Antidote for Fifty Shades of Grey

Yesterday, I wrote Gina Barreca to thank her for her commentary on Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a fine column, slamming Fifty Shades as a “…form of residue: It’s what’s left over when you extract the intelligence, wit, energy and originality from a book.” You can read the whole column here. Ms. Barreca has intelligence and wit to spare—plenty of energy and originality, too.

When Fifty Shades became a trilogy, a friend of mine decided she was going to buy all three books — there was so much buzz and so many copies being sold she had to know for herself what all the fuss was about. I went with her to a local bookstore and did a quick scan of FSOG. I honestly couldn’t believe it. The writing was so god-awful that it seemed impossible it had made it to print. (My friend was determined to give it a go, and told me later she was only grateful she hadn’t gone ahead and bought the sequels too.)

Now we have the movie, and I’m sure it will make millions at the box office. I know sex sells, but honestly, I don’t understand how writing that bad can make it this far. The reality that it can, and has, was depressing me. I decided that the antidote lay in revisiting writing I admire. Since the need for an antidote had been triggered by the thought of badly written sex, I turned to Colette, who writes superbly about love and sex in her novel Cheri. If you need a love story, heartbreak, and gorgeous erotica, all are beautifully delivered in Cheri.

Browsing Colette restored my sense of equilibrium, and I set out to write this post. In looking up the link to Gina Barreca’s “nasty residue” column, I found another column by her, titled “Hot Summer Reading: Good Dirty Books VS. Bad Dirty Books,” in which Ms. Barreca recalls discovering, back in the late‘70s, The Delta of Venus and Little Birds, both by Anais Nin. Porn. Real-good-porn. “My best bet is that Anais Nin would have flung 50 Shades of Grey across the floor and said, “Who are you kidding, honey? If you’re going to read filth, read well-written, smart, sexy, and good filth.”

There. That really says it all. If porn is your drug of choice, your escape-of-the-hour, at least turn to someone who knows how to write porn — someone who can write. Ms. Barreca quotes some of Nin’s work and then compares it to E. L. James: “My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheer-leading pom-poms shouting yes at me.” Ouch. That hurts.

When you have the time and want to indulge your senses, read Anais Nin. Read Colette. But if the phenomenon of Fifty Shades is getting you down, and you need a quick antidote, read Gina Barreca. Her smart, funny writing is pretty sexy stuff.

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