Fifty Shades of Ignorance.

The entire world, well, aside from Saudi Arabia, is reading Fifty Shades of Grey as though it is the first… the very first book of erotica ever written.


Remember them old yahoos– D.H. Lawrence, Anais Nin, Erica Jong, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, The Kama Sutra, Kathleen E. Woodwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Henry Miller, Lawrence Block?

Here is an interesting article about Roy Melisander Johnson, a man you’ve never heard of – he commissioned works of ‘pornography’ for a decade – 1930-1940 – from well-known authors, most of whom wrote under various pseudonyms.

As long as we’ve been human, we’ve had a passion for all things pornographic, i.e., sexual imagery whether painted via the written word or graphic art.

Those button-down, corset-wearing, uptight men and women living in the Victorian Age loved their porn. See Pleasure Bound:  Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism, by Deborah Lutz and Street Carnage– 12 Neat Pics:  Victorian Porn.

So why bring this up?  Because yesterday my pedicurist asked me if I’d read Fifty Shades of Grey.  I shook my head, saying, “If I want to read a book in that genre I can think of at least fifty writers I’d much prefer to read than E.L. James.”

She shot me a funny look.  She said, “But nobody’s ever written a book like this before.  This is the first time I’ve ever heard of such a thing.”

I think my eyes rolled back.  I must have passed out for a few seconds because when I came to, she was saying, “Cuz you know, he spanks her and he, like, makes her, like, do stuff, and, well, he’s such a screwed up hero you just want to know why he gets off on hitting women and you want her to save him because, you know, she’s virginal and well, who can come up with such creative ideas, you know?”

Sputtering… stuttering… Forgive me, but as my feisty 80 pound gramma Jennie used to say… “Christ on a crutch!”

“It’s not original.  It started off as free Twilight fanfic, the characters based upon Bella and Edward.  About a thousand other authors are writing this stuff, have been writing it, some for years, some very very well.  Gaaa geee gooo guuuu….”  I think I must have entered a kind of fugue state.

“What’s fanfic?”

“Bibbity bobbity boo…”

My pedicurist wasn’t born yesterday, she’s a reasonably intelligent 40 year old woman, but her level of ignorance about the existence of erotica astounded me.  I couldn’t put together a coherent sentence to save my life.  I decided, why bother?

Go on then with your bad self, read your Fifty Shades in blissful ignorance.  If it gets more readers interested in the genre maybe they’ll actually stumble upon some decent writers.


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41 Responses to Fifty Shades of Ignorance.

  1. Sarah Hulcy says:

    Thank you so much! I have been wracking my brain to figure out what the hell is wrong with the housewives of America. Has the “return to the 50s” mentality really wiped the notion of actual erotica (not WHATEVER 50 Shades of Grey is supposed to be) completely from the consciousness of the entire country?! This is out-and-out proof that “Best Sellers” can be bought and paid for by greedy publishing companies (as evidence: “Snooki’s Biography”) with no care for quality of writing or even subject matter. The only bright spot in this disgusting phenomena is that maybe someone will be encouraged to look for something else to read – ANYTHING else to read – that might actually have intelligent content. I’m still trying to figure out how Bella and Edward might be featured in B&D S&M fan fic… ::walks away muttering and shaking head::

  2. Penelope says:

    I got an email from my web designer 2 days ago. She is a non-romance reading computer geek….

    “Oh–I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I think it’s quite possibly the most poorly written book I’ve ever read. I almost didn’t get past the first few chapters but I thought I’d stay with it to see if the sex parts were any good. They weren’t really.”

    She asked me to recommend something that was actually well-written and good. I asked her if she has read any erotica/romance that she liked and she said yes….

    “You posted a link one day to a book by Julia Barrett (Beauty and the Feast) that I liked a lot! Can you recommend more like that?”

    Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And Penny will be lending many other good erotica/romance books from her Kindle this week. To offset the hideous PR nightmare that 50 Shades has created for the romance/erotica genre in 2012. Namely, that this book is now our poster-child, whether we want it or not.

    I vote for NOT.

  3. Amber Skyze says:

    I basically had the same conversation with my mother last week. Except I was saying I’ve been writing this genre for five years. So frustrating. Not that I want her to read my books mind you. I’m just saying…

  4. Stephanie says:

    Manet was rejected for annual Paris Salons for years. Now he’s considered a master.

    I have read much more poorly written books masquerading as erotica, PNR, UF, and even literature. While James book is somewhat naive and repetitive it is not poorly written. First, it is edited — there are no typos, or at least so few I did not notice them and, unusual in today’s world, English grammar is correctly applied.

    It is written in an immediate first person POV — unusual, but consistent. This may be one thing that bugs people. Perhaps I have spent too much time reading trash, but I liked it. I found the characters accessible in much the same way that Edward and Bella are, but they are not E & B. The only thing I find similar between the characters of Christian and Edward is the state of Washington. There is something about the young woman’s sexual naivete that makes her experience of the somewhat, really, normal sex quite sexy.

    I don’t have an issue with it having started as fan fiction and Ms. Meyers doesn’t either. I think of that group as a large group of Beta readers.

    And, yes, a lot of people will be brought to the genre by the book.

  5. Stephanie says:

    J – I feel compelled to continue and appreciate that you started off the post discussing not the validity of 50 Shades but looking at the ignorance that peopple hold in regards to erotica,

    I would also have been astounded by your pedicurist’s lack of knowledge in regards to erotica but I am often amazed by people’s lack of knowledge on any variety of topics (That white flour is made of wheat, about Greek Mythology, that sitting on the bed with a boy,…. you get the idea).

    And, as far as PR goes, book sales are up (e-books anyway) and James’s books are selling like proverbially rapidly selling cliches. This can only lead to increased sales in romance and erotica.

    To each person their own taste in reading.

  6. Amelia James says:

    I cringe every time I hear the name of that book. My hope is the same as yours: it’ll send readers looking for more.

  7. Jaye says:

    I downloaded a sample to see what the noise was about. I found it poorly written and silly, so didn’t go on to buy the book.

    I’ve posted before about unsophisticated readers and bad fiction. The way I see it is, as long as they’re reading instead of watching television, then good. All the buzz and hype is attracting people who may only read one book a year, or less. Some will get hooked on books. That’s good. Some readers never develop the skills to leave the simplicity and force-fed pap that is bad fiction, but many others do and they get a taste for good fiction, then become lifelong readers and that is very good.

    Best seller lists have always been filled with bad fiction. It’s not because people are stupid. It’s because bad fiction makes no demands beyond a basic command of the written word. Bad fiction is a diversion, undemanding entertainment. There will always be a huge market for it. Sort of like McDonald’s hamburgers. They’re crappy hamburgers, and even people who love them know they’re crappy, BUT they’re cheap, fast and always the same, so that makes them reliable and nobody has to worry about being surprised or challenged. Ever notice that when McD’s tries to “upscale” its menu and offer something “good” the public turns up its nose and keeps buying crappy hamburgers? Same thing with bad fiction. The readers who love it love it just the way it is.

  8. I enjoyed 50 Shades and read the whole trilogy. I learned afterwards about the fanfic angle. Honestly, I was surprised. I don’t see anything remotely similar to Twilight, other than a hero that the heroine isn’t so sure is good for her, but they can’t help themselves. I’ve read some of those posts about the “talking points” that read like a numerology text telling me the whole world adds up to the number 33, which was the age Christ was when he was crucified. Yea, on a crutch is right.

    I didn’t want to like the book. I didn’t especially like Twilight. But I became a fan of Mr. Christian Grey. And I like discovering new writers. It’s like finding a new restaurant. I don’t always like EVERYTHING about it. And every restaurant has some similarities (some more than others) to McDonald’s, but there isn’t a conspiracy there.

    I love Julia’s books and her erotic tales, too. Variety. Thank goodness there’s open-mindedness and variety. And if a few readers will find other authors, all the better. I mean, the fact that someone has earned over $1 Million means there’s hope for me making a mortgage payment on one of mine, right?

  9. Katalina Leon says:

    I read a little of Fifty Shades of Gray. It’s not bad, it’s just so familiar. It the same love triangle with a few kinks thrown in. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff.
    The rich-man, poor-man competition over a virginal prize is telling. It says so much about what contemporary women are screaming on the inside.
    I want to be prized.
    I want to be sexually possessed, But I’m not a slut.
    I want to be in control.
    I want ‘him’ to lose control but I want to be in control of his losing control… (see this is where it gets murky)
    I want security.
    I want true love.
    I want options.
    I want to go to 11! : )
    XXOO Kat
    PS I think it’s amazing EL James was able to tap into all that at the perfect moment in time.

  10. Hi Sarah! I find the phenomenon interesting. I think I get it because I did read the entire Twilight series – thought the first book was okay, the second book less than stellar, the end of the story just plain awful. But I got it – right concept, right time, right audience. Piss poor writing and one dimensional characters who were like paper dolls– which allowed a reader to project whatever she wanted to project on them. I actually hated Breaking Dawn so fiercely I wanted to burn the book. That’s bad!
    I’m sorta thinking 50 Shades capitalizes on the same concept. But, IMO, the writing isn’t even as good as Twilight. What does surprise me is the notion that this book is the first of its kind. Blows me away.

  11. Poster Child, Penny. Interesting way to look at it. There are some fantastic writers out there. Yes, for sure some writers of erotica suck eggs, but wow – you’ve reviewed some very intriguing erotica lately.
    As far as a PR nightmare goes… I doubt E.L. James views this as a PR nightmare. She’s laughing all the way to the bank!

  12. Amber – I did think of you, and Kat, and Tessie, and Nina and an entire host of writers who have been creating good stuff for years!

  13. Hi Stephanie – as with Twilight we’ll agree to disagree. I don’t think E.L. James will ever be known for creating a masterpiece. You, and obviously many others have enjoyed the books and that’s what counts. I suspect it is the ‘eye-opening’ factor that’s appealing.
    I am astounded by the fact that my pedicurist had no idea such books existed.

  14. Welcome Amelia – I so hope this sends readers in search of well-written romance and erotic romance.

  15. Jaye, I do agree. Bestseller lists have indeed been filled with poorly written books. I’ve read a bunch of them. Hype does sell books. Selling books sells more books.
    I actually do disagree with one point – some television shows stand head and shoulders above crap fiction. Without a doubt– I’d rather watch Person of Interest, BSG, Serenity, NCIS, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, than read more of Fifty Shades than I read.
    But yes, consumers of McDonald’s cheeseburgers go there for the cheeseburgers, that’s for sure and I’m okay with that.

  16. I’m glad you enjoyed the series, Sharon. We all have our own preferences. I do get the appeal. And my fervent hope is that readers will give other authors a chance.

  17. Hi Kat! I think you nailed it!

  18. Diana Stevan says:

    Funny take on a book that’s become a hit. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read D.H. Lawrence, Erica Jong, and Henry Miller. I read a bit of Twilight to see what the fuss was about, but couldn’t fathom the attraction. Except, I did enjoy the movie (perhaps for the same reason the readers enjoyed the book). Same for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It was about the kinky sex, and all the unmentionable stuff that happens. We seem to be titillated by that which is forbidden. If only the books that come out were better written. But I guess what this all says is it’s about story. If the story is there, readers will put up with a lot.

  19. People think this is the first of its kind but it is not. It is just one that got a whole lot of attention. People need to discover all the other amazing authors out there…

  20. There are certain intangibles, Diana, don’t know what they are, therefore I guess they remain intangible!

  21. Yes, that’s right, Savannah, it is definitely not the first of its kind. And there are some amazing authors out there writing lovely prose – even erotic romance.

  22. Can I just point out that YEARS and YEARS ago – Anne Rice’s Claiming of Sleeping Beauty existed. You covered a good chunk of the earlier stuff so I’ll just add that. No, I haven’t and I won’t read it – I know many indie writers in that genre that do a better job. I hope some day they get the recognition they deserve.

    I can only think the movie is going to be horrible since it has to face MPAA rules.


  23. Ah yes, Anne Rice – thank you, MAJK, for reminding me! When I think of how hard some indie writers work, and I think of the quality of their work, I am just as disappointed as I am when the Snookie biopics are released by NY pubs. Fifty Shades was not born in a vacuum. It did not spring, fully formed, from the head of Zeus like Athena. Many others came before and did it better.
    However I try to remind myself – to each his own.

  24. She can be ignorant in erotica as long as she’s great at pedicures. It could have been worse; she could have been reciting passages and interpreting levels of passion in a dozen books…but cutting the hell out of your toenails. ;=)

  25. I am neither an erotica reader nor writer, and yet I still suffered almost virtually the same degree of horror with my hairdresser on Saturday that you suffered with your pedicurist! Alas, although I know enough to know 50 Shades is a pile of steaming you-know-what, I didn’t know enough to articulate the arguments you put forward here. But as you noted, it’s almost a case of why bother….

  26. She does give really good pedicures, Marilyn and if she didn’t want to talk at all they’d be even better. I have a pedicure philosophy which has yet to come to fruition. I feel if I’m paying good money for a luxury I’d like to not talk….

  27. Hi Ciara! So perhaps the book is making the rounds of salons everywhere!

  28. Evie Balos says:

    The response to this book baffles me. Not so much its market success and even the fact that its held the top spot in the New York Times Bestselling list for quite some time now. The book went viral (I suspect partly by ridiculous luck, and partly by stragetic marketing) and people who’d never picked up anything remotely erotic before bought a copy. Including my sister, who reluctantly admitted the first few chapters “suck.”

    What I don’t get is why so many people are actually intrigued and blown away by this book? Like your pedicurist. I haven’t read it, but I know what the concept is. Hardly unique. Brace yourselves for a possible movie.

  29. Hi Evie. I think the movie is already being cast. Yee-hah. My take? The tie. Amazon is more likely to feature erotica that does not look erotic. And the author is connected. She’s not a nobody.

  30. Delilah Hunt says:

    Oh man. My mouth dropped when I read the part of her saying “But no one’s ever written a book like that before.” I would have had steam coming out of my ears! I have no interest in reading that book and it’s so ignorant of people to assume E.L or whatever her name is, is the first to write an erotic book about spanking and all that other stuff. What about The Story of O? Never read it, but I heard it’s supposed to be pretty hardcore. Waaaay before FSOG. God, now I just wanna slap all those people starting into erotica with Fifty Shades. Sheesh.

  31. Nina Pierce says:

    *shakes head* People in my family who would never read my books because of the steaming sex are buying “50 Shades” because of all the hype. I can only hope we (authors of erotic romance) can ride the wave and bring many of these new readers of erotic romance into the fold … “here sweetie, if you think that’s good, try this one … it’ll definitely set your panties on fire”

  32. Tom Stronach says:

    You see, my formula of sticking to trashy shoot em ups works, no controversy. I notice my eldest has just posted that she had finished reading the aforementioned literary masterpiece, but with no additional comment and I think Ishbel has it to, but she also has something called Beauty and The Feast, no idea what that is all about although it does have a pretty cover ……

    It will be interesting to hear what she makes of both books….

    Me, last real erotica I read was DH Lawrence and that’s when it was still banned in the UK

  33. People ask me all the time if I’m going to read this book because I write erotica. I always answer, “Probably not.” I’m slow to jump on any bandwagon if I jump on one at all. And I have to agree – I know other writers who write this stuff, and I have all of them in my TBR pile. I’m not going to add another book, and 1 that a lot of people have told me, and I quote: “I had to skip over a lot of stuff to get to the good parts.” Now why would I want to waste my time doing that? I’m happy for her success, but please excuse me, but I’ve got more erotica to write now. :)

  34. Julia and Nina – I totally agree with you both.

  35. Thanks Kellie. It is interesting, isn’t it…

  36. Kellie – LOL! Love that line – “please excuse me, but I’ve got more erotic to write now.” Love it! There are so many wonderful writers of erotica. What I’ve read of 50 Shades made it DNF for me. And I’m not a bandwagon jumper unless I’m running from zombies.

  37. It’s a good formula, Tom. Stay true to yourself. Ah… but I can’t wait to hear what Ishbel thinks! Well, so you’re about a hundred and twenty years old then? You and DH?

  38. Oh Nina, I know! It’s like… WTF? Where have you been living? Under a rock? Some great erotica has been written over the past 10 years – and you can read it anonymously on your e-reader!

  39. So Delilah, now you understand why I was rendered speechless. What can you say?

  40. eden baylee says:

    I write literary erotica. I read The Story of O when I was eleven – a book of BDSM that left an indelible mark on my psyche. I grew up with the classics- some of which you mentioned.

    I picked up the first book in this series and sat down with it for half an hour. Unfortunately, I could not get through it. The quality of the writing was sub-standard, and I’m being kind when I say that.

    Like you, it does make me wonder where some women have been all these years. Sex is as old as time, so are virgins, and BDSM is nothing new. Perhaps it’s just all gone mainstream, which is good for writers of the genre.


  41. Eden, you write outstanding literary erotica. I read The Story of O in my teens, along with Sons and Lovers, Women in Love and various short stories… It’s hard for me to read Fifty Shades and see anything but piss-poor writing. However there may be a brand new story in there for some.
    What I think is this– the same people who loved Twilight, who found that series groundbreaking– as if vampires and sexual attraction had never before existed, grew up and are now reading Fifty Shades and they think it’s groundbreaking.
    Maybe it’s good for all of us or maybe we need to simply put ties and cuff links on our covers if we want to be read – not joking. Maybe we should do that. A belt perhaps.