The Reader Who Started It All: Jessica Turner
Every once and a while a book or author sneaks on the scene and causes all kinds of havoc. Recently, E. L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy (only the first two have been published so far) inched its way up Amazon’s top erotic ebooks, demanding notice. I noticed. I downloaded. I devoured. Even with a word count double the going rate, zero to any story editing, and somewhat generic plots, I read the first two books in record time. Then I wouldn’t stop talking about them. I even re-read them a mere two weeks after finishing them (first time I’ve ever done that).
(Read more about Jessica’s thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey in her post “When Life Gets Heavy, Read Hot!”)
As a seasoned erotica reader, I reflect back and realize that even though there’s a ton of sex—and adventurous sex at that—none of the scenes are lengthy or very expressive, which would normally equate to little attachment for me. But I was/am so attached to the main character, Christian Grey, and his 50 shades of fucked-upery. He is the definition of a broken character. And my instincts scream at me to grab him up and make everything better. I feel so strongly towards him. But why, really? After a few weeks of separation, I’ve thought back to him and realize his character isn’t someone I’d want in my life (ordering me around) at all. (Because real life has to factor in my reading somewhere, right?)
So, in hopes of getting a better understanding of where these uncharacteristically strong emotions towards these books are coming from—and if I’m alone in my complete obsession—I asked some of my literary friends to chime in with their thoughts about the series.
The Romance Reader Newbie: Synde Korman
As the Romance Reader newbie ( I hate that ...just sayin’) I read this book in record time, about 9 hours. You must be thinking, “wow, she loved it, ” but that is hardly the case.
Fifty Shades of Grey left me feeling angry and confused—not to mention I found both the protagonists extraordinarily infuriating. I could hardly contain my distaste for both of them. The male lead Christian is an arrogant prick and Anastasia is a whiny stupid female who can’t make up her mind and then cries about it every five seconds. Yet, the story is compelling on some level.
Christian (better known as Fifty) is so damaged you can’t help but feel sad and sorry for his poor screwed-up self. Fifty Shades of Grey is in desperate need of an editor and some tightening up in the plot development. It also lacks depth of description, especially during the sex scenes.
I loved the email dialogue between the characters, it was the highlight of the book for me. It’s where the real honesty of the story lies. Both characters are unable to reveal their true emotions when together, but are able to in emails, which comes off refreshing and humorous.
In spite of all that, do I want to know what happens in the sequel? Yeah, I do. Would I recommend this for others? Maybe, but with this caveat: This book is categorized as erotica by publisher, but it is not descriptive enough for erotica. If you are considering reading erotica, this is a good proving ground. If you like it, then you may be ready to move on to a more intense read.
The Well-Read Reader: Pamela Webb-Elliot
I did not read the blurb for Fifty Shades of Grey before starting it, and I did not even know it was erotica until beginning it! Immediately I was reminded of one of my favorite films, Secretary. Not that the book or the film are alike, but the play between the “control freak” and the unsuspecting naïve heroine really grabbed me in a similar fashion. The encounters between Anastasia and Christian are so tense and sexually charged from the get-go, and in that, it is beautifully written. But for me, Fifty Shades of Grey is so much more than the erotic prose, it made me feel deeply, and THAT is what made this book so appealing to me.
My favorite parts ended up being not the sexual play, but the emails between the two throughout the book. The emails allowed the hero and heroine a comfortable medium to communicate and flirt in. It becomes very clear that Christian is so very damaged emotionally and I will just say it right now, that rings my bell. The minute Christian tells Anastasia he is “fifty shades of fucked up,” I was sold. I was hanging onto my seat through the entire ride, waiting to see how they could possibly compromise with what Christian needs with what Anastasia wants. The ending is nothing short of gut-wrenching, and even though I knew I would not get the HEA I was pulling for, it was really the only way things could play out. It was honest. As much as I want that HEA, I also want all the dark and real emotions that come with it, and if it tears me up inside and leaves me feeling gutted, even better. Now excuse me while I run and hide with Fifty Shades Darker! :)
The Man Who Hasn’t Read Erotica: Christopher Morgan
You know when you’re little and you’ve just started swimming? You’ve got the basics down, and you’re feeling really good about yourself, so you climb the high dive thinking, “I can do this, swimming ain’t nothing.” Then you find yourself looking down from 10 feet up, realizing you were terribly wrong? Yeah, that’s me and Fifty Shades of Grey.
I will say that I love that the author took this whole exploration of sexuality thing and set it to the back drop of a major life milestone. I enjoyed how Ana’s friends and family all commented on how she was changing and things were different. Ana’s confusion about where her relationship is going is a great way to deal with the whole “graduated, what now?” feeling college leaves you with.
I was a little skeeved out with Christian saying that there was a mysterious quality about Ana that just drew him in, and it just so happens that she is also a virgin. I know what you’re saying, it’s all coincidence, but I can’t help but make the connection.
(And for the record, period sex is never sexy. Ever. At least from this guy’s perspective. Also, “Twitchy Palm Angry” is now one of my favorite expressions.)
The Author: Jenn Bennett
All I knew when I began reading the Fifty books is that they had gained a cult-like status in online erotic romance circles. Cracktastic! Must read! Misadventures in spanking and riding crops! The couple is compelling and the books are addictive. Like, stay-up-late, can’t-stop-reading addictive. Why?
Maybe because the reader is experiencing déjà vu.
The Fifty trilogy was originally written as Twilight fan fiction—something called “Master of the Universe,” which reimagined Edward as a Dom instead of a vampire and Bella as a college student. The names were changed for publication to sidestep copyright laws, but you’ll still find Edward’s auburn hair and orphan backstory, along with Bella’s trademark clumsiness and divorced mom living in Florida.
I don’t read fan fiction, nor do I have an opinion of the practice as it stands. However, publishing fanfic for profit without acknowledging the original source material shifts the subject into, excuse the pun, gray waters, ethically speaking. As a traditionally published author, I’m plagued with tough questions: Does changing character names for publication instantly transform fanfic into original art? Does it violate fair use? Should the story be judged on its own merit?
But perhaps the average reader will only care whether José (Jacob) imprints on Ana’s (Bella’s) baby in Fifty’s conclusion.
The Author Who’s Read A Lot of Hot Romance, But No BDSM: Kwana Minatee-Jackson
I first heard about this book from a friend of mine asking if I read that book that’s out now and really “hot.’” Of course I looked at her and said, “Hot book? You’ll have to give me a better description than that. How about throwing darts at my bookshelf?”
Now having read plenty of “hot” books in my day, Fifty Shades was my first book dealing with BDSM, and I can’t say that that added to the level of hotness. It was just another story element that gave the characters more conflict. And for me the BDSM wasn’t a selling point that would have me coming back for more. I found myself thinking all sorts of practical thoughts like, “what about pain in the knees from kneeling so long? And what do you do if all shackled and you get an itch on your nose?” Yeah, I may think too much for a bondage story.
What did keep me engaged with this story was the struggle between two very different characters. The hero Christian was sexy and strong, but at times so vulnerable, obviously dealing with long past emotional issues and bringing them into all his new relationship. Ana, the heroine, instantly in awe of this gorgeous, rich, and powerful man (the first to rock her world) I suspect had her own daddy issues that made her the perfect target for Christian. I found myself coming back to the story not so much for the sex, but to see how these two would find healing and a way to make their relationship work. Unfortunately, I should have done more research because, darn, it ends in a cliffhanger. So if I want to see if Ana and Christian make it and can play nice in the real word (and yes, I do), it will be more Fifty for me.
The Author Who Edits (this site): Megan Frampton
I picked this book up because of The Spinecracker’s post—angst and sex? Hell, yeah! And I devoured it like I haven’t devoured anything since I first read Twilight back in the day—not a coincidence, as I discovered later. I don’t think the writing is beyond averagely good, but man, is that story compelling! I read the whole thing in half a day, and immediately got Fifty Shades Darker as soon as I read the cliffhanger, and I never do that.
As I read, I had it in my head that it was erotica, but after finishing it, I have to say I was swayed towards that tag by the marketing and my initial intro to it. Yes, there are sexy parts to it, but as many of the folks above have said, the essence of why it’s such a hot read is its characters.
Also like many of the other folks here, my favorite parts are the emails between characters. I like seeing Ana tweak Christian, I like seeing him tweak her back, and I love just how obsessed these two are (even though in real life I’d be telling them to get a room—or a playroom). I am eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed.