50 Shades of Grey: The Literary Equivalent Of Sugar Smacks?

Still, there seems to be an appetite for it. Almost 1,000 have signed up for the RJ Julia event featuring the author scheduled for Wednesday in New Haven. Are you going? Did you read it? What did you think?


In keeping with the number theme in the title, here's what you need to know before buying "50 Shades of Grey."

Number of times the protagonist, Anastasia Steele, says "Crap" or "Holy Crap": 86

Number of times Anastasia refers to her lover Christian Grey and his moves as "hot" or "freaking hot": 37

Number of times a specific part of the female anatomy is referred to as "down there": 6

If fine writing is like bittersweet truffles, this book is like a wad of Gummi bears stuck to your back teeth. To use another food metaphor — and I'm not sure  author E.L. James knows what a metaphor is — it's the literary equivalent of eating Sugar Smacks for dinner.

James gives us the first-person perspective of a naive 21-year-old college graduate who is also — wait for it — a virgin who has never really been kissed. She is thrown into the presence of a young and extremely handsome billionaire who is powerfully attracted to her but has a dark secret life that involves riding crops, rope and something he calls "The Red Room of Pain."

Substitute vampire for billionaire (some advice to the author: billionaires generally look more like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett than Ryan Gosling) and we're right about where "Twilight" begins. It's no surprise that "50 Shades" began as fan fiction for that other nonsensical best-selling series.

Here's a little taste of James' clipped writing style:

"Why won't he look at me. Perhaps he's changed his mind? A wave of unease washes over me. Perhaps walking out on him last night was the end for him, too. He's bored of waiting for me to make up my mind. Oh no, I could have completely blown it. I remember his email last night. Maybe he's mad that I haven't replied."

The world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is as believable as a fairy tale, which apparently appeals to a great many people since the book is selling faster than condoms on spring break. Anastasia keeps asking herself why she'd even consider seeing a man who wants her to sign a written contract including her willingness to be suspended from the ceiling, but somehow talks herself into more and more encounters. Her learning curve in certain departments is steep, to say the least.

As for the sex scenes, they're frequent, explicit, and full of breathy descriptions of how "hot" bondage and spanking can be. If that's all you're after, go ahead and plunk down the money. You won't be disappointed and you'll have two money-printing sequels already waiting for you.

But there is most certainly better written and less ridiculous erotica or even "mommy porn," as this has been called, out there. This is one fad you can excuse yourself from joining, unless you're looking for a good laugh.

Author E.L. James will be appearing in Connecticut at an event in New Haven sponsored by on May 2. Tickets are $25, which includes $5 toward the purchase of a book. For reservations, call 203-245-3959 or visit R.J. Julia's website.

Beth Crowley April 30, 2012 at 08:22 PM
An interesting statistic I came across last week: There were 2 million copies of Fifty Shades sold in April alone! Also interesting, according to Random House, the print book has sold more copies than the digital edition. Bottom line, bad writing + phenomenal publicity = 5 million dollar movie deal!
Pem McNerney April 30, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Another interesting statistic, RJ Julia is close to closing out the event, with almost 1,000 signed up. Having read it, I'd agree it's not flying off the shelves because of the way it's written. Part of the attraction is voyeurism, no doubt. There are parts that are objectionable, and I don't just mean the writing (someone should arrest Mrs. Robinson for being a pedophile ... why isn't anyone taking issue with that?). Still, there seems to be an intense appetite for a book like this for adult women. Regardless of how you feel about the writing, it's remarkable this author self-published this thing on the internet and had it become a worldwide phenomenon. I was in Scranton Library not too long ago and some woman I didn't even know was raving about it. Said she read all three, then recommended them to her mother. That kind of word of mouth is why it's selling. I had to go to RJJ three times before I could get a copy. The first two times they were sold out and so I bought two other books while waiting (both beautifully written, I might add). So RJJ sold three more books because of that woman in your library! =) What is demand like for it at the library? Does the library have a copy?
Beth Crowley May 01, 2012 at 02:17 PM
In the LION library system, which consists of 25 libraries including Scranton, there are currently an astounding 486 holds on Book 1! This is unheard of. The Library does own Book 1 and we are ordering Books 2 and 3. We have also preordered the audiobooks which are due out later this spring. I am halfway through Book 3 but am bucking the trend and reading the ebooks on my Android phone. It is a fun series for adults who are looking for a little "junk food" to balance out their more "literary" tastes.
Pem McNerney May 01, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Interesting! Just heard back from RJJ ... event is sold out. Other RJJ events that have sold out include Don Imus, Giada De Laurentiis, Toni Morrison, Anna Quindlen, Anne Rice.


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