Monday, April 2, 2012


Will one of these guys accept the role of Christian Grey? 

At a dinner party a couple of weeks ago, the subject of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY came up. The hostess had heard buzz at her gym that the bestselling e-book so popular with women at the moment is blatant pornography. Mommy porn, I think was one of the labels used. Some hearsay was thrown around over dinner, opinion, speculation, information gleamed from the internet and TV. Not one to be left out of a controversial conversation, I joined in. In fact, I had a bit of an advantage—I’d actually read about three quarters of Fifty Shades.

I’d heard about the e-book before it got all the TV and internet publicity—and was only $2.99 on Kindle—and downloaded it to see if it was really as outrageous as its initial hype. I’m not going to review it here which would require breaking my rule of only reviewing books I like. I will make a couple of observations, though. At the end of the first quarter or so, I couldn’t help comparing it to TWILIGHT because it was heavy on longing and nothing much had had happened—definitely no porn. Googling it revealed it started as TWILIGHT fan fiction which lit a bulb in my head and elicited a groan. I suspected I knew where Fifty Shades was headed.

But this was a huge bestseller, I told myself. As a writer who’d love to sell a zillion copies of my WIP, I was sure there must be a reason for its popularity. I forced myself to read on. I wanted to be surprised, impressed, enthralled, even shocked would do. At page 296 of 372 I succumbed to boredom and gave up. Porn? Unless the last 75 pages got really hot, I can’t understand what all the whoop-la’s about. And last week People posted a Facebook survey of who should play Christian Grey in the movie. Ugh. A movie?!! (Don’t even consider it, Henry Cavill!!)

I’m frequently puzzled that people are satisfied with secondhand opinions, especially when it comes to books. Before I got my Kindle, I carried a book with me everywhere and often they were romances with, well, romance covers. I’d like a dollar for every time someone sneered at my reading material and asked, “How can you read those books?” They quickly informed me they would never stoop so low, at which point I’d explain I not only read romances but also wrote them. Reactions varied—few were complimentary. How many times have we heard romances called pornography? How many articles claim romances set up unrealistic relationship expectations in women, frequently inferring the women who read those books are pathetic losers who fantasize about love they can never have? And how many deriders of the genre have actually read the books they scorn? Answer: Not many.

Romance is an extremely broad genre that ranges from sweet inspirational stories to some very steamy stuff, and the women who read and write those books include all demographics. Romances deal with love, life, relationships, personal growth and hope. And, yes, often sex happens at some point in the story—kind of like life. We’re entitled to our tastes and opinions because we read it.

I can’t figure out why Fifty Shades and its sequels are so popular when there are tons of better written, more emotionally compelling and more erotic books out there which haven’t found their readers. That’s too bad. But good for you, E.L. James. You’ve tapped a market and gotten media attention most of us can merely dream of.  Just a bit of advice--don’t mention that your Mommy Porn is basically romance.

Have you read any terrific books lately—fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, whatever…..? What needs to go on my TBR pile? If you liked Fifty Shades, please tell us why! 


Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
It amazes me that people sound off about books they have NOT read. Good for you for reading Fifty Shades--to page 296, anyway, so you knew your contribution was valid.

Like you, I think it's important to read books that have attracted a buzz. Those books may not become our faves, but we should be able to pick them apart to discover why they appealed to so many people.

Right now, I'm intrigued by your observation about longing.

Sarah Andre said...

How fabulous! I love outing books and movies as romance...just watched Killer Elite this weekend- about as brutal a male action film as you can rent...and yeah- it was a romantic suspense thru and thru.

GLEEFULLY pointed that out to my husband!

Lark Howard said...

Loved KILLER ELITE!! You're right, Sarah, there was a romance element. All the good flicks have it. :-)

Reetta Raitanen said...

The negative reactions to romance fiction are getting really old. How long has the genre been around? And it's the most sold genre of books out there so clearly it touches something deep in women. And men too. They just rarely dare to admit liking romance books and movies.

Derivative fiction might be so popula because sometimes readers want more of the same than their favourite. The first copycats tend to do well commercially so that's a motivation to write them. I think that some writers file off the serial numbers because they are afraid to create something of their own and reveal part of them to the readers.

As for reading recommendations, I've really enjoyed Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Blink and Sally Hogshead's Fascinate: 7 triggers to persuation and captivation.

Fascinate is a great tool for writers because it helps you to market and blog in a way that appeals to one or two emotional triggers most important to your readers (and most natural to you). The tiggers are power, passion, mystique, prestige, alarm, rebellion and trust.