Tied Up in Fifty Shades of Grey

During my time in the book publishing program, I’ve forcibly read genres and specific books that I otherwise would not have touched with a ten-foot pole. Much like anyone, I have my own stomping grounds in the world of literature, and that naturally excludes some genres. This is detrimental because the odds are not in my favor that I’ll work on a book or in a genre that I love. It’s a simple fact of how the industry operates, so it’s in my best interest to embrace the entirety of literature.

The bane of my literary existence is the romance genre. I’ve never actually read a book that’s been strictly billed as “romance,” simply because there’s zero appeal to me. I barely even tolerate on-screen romances; I’m that guy in the theater who rolls his eyes and sighs whenever something romantic happens. To say that I’m a cynic is the greatest understatement of all, and if I’ve no patience for romantic shenanigans in a movie, what are the chances I’ll tolerate it in a book?

These realizations made it obvious to me that I should try to expand my horizons, and with that goal in mind, I chose the most popular romance book of the last few years that I could possibly think of—Fifty Shades of Grey.

Despite the book’s press coverage, its sequels, and a burgeoning movie franchise, I knew very little of the book’s content. I had no reason to pay attention to it, so it mostly flew under my radar. I knew of it, and like everyone else who has a pulse and can read, I also knew that it’s terrible, but not specifically why. I did my best to set that judgment aside, even though the cashier at Powell’s scowled at me for buying it.

It sat on my desk untouched for several days until I worked up the courage to actually open it. I envisioned myself slogging through all 514 pages bored out of my mind. By page 10, I immediately regretted not purchasing wine beforehand. I groaned louder and louder with each page turn until something wondrous began to happen . . .

Somewhere amidst the total lack of character development, the nonsensical narrative, and the completely unlikeable characters, I began to laugh. Not just laugh, but knee-slapping, body-shaking, oh-my-god-I-can’t-breathe laugh. I had no idea that I could interact with a book much in the same way I can interact with a movie that’s so bad that it’s occasionally good for all the wrong reasons.

After reading the book, it’s obvious to me that the selling point is its apparently racy and salacious content. Take out the sexy bits and the reader is left with a very long and very dull list of happenings. This is ironic to me because the romantic moments of this book are anything but. Fifty Shades is as sexual as a phone book and exactly as erotic as a seventh-grade biology book, if it had also been written by a seventh grader. Needless to say, the book’s “eroticism” left me in stitches. I stumbled through those moments due to my uncontrollable laughter, and—no exaggeration here—I laughed until I cried. I even dropped the book multiple times.

As I’m not a savant of the genre, I’m not about to make any assertions about what a romance novel should and shouldn’t be. I do have a suspicion, however, that clumsy sex metaphors, pointless expositions (notably, “Oh my!”), cheesy innuendo, and incessant murmuring do not a good novel, romance or otherwise, make.

My first foray into the romance genre was not a success, and I’m not especially jumping at the opportunity to wade back into it. If Fifty Shades is indicative of the genre to which it belongs, romance novels simply aren’t for me, and that’s fine. Any book I read has exactly fifty pages to hook me, and the fact that I finished this novel is a testament to how much I wanted to at least try to make this work. I’m certainly open to suggestions from those who favor this genre, though. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t found the right romance novel.

At least I can rest assured that I know all of this for a fact now, instead of just assuming it. If I’m forced to read or work on a romance novel in the future, chances are that I can relax, sit back, and laugh my way through the entire ordeal. If I’m lucky, though, the next romance novel I read will also contain such gems as, “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel . . . or something.” Yes, something indeed.

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