Fifty Shades of Catharsis

Cara Barer Book ArtTo kick this blog off I gave myself an assignment, to confront a book I held vehement opinions about… despite never having cracked the cover. To avoid actually reading the thing, I had devoured reviews and summaries (including this hilarious must read), and dissected it in many late night discussions with brainy friends (most of whom also had not read it). The book was particularly pesky because it hovered next to me on the bus and tube, bobbed past on the sidewalk, peeked out from over-sized satchels at the market and even crept into my news feed. I was weirdly into hating it and judging people who read it. …Until I realized the complete hypocrisy of detesting a novel I’d never even skimmed. Lame. So the project is to quell the bitchiness and redirect the anger.

The book: E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey

The mission: to read it, annotate it, and blog about it.

The moral of the story: Don’t burn books kids.

Girl wearing pasties reading toplessBasically, I’m telling you that the second I finished grad school and could actually choose what I read, I went straight for Fifty Shades. I just can’t handle the freedom! Actually it was my second post-graduation read, the first being Just Kids by Patti Smith (see, I DO have taste!) Fifty Shades was a culture shock to say the least. Welcome to the real world kid… it’s not the land of English Literature and feminist theory you’ve lived in for the greater part of the last decade, it’s full of poorly written and overrated sex books. It’s a world of typos and repetitive language and unbearably slow plot lines. You now join a growing cohort of readers with whom you can share blushing naughty giggles over titillating scenes. Earning three degrees bestowed upon you the prospect of settling for a less than inspiring job (if you ever even find one) and the reality of reading printed drivel. Now get to it!

Whoa, is Fifty Shades teaching me life lessons before I even begin? You know Anastasia is a new grad too and she’s just looking for a great internship and a spicy love life… maybe we’re not so different after all!

Embarking on this mission I did not want to buy a copy of the culprit book. Luckily, it is insanely easy to acquire. So many women (and men) have read it by now that there are spares lying around in most living rooms. When I scooped one of these up I felt like I was holding an illicit item. It was that book, the one I hated. I didn’t get girls who read this book. Every time a woman admitted reading it to me (god forbid she defend it) I could hear the echoing sounds of a massive metal door slamming shut in my mind and the swift slash of a giant red pen marking an X across her face. WRONG ANSWER SISTER, we will never be friends.

Turning to Chapter 1 I faced my next hurdle, struggling to read Fifty Shades unselfconsciously. This phase was two-pronged. I’d heard about women downloading the book to their e-readers, shamed to read it in public. Rather than be bothered by the possible perv factor I was far more concerned about being miss-categorized as an actual, uncritical reader. The world had to know my ulterior motive! No, no, I’m blogging about this silly thing. At first I constantly explained myself to people who saw me reading. But THEN, I actually became defiant about not explaining myself. As in, how dare you judge me as a person who would read this book seriously! I’m trying to not be a hypocrite you hater! Because I knew that some actually were judging me, this was evident in their whistled sighs of relief when I explained my project. I’ve experienced the other side now guys and it’s not so nice.

Girl balancing book on her head

Feminist Yardstick

All this got me thinking about feminism. I hate how quickly feminism becomes (or is perceived as) patronizing towards women who do not seem to fit into some perfect stricture of womanhood. I admit that I have wondered how any woman who enjoys this book can call herself a feminist. As for James, I would never argue that her writing is feminist but she is a woman and she does write for an overwhelmingly female audience. It’s a shame that feminism seems so incongruent with her story. That aside, the lady self published and got more people to buy her books than Harry Potter. If I criticize that it’s purely out of envy. Plus, I applaud her for bringing erotic novels into the mainstream.

I love a challenge and in its own way reading Fifty Shades was that for me. I read the whole thing, no skimming bullshit, not even through the chapters that dragged on so long that I longed for the days when novels gripped my attention so tightly I couldn’t bring myself to turn out the light at night.

Amazingly, I learned a number of lessons from Fifty Shades. I realized that I don’t have to put up with this, that there are books out there that I will not be able to put down, they’re just waiting for me to find them! I got my butt through grad school and now I can actually tackle that reading list I’ve been compiling the past two years (suggestions welcome by the way). It’s so liberating! And I WILL find a job that I love, one that’s interesting and challenging and isn’t full of typos! My cathartic assignment totally worked. I’m now more puzzled than angry about this odd book and I have a new lease on life. Hey thanks Fifty Shades of Grey.

…..But wait, we haven’t even begun talking about what happens in the book yet! Tune back in for answers to the following riveting questions: Am I planning my wedding to studly Christian Grey? Have I begun writing Fifty Shades fan fiction? Have I found a job? And finally, did I secretly enjoy reading these sultry pages?

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10 responses to “Fifty Shades of Catharsis

  1. My favorite definition of feminism is ‘the radical notion that women are people’. Given that, I can see how a feminist can enjoy any old book (my wife’s a feminist and enjoys reading occasional crap as a break from actual literature). People do take some things too seriously sometimes, don’t you think?

  2. A book for the list Spitfire Women of World War II by Giles Whittel. Inspirational, gutsy and true, even made me cry!! A great friend of mine also laboured her way through the book, so I am looking forward to hearing more……….

  3. *Sigh* I too have been a Fifty Shades hater…but have often wondered if I should just sit down and read it (with all this free time I seem to have – study? what’s that?). I’m glad that you read it and now I can just read your blog instead. Ha ha.

    • Ha yeah, having read it, I’d recommend you skip it! I promised a follow up blog post to this one and haven’t even been able to bring myself to finish writing it yet. One of these days it will come!

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