Books, I Read It First

I Read It First: 50 Shades of Grey

I can’t believe I actually read this book. Not just that I volunteered for it, but that I managed to drag myself all the way to the end. God, I hope there aren’t more movies. I don’t know if I could survive reading the second or third. At least this one ends on a promising note. Good lord. Okay. Diving in.


The Book: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Genre: romance, erotica

First impressions: You are probably familiar with this book, at least in passing. It sold 100 million copies in 53 languages worldwide–that’s what we usually call “hard to miss.” But if you aren’t familiar, 50 Shades is a BDSM erotica story, which started its life as Twilight fan fiction. It follows the relationship of naive recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and broody business prodigy Christian Grey as they try to balance love and BDSM sub/dom culture. The book has come under a lot of well-deserved criticism for glorifying abusive relationships; Grey is a textbook abuser, complete with stalking, limiting Ana’s relationships with her friends and family, violent jealousy, overwhelming her with lavish gifts that she doesn’t want and has to feel guilty about, controlling everything in her life down to what she eats and how she dresses, mood swings that keep her perpetually afraid that he’s going to hurt her, etc. etc. The power and experience imbalance between them verges on the pedophillic. Basically, it’s domestic violence disguised as BDSM (it has been soundly debunked and rejected by the actual BDSM community, who were pretty much universally disgusted by it), and everything about it is gross.

Leaving aside the incredibly problematic nature of the “romance,” however, this book is still terrible. First of all, it’s poorly researched. It’s set in Seattle, but often confuses distances, place names, and social norms; Ana is suppose to be a college graduate focusing on English in 2011, but she doesn’t have a laptop or cell phone until Christian buys them for her (against her will), and the only books she’s read are a handful of British classics. She’s also suppose to be a big tea drinker, but her favorite tea is Twinings English Breakfast, served weak, which–I just–ugh, I digress.

On a prose-level, this book fails, too. There’s no variation in sentence type or style, with the exception of occasional five-dollar-words that are so out of place it’s obvious James just went through the text with a thesaurus and replaced words at random to try to make Ana sound smarter. Ana’s inner monologue is littered with references to her “subconscious” (who isn’t subconscious at all, but rather openly critical and constantly present) and her “inner goddess,” which are kind of like shoulder angels but far more annoying and cartoonish. They do shit like morph randomly into the scales of justice to send Ana a message. You think I’m kidding but that actually happens. Also, like 70% of their “relationship” develops via emails included in-text, which is a very fan-fictiony thing to do and doesn’t work at all as a device for the story. And the pacing is terrible.

Add in the fact that despite the high volume of detailed sex scenes in this novel, never once does Ana refer to anybody’s genitals by an appropriate term (once she says clitoris, but only once) and you have a travesty of a text that would be funny if it didn’t have such deeply disturbing social implications.

Will it adapt?: Here’s the thing, though: it could adapt. Not a straight adaptation; if they make the film straight, it’ll be shitty for all the same reasons the book is (although we’ll get a reprieve from the shoulder angels, which is a relief). They could, however, make a movie that critiques the novel, concluding with Ana recognizing the ways in which Christian is manipulating and abusing her. Even a satire adaptation (complete with parodic shoulder angels) could be good. But neither of those things is going to happen. They’re going to adapt it straight, and it’s going to be just as gruesome as its source material.

Should I read it?: No. For the love of all that is wholesome or depraved, do not subject yourself to this monstrosity.

Grossly yours,
M.M. Jordahl

“I never have to see him again. I’m immediately cheered by the thought.” -chapter 2, page 18, where 50 Shades of Grey should have ended

P.S. Live-tweets for this book are collected here. Enjoy.

This post is part of my I Read It First series.

7 thoughts on “I Read It First: 50 Shades of Grey”

  1. A fellow classmate was reading this book and I decided to take a sneak peak through it to see what all the hype was about, and was immediately disgusted by it. Where is the appeal? Most INTELLIGENT women would run from a man like this, not run towards him. But alas, so many teens were desperately attracted to this novel *sigh* I haven’t seen the movie and I hope I’m never forced to

    1. While I agree that this book is super destructive in its depiction of romance, I think it’s kind of disingenuous to say that only teenagers would be taken in by it and “intelligent” women would know better. For one thing, I know many, many, many adult women, ranging from college-age to middle-aged, who ate this book up and loved every second. That’s precisely why it’s so dangerous, in my opinion; it’s a perfect facsimile of how abusive relationships happen, and even intelligent women can be fooled into believing they can ~change the bad boy~ and ~save his soul~, which is the narrative this book offers. Intelligent women can and do end up in relationships like this. Saying you’d have to be a moron to fall for it belittles those women’s experiences and discourages them from seeking support. The popularity of this book is just further evidence that our cultural notions about what a healthy relationship looks like still need A LOT of work (and that most people don’t know good prose from bupkis).

      Also you should be careful creating a dichotomy that puts “teens” on one side and “intelligent women” on the other.

      1. I apologize for drawing up those hasty conclusions, and you’re correct, anyone can be sucked in into a book like this, and an abusive relationship as well. The reason for my mention teens instead of women ( or men ) in general was because I saw a greater ratio of teens reading this book instead of older women. Needless to say I do not believe that just teens would read this book and eave about it endlessly. Although this book might have been offered to a specific age group, anyone could see an interest in it

        1. You missed all the articles about it being “mommy porn”? XD Honestly, the grossest thing about this book is all the advertising/”criticism” around it. Like, the book by itself would just be a terrible accident that faded into obscurity if it weren’t for all of the “SEXY STEAMY ROMANCE FOR MOMMIES” coverage it got. I feel gross just thinking about it. DO BETTER, CULTURE.

      2. My intention was not to “belittle” anyone’s experience or discourage anyone from receiving the proper help they deserve. I was simply shocked at just how many were brought in by this seemingly “healthy” and “romantic” relationship

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