pleasantly and my breasts heave from panting and sweat trickles from the tip of my collarbone down to my—


How do you feel about the trend of judging books by the hype, as opposed what’s between “it was a dark and stormy night” and “the end?” Please share!

And just to balance out my soapbox rant with a dose of humor, check out this hysterical Saturday Night Live skit featuring 50 Shades of Grey:


Malin said...

I either end up skipping books due to hype, or reading them just to be able to say to people "I tried, it wasn't my cup of tea". I dislike giving any sort of judgement of the content or credit without reading the full book. However, I can happily make fun of the hype of a book (like Twilight) even if I haven't read it - but I think I sometimes forget to be clear about that it's the hype I feel is silly rather than the book itself.

Patty Blount said...

Thank you! I feel the same way.

I read this trilogy and loved it, just as loved Twilight (which inspired it). There's a lot of snark out there - some of it's making fun of the writing, some of it's making fun of the book's fans, and some of it's coming from authors pissed off that THEIR books aren't getting published while this one is...

Here's my response: first, I try NOT to EWW over someone else's OOO because I hate when that's done to me. (I hate Jane Austen but know there are LEGIONS of fans so I rarely admit this.)

Second -- and this came from an #AskAgent comment on twitter when I asked why ANYONE would consider publishing a Snooki book -- the answer was (obvious, I have to admit) that it's a sound investment. Publishing's a risky business these days and releasing celebrity books MAKES MONEY.

I think it's the same with the 50 Shades books. James hit a nerve (winks) and if it doesn't happen to be your nerve, people should SHUT UP!

*blinks* Er. Sorry.

Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! That fake commercial makes a pretty good point about one major e-reader advantage. As a kid who got made fun of for reading fantasy back in the day, the anonymity is nice.

Brussel Sprout said...

I haven't read the book - I downloaded the sample chapters on Kindle and thought, erm, no, I don't think I can face giving up hours of my life to reading this. The initial impression given by the two main characters was 'urgh' at the cliche-strewn descriptions (the heroine looks at herself in the mirror argh argh) and 'meh' at the alleged hotness of the grey grey grey hero.

I am genuinely curious about whether you thought the book was worth reading - I read about three or four reviews, enough that I thought I'd read the book myself, what with the sample chapters and all. Quite a few suggested that it had not been worth wading through the book.

Laura Maylene said...

I've read enough excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey to know that the awful writing (and that charming "girl is clueless and needs big strong man to help her along the way" theme it takes from Twilight) is something I just can't stomach. And it has nothing to do with the sexual content.

But I hear you on how it's unfair to complain about a book when you've never read it. There's a certain author I really admire who has gotten some attention lately, and to my surprise, one of my acquaintances starting bitching and moaning about how this author's work was insincere and just out to tug on people's heartstrings, etc. He followed all this criticism by saying, "Well, I haven't actually read any of her books yet, so I guess I'll see if they change my mind." WTF??

Chris said...

Thank You.

I love the book and didn't see it as "mommy porn" I think if people can see past the sex, it isn't the main focus. it is a romance, with conflict and how two people from different backrounds come to love each other.

Sarah Allen said...

Your answer to the "are you horny" question is possibly the best thing I've seen all day. Gonna use that now...

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Alexa O said...

Good question. On the one hand, I don't think it's necessary to read an entire series before having an opinion--reading the sample available on Amazon and deciding it's not for you is fine.

On the other hand, I'm not sure why we're all so quick to jump on the snark-wagon whether we've read the book or not--and I mean any popular book, not just this one.

The *Twilight* books are a perfect example of this. There are critiques of the books that are valuable--questioning the thinly-veiled abusive nature of Bella and Edward's relationship, for example. But to simply dislike them because they are popular and you think they are stupid is silly, and yet plenty of us do it (myself included, and yes I've read them).

Maybe we just love an underdog but hate a bestseller?

Gina said...

I'm torn. Part of me is feeling peer pressured into it, becuase EVERYONE's read it. However, the part of me that found Twilight to range from barely passable to literally unreadabe (the Jacob POV section of the last book, I had to skip it because the writing made my brain cry) is hesitant to read anything that started as Twilight fanfic. I'm not saying I've got some high taste in literature (my love of the Sookie books will attest to that), but do I really want to read a take off on a series I found so poorly written in the first place?

Anonymous said...

So many people have been trying to get me to read this book. I try every time. I really do. I tried to read this book before all the hype and I $%&*! hated it! Every time I try to read it again I hate the words even more! I'm sorry, but I hate everything about this book. The writing, the story, the characters, the violent sex.


But I'll try to read the whole thing one more time. Who knows, I might like it. And if I end up regretting having read it I have you to blame, Tawna ;)

BarbN said...

oh, lord, don't get me started. I'm in graduate school. If you think the prejudice against genre fiction is bad amongst the general populace, just try sitting in a graduate seminar. Mostly I've just kept my mouth shut, but I've taken them on once or twice. Usually I can end the conversation by asking, have you actually read it? ("It" being the book(s) in question.) Since they never have, because they would never lower themselves to read genre fiction, that usually shuts them up. But it doesn't change their opinion. On the other hand, I immediately become the class expert on ALL genre fiction. Any time any one of them has a question about some book they've heard about, they ask me. Which makes me laugh.

And by the way, you managed to avoid giving an opinion on 50 Shades. thumbs up? thumbs down? I've got the sample on my Kindle but haven't read it yet.

Tawna Fenske said...

Great discussion, guys!

To answer the question, I liked "50 Shades" just fine. I didn't love it, but I liked it well enough to buy the second one in the trilogy, and I'm halfway through that. I'm not saying everyone needs to rush out and buy it because it's the most awesome thing ever written, and I'm also not saying the people who've tried to read it and didn't enjoy it are misguided. All I'm saying is that I'm tired of hearing people rant about how terrible a book is if they've never even TRIED to read it.

I've loved plenty of books I thought for sure I wouldn't enjoy, and I've hated plenty of books that other people adored. The act of reading them allowed me to form my own opinion, instead of jumping on the "love it" or "hate it" bandwagon because it was the trendy thing to do.


Jess Riley said...

I generally resist big books-of-the-moment, mostly because I know their authors don't need the sale as badly as a lesser-known author further down the list...but sometimes I give in. Depends entirely on the story and quality of the writing. But that's just me. Overall, I love when ANY book gets people all excited about reading! :)

Kari Young said...

I find books that hit that pop culture status, fascinating. I've read all three 50 Shades. There is something addictive about it and I'm not sure why.

The one thing I learned from 50 is that women love that powerful male who focuses on their pleasure. Grey is Edward Cullen, Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 weeks rolled into one. I think it's less about the sex and more about the obsession.

Geoffrey Cubbage said...

I think the internet is just making it easier for us all to notice something that's been happening since "The Lamplighter" or even earlier: when a book becomes an unexpected and runaway success, people who read lots of books all the time tend to react badly to the people who only read runaway bestsellers and their very vocal love for the flavor of the month.

A lot of times (Twilight, etc.) that's because the flavor of the month isn't very good. It tapped a lucky vein of zeitgeist, publicity, and early good reviews, none of which had much to do with the actual writing. For people who've read a lot of better works that didn't do as well, that leads to some understandable bitterness.

Unfortunately, that leads to some habits of thought: "Well everyone says it's great, and everyone said 'Twilight' was great too, so I bet this one sucks as well."

Add in the anonymity of the internet and the masses of other people happy to sound off with you, and you get a reading culture that's pretty happy to accuse anything successful of being trash, even without reading it. Because hey, the odds are on their side, right?

Unfortunately, of course, the odds ARE usually on their side; I can't say I loved "50 Shades of Gray" or thought it was a particularly healthy example of "sex-positive writing," which people keep calling it.

Still, people should have to at least try to read it before saying that. Civility and intelligent discussion on the internet shouldn't be too much to ask for, right?


Jason said...

I have not read these books, but just yesterday ordered the box set. I've heard all the hype on both sides of this specific series and my response to it, just like it is to Twilight or The Hunger Games or any other book/series is the same as yours: have you read it? Hard to have an opinion I place any stock in if you haven't read it (the metaphorical "you" of course).

I also have not read the Harry Potter books. I think I may be the only one on the planet. :)

I think a lot of times people get too riled about books. Sometimes a book is really nothing more than entertainment, a distraction from the every day life. It doesn't have to be a literary masterpiece to be worthwhile. Heck, Hollywood proves this with the billions they make every summer; most movies aren't anything that make you smarter, but they are still enjoyable.

Even as a writer myself, I feel books are the same way. I'm writing to entertain people. To bring them into a world very different from their own, to make them forget about whatever it is goes on in their daily life. Absolutely the goal is to write as well as possible while doing that, but the end result doesn't have to be a masterpiece.

Sometimes entertainment is just that - entertainment.

Kelly Polark said...

I waited years to read the Hunger GAmes because I didn't think I'd like it and ended up loving it!

My friend loves the Fifty Shades series and gets mad because she thinks it's such a great story and others (who haven't read it) focus on the erotica part. And yes, I it is on my To Be Read list!

Katie Richie said...

I'm with you one hundred percent.

I read controversial books specifically so I can have a valid voice in the discussion. If the book is terrible, I’ll still read every word just so I can make an honest assessment.

I’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey and I thought it was alright. I have a very clear idea about what I liked about it and what I didn’t like about it.

I work in an academic library and I get to purchase the books for our popular reading section. I always intended to purchase Fifty Shades for the collection because it fits my criteria (it’s popular). I expect to get a certain amount of criticism for ordering the title and I feel I can adequately defend my decision because I’ve actually read the book.

Jessica Lemmon said...

Amen! I agree with you, Tawna (and Patty! I <3 Twilight!). Also, I didn't *love* 50 Shades but I'm intrigued enough to buy the second one.

And can I just say, my husband just read Making Waves and LOVED IT! (He never reads fiction but asked me to recommend a romance novel since I'm pursuing publishing one of my own.)

I heard lots of chuckling while he read MW, and he shared lines he found funny. Thanks for writing a book we can both share and enjoy! :-)

Stephsco said...

I like to give books a fair shot. I read some excerpts of 50 Shades to get an idea of the type of story, beyond other people's opinions. The type of writing in 50 Shades is not the type I can handle for 300+ pages. This has nothing to do with the sex. Three pages was enough for me. To each their own!

middle child said...

I'm a reader, not a writer. Stephen King is my man though I read all kinds of things. I read the Twilight series and really liked it. When I read the Hunger Games trilogy, I knew right then and there that it would probably be my favorite forever!
I have now started the "50 Shades..." When I got to around page 100, I was all over my husband. 50 works for me!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I haven't read The Hunger Games or 50 Shades of Grey, though I don't judge anyone who reads it. I have to admit, though, that I did get tired of all the people talking about the Hunger Games movies. Every time I logged onto the Internet or turned on the TV there was another story or ad about the movie or the actors. It's like chocolate: too much of it can make you sick. But on the other hand, I might watch Hunger Games/read the book just because the media really does influence me that much.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I usually do the same thing that Jess Riley said he/she does. With exceptions for certain authors whose books I buy as soon as they hit the shelves - e.g. Jennifer Crusie.
But I do hate it when people have negative things to say about books they haven't read or movies they haven't seen.

Tamara Epps said...

I have to admit that when I was a teen I did not like any books that were popular (because they were popular). I've since learned that that is a stupid way to see the world (perhaps they're popular for a reason after all?) of books and films and so now I don't have any opinions on anything I haven't read.

When my teacher was constantly bashing the Twilight series (because of the inappropriate messages to teen girls) I didn't agree or disagree til I had at least tired to read it. I still can't say anything about the overall plot as after reading the first one I couldn't face reading any more whining teen girl complaining that boys fancy her!

Btw, after reading this post I'm thinking I'm going to have to check out 50 Shades of Grey - who doesn't love some handcuffs and spanking?

Wildcats Wife said...

I'll be the first to admit it, I couldn't get past the first page of 50 Shades and not because of the subject matter, heck, I read Playboy, watch R rated movies, and use butter in unusual ways. I guess I am no better than some of these literary agents who joyfully tweet regarding an MS, "Pass. I couldn't get past the query. The writing voice just wasn't there. Or, the first five pages didn't go anywhere, so what would that tell me about the rest of their book?"

Same holds true for this book for me personally. I couldn't muster the strength to get past some awful writing. Voice did not speak to me. Don't spank me! Yikes!!;)

Listen, there are a ton of books out there, and I need to sift through them.

Yes, I loved Twilight. Yes, I loved Hunger Games. Huge Fans!!

I honestly, don't think not reading this book, or that book, for whatever reason warrants a label of "book snob"... maybe a pair of handcuffs. For me, it's a matter of quality, and if something speaks to me, than I will put in the time or slap a ball gag on it. Time is a precious and valuable thing. I for one, am not going to waste it.

I could easily ask a peer if they read the book Oil 101, which I have. And, chances are they have not. Am I going to spank them and toss out a label? Am I going to handcuff them when they reply, "Oh, you like to read about oil?" I gave 50 Shades a shot because of the bashing, and it did not live up to my expectations. Heck, I wanted to like it. I did! I wanted to attack my husband afterwards. Didn't happen. So, I'm forced to continue reading Playboy.

Tawna Fenske said...

Wildcat's Wife,

my point wasn't that people who don't LIKE "50 Shades" (or any other book) are book snobs. My point is that people who don't even TRY to read a book before passing judgment on it are a huge pet peeve for me. As I said in the post, there are plenty of books I dislike. But I'd be deserving of several harsh spankings if I based my dislike merely on the hype or what I'd HEARD about the book, rather than an effort to read it and decide for myself. While I understand that people offended by sexual content probably shouldn't attempt to read "50 Shades," I don't believe anyone else has the right to make snarky comments about that book (or any other) without a least ATTEMPTING to read it.


Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

I also hate when people pass judgements on books when they haven't read them. "Well I *HEARD* that it's good/bad/etc."

You HEARD? Uhhh Okay. How about making up your OWN mind?!"

Musing Sallie said...

...I want to be you when I grow up. If it wouldn't look too obnoxious (because a little is okay) I would quote your entire post and use it as my response.

Anonymous said...

Like many above, I'm not reading 50 because it just doesn't interst me. I've tried the samples and did not want to go through the whole meal. So I won't comment on if the book is good or not, just not for me. Enough said.