22 October, 2021

LitStaff Pick: Open Thread

They Published What?

If you want to know what middle school writing looks like, then I have the perfect book for you. E.L. James, 50 Shades of Gray. Stop laughing, I’m serious. Thanks to author Jennifer Armintrout’s blog, “Sweaters for days and Moves like Jagger,” where she has done the Herculean task of recapping each chapter of the book, I now can say I’ve “read” the book. Both my subconscious and inner goddess were not happy. In fact, they were downright pissed. So angry that after reading one night I had angry recurring dreams of bad writing. Yes, recurring. I’d wake up in terror from the bad writing, hope against hope that when I went back to sleep I’d dream of rainbows and butterflies, only to be wrong and return to that horrible dream. I just…I don’t understand.

Can someone please tell me why this book is so popular? Why did so many smart women, many that I work with, fall in love with this book? I was not only offended as a writer that this trite got published, but also as a teacher because you know what I kept wanting to do while I was reading the excerpts Jennifer gave us? Break out my purple grading pen and make that paper bleed!!! When I’m reading for pleasure, the last thing I want to be reminded of is work. While I am a English/Language Arts teacher and reading middle school writing is part of  my job description, it is not on my list of favorite things to do. This book, THIS BOOK, read just like middle school writing! Seriously! Some of my students write better than Ms. James. And this was published? And a best seller?!

*walks away to cool off a bit*

Okay, now that I’ve got the rage out of my system. Let’s talk about some of the many things wrong with this book.

1) The writing is extremely juvenile and lacking in any finesse one would expect from a professional writer. Adverbs flying all over the place, too many adjectives in one sentence, actions connected to another character’s dialogue, metaphors that don’t make any sense, etc. I could really go on and on, but my point is the novel reads like a first draft instead of a polished work that has been seen by at least a few editors.

2) The characters. How in the world are people falling in love with both Christian and Ana? They’re both unlikeable. Ana is apparently 21 years old, but her thoughts are very 12-13 year old-ish. How do I know? I spend 8+ hours each day with that age group. For example, Ana never says “vagina”, she says “down there”. Down there, really? When my students (12-13 years old, remember) say “down there”, I correct them because they need to learn to be comfortable with their bodies. A 21 year old saying the same thing is completely unbelievable. Ana is also completely self-absorbed and clueless; which brings me to Christian, who is clearly a abusive boyfriend/husband in the making. Everything he does is not romantic in the least. He controls the relationship, disregards Ana’s decisions, stalks her to Georgia when she visits her mother…need I go on? Ana, at points, is clearly afraid of him, but is too stupid to take the warnings her gut is giving her seriously. If 50 Shades were a novel about the dangers of falling into an abusive relationship, then I’d take it seriously. But it’s not. It’s touted a fantasy that women want. I can assure you, this woman does not want that type of fantasy!

3) Lastly, the BDSM in this novel is not BDSM. While I don’t know much about that lifestyle, I do know that people who participate in it do so for consensual enjoyment and pleasure. Christian does it as a form of control over Ana. He uses it as emotional and physical abuse. At one point, she even pleads for him to not beat her. Folks who read this book and do not do any research about BDSM will get the wrong idea, mistaking abuse for consensual sex. No, just no. If Ms. James wanted Christian to be a tortured soul, she could have found another avenue besides BDSM. I feel at times she writes the BDSM sex scenes for the cheap entertainment thrill of it all instead of really considering what makes a well-written sex scene interesting and hot.

Like a two year old who falls asleep at the end of a tantrum, I think my rant has come to an end. When 50 Shades first came out this past spring

-K. Imani Tennyson


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