As a leisurely writer who enjoys reading a well-written piece of prose, I find myself becoming annoyed by the more splashy successes of horribly-written books. I often set out with the intention of reading these popular books with an unbiased mind, trying to gauge the merits of such books. But time and time again, I become turned off by reading the first 20 or so pages– and that’s even if I make it that far. The latest literary hit to fail my personal literary litmus test is Fifty Shades of Grey.
Several months ago, one of my coworkers told me that she had started reading this mildly humorous, slightly macabre novel, and mentioned that it was so dirty that she was afraid to be seen out in public with it. She begged me to try it out and a few weeks later, I downloaded it to my iPad. With a series of false starts, I finally set out in earnest to read the damn thing. I was sorely disappointed. Not only was the writing horrible– I mean, junior high school, pass-a-note-in class kind of writing,–but I found the whole concept of the series highly unoriginal and watered down.
I had to consider what I had read prior to 50 Shades that made me feel this way. Nearly a decade ago I was introduced to the likes of The Story of O and the director’s cut of the movie Caligua, which was directed by Penthouse founder Bob Guccione. Though this movie put all sorts of wild ideas into my head, it was The Story of O that truly captured my imagination. The book, within in 1954 by an author using the moniker Pauline Réage, is the story of a photographer who falls into the sensual trance of a sadistic lover on the grounds of a secluded chateau in France. He exposes her to a wild array of sexual deviancy and she, becoming more accepting and aroused, gives in to her lover’s demands. In the end, her lover completely turns her out, and she willingly becomes a sex slave to all of his acquaintances. I had never read such an erotic, romantic, sensual book such as O. It was a game-changer.
A few years later I was living with an artist roommate with an extensive book collection. With her, I got to read all the books that I had put on my “to read” list, but never got around to actually reading. One day, I finally decided to pick up an enormous book that sat all the way at the bottom of the heap. It was by the Marquis de Sade, an author that I had read with brevity in college, while I studied the likes of Emmanuel Kant, and other French philosophers. The book that my roommate had was 120 Days of Sodom and it was an alarming 700+ pages. I didn’t think I could do it. So what kept me turning each and every page?
When I first started the book, I tried to skip around and get a feel for where the book was going. This was a bad move as the book made absolutely no sense when read out of order. So I sat, day by day, diligently reading each and every paragraph. Slowly I became entranced by the words on the page as each story was artfully written to gently bring the reader into the depraved world of the main characters. In short, the book is disgusting, the filthiest piece of literature that I have ever read, and likely has ever been written. But de Sade was so clever in his writing that by the end of each chapter I find myself becoming accustomed of what may lie ahead, and shockingly accepting of what the characters would do. The end of the story is a horrific climax of blood, sex, and sadistic (the word a homage to the man himself) torture. I am almost embarrassed to say that I loved ever bit of it.
This, to me, is good writing. I say all this to say, screw 50 Shades of Grey. Pick up something better. Like The Story of O, 120 Days of Sodom, or my new literary infatuation, Dream of the Red Chamber, an erotic Chinese classic that may trump all of the above.