Okay, this is the perfect opportunity to open myself to a slew of outrage, but also talk about something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while.
Now I am a subscriber to the theory that the more recent something is more likely it’s impact on you remains strong–that’s why the end can ruin a movie or a book for example, so I’m going to say that when I think of books I’ve read I can only remember the ones I’ve read very recently. I know I read two Junot Diazes; I read Middlesex, which was utterly brilliant; I read Song of Achilles; I read truckloads of chicklitt that spoke to me, and even some non-fiction. But I don’t really remember them actually speaking to me, saying Yo MinCat, ever thought about this?
The one book I read this year that actually did that to me and, mind you, I read it in May, was Fifty Shades of Grey. (Cue outrage.)
There was just something compelling about that book, much like Twilight, which might come from the fact of the subject matter being, once again, obsessive possessive love, and my never having felt it. I do think that with FSG however it was more than that. I definitely have my problems with both books on an intellectual level, but I also have problems with people who object to FSG on an intellectual level while refusing to engage with it on a emotional level or an instinctual level, because at the end of the day that’s the level at which it is written. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m fairly open about sex and sexuality, and am willing to try anything once, at least hypothetically. But BDSM is something that has always just freaked me out, even the thought of it. So when I read this book, it was with much skepticism, because really, BDSM? But then, suddenly, I found myself thinking WOAH this is HOT. Suddenly I found myself reading what was in the head of this girl who thought exactly the same way as me–what is wrong with a guy that he needs to debase me, abuse me, to get off? And then, once she gives in and likes it–what is wrong with ME that *I* am getting off on being debased and abused? And, by extension, I was thinking what is wrong with me that I’m turned on by this whole thing?
The book actually makes you stop and let go of prejudice for a minute and accept that sometimes you need to recalibrate ‘normal’ to understand yourself, and you really shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. Of course the rest of the trilogy goes on to completely destroy this whole openminded thing cos after all, Christian is into BDSM cos he’s been abused, cos it’s not normal etc., which is just sad, because FSG is such a great gateway book. And it really did make me think a lot, about sexuality, about boundaries, about trust, about control, and all these thing in my own life. (Okay, I also had a crush on that incredibly in-charge man, who just takes over your life–I wouldn’t mind one of those for a while!**)
Which brings me to, if a book can make you think about these things, how can you dismiss it out of hand just because it’s ‘a bad book’? I’m not for one second saying the writing is good–it’s dreadfully cheesy; I swear I wanted to SHOOT THAT FUCKING INNER GODDESS! But many so-called good books have terrible writing too–they just err in the direction of being obscure. One notable example from this year is From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra–impossible to read, but a fascinating subject.
It does all come down to what an individual wants from a book, and what the intelligentsia wants to think it can guide them to. It comes down to thinking that oh the poor dears, they don’t know better, let us guide them. Who died and made you president? People read what they want. Yes, the reason the Fifty Shades trilogy (and the Bared to You trilogy) does so well is mainly because people want socially sanctioned porn. Yes the writing is execrable–but it’s pornographic Twilight fan fiction! Twilight itself is hardly well written. And, in defence of FSG, Anastasia has way more balls than Bella! She stands up for herself; she wants a life beyond Christian and she demands it. She doesn’t jump off cliffs so she can hallucinate hearing his voice. Sheesh.
Yes, it makes me sad that Amish Tripathi sells the way he does in India, but, on the bright side, it means people are reading. It means some day people may read a Sidin Vadakut instead of a Chetan Bhagat and slowly, step by step they might come to the point where they are reading Amitav Ghosh. But this ladder itself is built from my own preferences–why must they read Ghosh at all? I myself spend an inordinate amount of time NOT reading literary fiction–I even dismiss the genre derisively most of the time. So if I can read what I myself call trash, why do I shake my head and tut tut when other people want to read it? This obsessive need to pass judgement on what is and isn’t acceptable is very scary sometimes.
Okay now I will stop because this is turning into rant on publishing, which really merits its own post.
*Is it just me or is there some repetition happening here?
**That’s a whole other post on feminism and my own life…