On Fifty Shades of Grey

*Spoiler-Free (Visit Spoiler Ratings and Guidelines for ThinkyRead’s spoiler policy).

Back in 2012 I opened my Amazon account and took a look at the top New York Times best sellers. I wanted something to read and had no good recommendations. I figured I would let all of America tell me what was good.

I had never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey before. I considered its “romance” branding and classy cover as it smiled at me from the number one spot.

“I like chick-flicks,” I thought, “maybe I’ll like a romance novel.”

Mistake. Big Mistake with a capital M.

Though there were a great many things I hated about this book, I mean hated, I’ll start with the one thing I liked:

NO! It’s not that!

The honest-to-God truth about Fifty Shades is, for all its terrible story-telling, for all its horrible cliches, for all its poor uses of the English language, for all its hideous misrepresentations of human behavior, that son-of-a-bitch kept me reading for sixty pages.

I didn’t keep reading because Anastasia was thinking about sex on every other page, but because I wanted to know Mr. Grey’s secret. I was interested in him. He was a mystery. I just knew his secret would be so dark, so juicy, so ripe, that it would make this torturous reading worthwhile! I knew that his secret was going to be what determined whether I would keep turning pages all night or whether I threw the book down and never looked at it again.

I’m ashamed to day that I did keep reading until the story approached Pinch 1, the scene in Grey’s apartment, just after he has Anastasia sign some legal documents. Finally everything would be revealed! I would know what was driving Mr. Grey! I would know why he was so interesting and what he was hiding! I turned that virtual page with vivid curiosity, but then I cried out in dismay, throwing the book against the wall!

… I didn’t actually throw the book because I was reading from my computer. But I wanted to throw it!

Negative Emotional Responses

What was the point of me rehashing the totally embarrassing story of my experience with Fifty Shades of Grey? I wanted to give you an example of a negative reaction.

E.L. James did a good job keeping me hooked through one of the sloppiest books I’ve ever put my hands on. I probably would have finished it if she hadn’t ruined everything with a terrible, horrible “plot twist.” But maybe this is just me. Maybe I’m just not into the Porn –I mean “romance”– genre.

As a rule, a reader should experince some kind of emotional response to fiction. Whether it be excitement, curiosity, happiness, depression, it’s that emotional connection that keeps us reading. But it’s the kind of reactions that lead to one-star reviews on Amazon that can make or break an author’s career.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to have wandered into a book with mere dull characters and a sloppy plot. Sometimes we simply don’t connect with the genre well. But sometimes the universe hates us and has cursed us with such a terrible story that all we want to do is poke our eyeballs out with a fork until we remember that we didn’t actually see anything. So instead we are forced to sit in the shower, hugging ourselves, for several hours.

That is not usually the reaction an author is going for. It’s a really bad reaction to have. Reactions like that can put an author out of business forever.

Then Why did Fifty Shades Sell so Well?


Everyone has those “fantasies” they’re not proud of. I guarantee you every single person, especially those poor teens going through puberty, have had some strange thoughts that they’re too embarrassed to share. And the worst part is, no matter what we tell people, our brain likes having those thoughts and will probably have them again sometime.

Fifty Shades of Grey, a conveniently disguised porno, uses this fact of life to its advantage. In the beginning, before the general public had caught wind of the Fifty Shades Fad, one could take this forbidden fruit anywhere she wanted. She could read the book on the train and no one would know what lay behind that sleek cover.

When reading a story expressly for such an explicit emotional thrill ride, grammar doesn’t really matter. Story doesn’t really matter. The description is what matters. And E.L. James was not lacking in description.

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