I am facing my fortieth birthday by setting out a number of different goals. One of these is to read 50 Books That Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40. I realize this list is pretty arbitrary, and nothing says that more than their inclusion of Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) by E.L. James. However, I am impressed by most of the other choices and I’m definitely a completist. I figured, at the very least, Fifty Shades would be a quick and easy read.
I had such low expectations coming into this book that I can honestly say it wasn’t as godawful as I was expecting. Sure, the writing was bad and the story line was unbelievable and boring, but every once in a while Anastasia did something amusing or it was kind of sexy. I doubt anyone in America is ignorant of the basic plot at this point. Anastasia is an ordinary girl about to graduate from college when she meets Christian Grey, an unbelievably sexy, rich, powerful man who is immediately obsessed with her. He’s into BDSM and she is not (at first). They have a lot of sex.
Many things about this book irritated me exceedingly: E.L. James does not understand what a subconscious is; characters are constantly smirking and rolling their eyes; and Anastasia Grey is often portrayed as a child. I also got really tired of all the talk about Christian’s BDSM contract. I think it was supposed to be some kind of foreplay, because it served no other purpose–even Anastasia knew it was unenforceable. In addition, the relationship between Christian and Anna has no substance. Christian Grey explains to Anna why he is obsessed with her by saying, “you disarm me totally, Miss Steele. Your innocence. It cuts through all the crap.” What?
I really don’t have anything else to add about this book, but I do have two questions. The first is: why was this book so popular? I was surprised when a friend of mine, who would not go near erotica on her own and usually reads pretty good literature, told me she’d read this book. And she seemed surprised when I hadn’t. I guess the simple answer is that it was the perfect combination of female fantasy and light erotica that made it acceptable enough to go mainstream. Maybe it helped that Anastasia was ridiculously innocent, which made her story more relatable and acceptable to the more prudish women.
My second question is why was this book chosen for the 50 Books Every Woman Should Read list? The blurb on the list says that despite its bad writing, the book became an international sensation “reminding the world once again that women can enjoy sex–and enjoy reading about it.” I guess that could be true? But has it changed anything? I’ve heard anecdotal stories of sales of handcuffs increasing because of Fifty Shades of Grey, but what about women enjoying increased pleasure and power in the bedroom? Personally, I think this book is a horrible model for women’s sexuality. Even if you forget all the stalking and controlling behavior, Anastasia is a virgin who has never had an orgasm. She is wholly reliant on Christian for any sexual pleasure she has ever had or will have. The editors must have just thrown this book in because it’s so popular, hoping that some of the millions who’ve read it would be encouraged to read some of the other books on the list.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.