Jan 8 2012 11:00am

Fifty Shades of Grey: H&H’s Reactions

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. JamesThe 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.

E.L. James's Fifty Shades Trilogy: ‹ previous | index | next ›
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2. Brina
I would Oh, so much like to know what SMeyer thinks about the whole think. It's not ethical to make profit from someone else's work. I have a copy of Master of The Universe, the only thing they edited were the NAMES (and a poor job with the lost Romanov and all...) which I think it's extremely insulting to the reader. She should have worked on some original stuff, that would have been ok. Not this joke of a "book".
3. CatW
Had I not read it here, I would have had absolutely no idea these characters had anything to do with Twilight. Obviously the author had a story to tell, and originally used the Twilight universe for a boost. The final product bears no resemblance to Meyer's work. I think a reference to it would have simply been awkward.
Christopher Morgan
4. cmorgan
I was initially tempted to instant buy the sedcond book, if only to see what happened next. Like CatW, I can honestly say I was completly unaware that this was intially a Twilight story. I can see it now with some of the ways they handle Christian's character and the setting, but I think anyone can pick this up and not know the connections.

Of course I have no problem with Fan Fiction, but I see why some people feel strongly about it.
5. ChelseaMueller
My reaction to Fifty Shades of Gray is similar to Synde's. I have this extreme love/hate with it. I devoured it, despite it being way longer than necessary. I was irritated by the writing, but wanted more.

I felt like I was reading a first draft, a book that needed so much work, but I couldn't help but smile at the email exchanges and want to fix up Christian.

It's both addictive and infuriating, which has left me to tell others it's an awful book that I want more of -- and I know just how wrong that sounds.
6. Callysta
I would like to read it, but I refuse to pay that much for a paperback, ridiculous, why??
7. pamelia
Love these books! Read them 3 times in one month (I'm a re-reader, but usually not an instant re-reader). I didn't need to be told they were fan fic to recognize the Twilight -ness of them, but I think fan fic has a great deal to offer. In these books we get a more adult set of characters, a heroine with a TAD more spine and hot hot smex. I really enjoyed the Twilight books for what they are -- not literature and not exactly romance either. In some ways many books are fan fiction at some level. How many authors read a reformed rake regency and think "I could do this a little differently?" or read a paranormal that doesn't quite resonate with them and imagine a different skew on the basic ideas? There are loads of YA books out there now which are platformed on Twilight as it is with love triangles and mysterious magnetic classmates with paranormal secrets ad-nauseum. Skewing Bella and Edward from teen-love with vampire to young-woman love with F'd Up Dom is in some ways more original than those other books out there, but ultimately it doesn't matter. No author is going to have the same voice as another author even if the characters have the same names and live in the same place.
@ Callysta: I bought my Kindle first and foremost to read these books(since the first 6 chapters are on Amazon to read). The e-book price is a lot lower than the paperback and well worth it to me!
8. teeny
I honestly didnt know this had anything to do with twilight. I was getting annoyed with all the pics that were coming up on google of the twilight kids but this explains it. I dont see the problem its nothing like twlight I'd understand the problem if it was but seeing as we have no sparkly vampires and the entire book is based on a possible RL scenario (kinda compared to twilight atleast) the its all good in my book.
9. youcantbuylove
This is what I knew before reading the book.
a) I HATE first person POV books. It is a rare book in deed that pulls me in with this kind of narrator.

b)BDSM? What? No, thank-you! Pain is no good for me, but besides that, and what kind of bothers me more...... I will never, never, never (can I stress the never anymore) call the man I sleep with and "in love" with, Master. I don't understand that relationship at all! I don't understand how there can be love when there is respect (and possibly fear) on just one side. Confusing. Is it love then? Don't get it, nor do I read it. Ever.

c) This book was originally a Fan Fiction based on Twilight (which I was not originally a super big fan of, sorry I know). I saw all these amazing reviews though, so like another reviewer I went to Google Books and started the first chapters to see what all the hype was about. Free, and that way I could in fact affirm my dislike.

However....................Wow! This book! It's crazy!

Is it written well? Eh, it's not Thomas Hardy (which is referenced so much in the book). Is the inner goddess annoying? Yeah, in fact, the references to this goddess are completely useless, and whenever I see the word I skip that section. Is Ana insipid? Pretty much. I think it is a good thing she is innocent, it actually makes her willingness to try a little more believable. She doesn't know what she likes so she is willing to test things out. I also think that it is very, very, very important that the reader gets to see her more tender initiation because it makes Christian more likable.

And like him I did. In fact, he's the reason I put all my reservations aside. Christian. That's it, period. The evolution of this character is fascinating. This is what love is about, putting the other person's happiness above your own, and he tries, boy does he try, and it is amazing to watch the change.

Does it suck that is comes through Ana? Yeah, because she is obviously a little numb. Does it make the obvious confusion, passion, love, tenderness, ruthlessness, agony etc, etc any less provoking? Not at all. In fact, it's so good, that I can understand the whole BDSM thing a little better now, if he's the prize at the end.

How does this make me feel? Soooooooooooooooo, confused, but isn't that what good (and I feel a little silly for saying this) literature supposed to do? Confuse you, change your perspective, look at things differently? Now, I am not signing up for a paddle and chains anytime soon, but I will be reading the second and third book....... and probably thinking way to much about the characters.
10. Kelekia
I read this book while it was still a work in progress on fanfiction. I LOVED IT! I'm so happy that I can now have an actual book in my hand! Thank goodness EL James shared her writing talent!
11. Cindi Mitchelli
I received ARC of book 3 and have read twice already! This series is awesome and deserves the recognition. Cannot get enough!
12. rdsangel127117
When I first started reading the article about Fifty Shades of Gray, I was intrigued. By the time I finished reading it and the posts reflecting that the characters had some kind of semblance to the Twilight series my enthusiasm plummeted straight to the floor.

I'm not particularly interested in YA or characters that are remotely comparable to them in older versions with different names. I'm sick of Twilight in any version. Fanfic I can handle, but for me if it had been more original, I'd be interested.
13. summerlove
I started reading this book a bit later then everyone else. I just finished it this morning, and boy am I confused. I hate how it left me wanting more, more of Christian, more of his 50 shades of fucked up. I truly have never been more induldged in a book than this book.

My question is and i hope someone has an answer, will there be a sequel to 50 shades of gray????? I am despirate for more Christian.
14. Depressed and Confused
I was just wondering if anyone had reason to why I feel so absolutely depressed after reading these novels? I loved the story, though it wasn't actually the greatest writing or plot, but I don't want to re-read it if it is going to make me feel upset after everytime. I am normally fairly good at handling my emotions, but this book just seems to have consumed me.
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