Wednesday, May 1, 2013

PREVIEW: 50 Shades of the Complainist

The Complainist will be summarizing 50 Shades of Grey chapter-by-chapter between now and however long this process requires. The rest of the world, I believe, has already moved on from this book but that isn't going to stop me from using its popularity. The Complainist stalled out when its editor's unemployment came to a merciful end, but 50 Shades is utterly complaint-worthy, and hence seems an excellent way to get this site re-started.

The Complainist was intended as an audio journal (Fine; a podcast.) of original fiction, and you will see mp3 posts soon, assuming there's some time left for them between reading EL James and being miserable. But, I hope you'll enjoy all the ink that's about to be spilt as I grind through this thing.

I've read not just one, but two separate, and great, 50 Shades blogs already, so I feel as though I know all the plot points already. I College at Thirty first, for reasons I don't remember or understand, and then followed up by reading Jenny Trout's coverage, mainly because College at Thirty wasn't updating as quickly as I would've liked. Both blogs are excellent and worth investigating. Mine will be a bit different, if only because both of these other reviewers enjoy reading romance fiction, and I'll lack any real familiarity with romance conventions and so on.

I think my fascination with this book comes from the intersection of my own writerly aspirations with my background selling books. 50 Shades is just impossibly successful. Most writers toil away in obscurity, and even "famous" writers are, if considered in the context of our entire entertainment culture, less famous than, say, some actor who had a featured role for one episode on a popular show. I love seeing portrayals of "famous writers" in tv and film, because fictional famous writers are invariably portrayed as legitimate famous people, with adoring fans, even though in real life, people basically don't read books at all.

But somehow, everybody read EL James, and this fact is frustrating and embarrassing. These books are just absolute garbage. Complaining that they're just Twilight fan fiction is valid, but insulting to Twilight fan fiction, which I'm going to assume is often better than these terrible, terrible books. 50 Shades does like, a dozen things in the opening scene that students in first-year writing classes are told to never do ever, and yet EL James basically outsold the rest of all authors writing in English combined in 2011-2012.

So what's the secret? How did these books take off?

I don't goddamn know! Is the thing. No one does! This is the sort of thing that ought not happen, that we all would've said couldn't happen, except for that it did. I do hope it's unrepeatable.

I do hope that we eventually see this phenomenon as a sort of pre-historical event. As in, maybe eventually, the world of entertainment will figure out that women do, in fact, think about sex now and again, and may, in fact, be interested in entertainment with sexual themes that is marketed with them in mind. And at that point, 50 Shades will be some weird historical curiosity. An asterisk. A sort of, "Hey, did you know that at one point, a woman wrote a terrible trilogy of garbage books that disguised an abusive relationship as a love story? And that tons of women were so sick of always being portrayed as sex objects and never as sex subjects that they overlooked these books' crazy misogyny and embarrassing writing and read them anyway? Weird, huh?"

Because it is pretty weird. The fact that these books were ever published is weird. The fact that they ever escaped from fan fiction message boards is completely baffling. And the fact that they dominated bestseller lists for so long is enough to make a person abandon fiction entirely, because who the hell can tell what's going on anymore?

But aren't you just jealous that no one wants to read your Game of Thrones fan fiction? Isn't that what this is about?

Partially, sure. Obvs.

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