Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Internet websites have begun to light up recently as Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has hit the number one spot on the best sellers lists.  US Magazine reports that, in just this month alone, more than 2 million copies of the book have sold; and news is now rife that movie rights have been purchased and actors are practically lining up to play the part of the lead male character, Christian Grey.  All of this hype has really piqued my attention and I immediately put Fifty Shades of Grey on my list of books to read “sooner, rather than later.”

As a result of my complete disappointment in previous books that have received a lot of hype only to leave me disappointed, I have a personal rule:  If a book gets a lot of media attention, I deliberately avoid reading the reviews and even the synopsis on the back jacket.  I want to walk into the experience without any bias.  And so it was that I picked up Fifty Shades of Grey knowing only that it was getting a lot of attention and that it was a romance novel.  I walked into it “blindfolded,” you might say, and – once in – my “hands were tied.”  I had to keep reading.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what it’s all about.  You might be thinking:  Why all the hype?  What’s the story?  Will I like it?  Should I run out and get it right away?  What am I missing?

E. L. James

Writen by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance novel written in first-person about new college grad, Anastasia Steele, and the control-freak billionaire, Christian Grey.  The two meet when the naive and inexperienced Anastasia interviews the older and much more worldly Christian for her college newspaper.  From that first meeting, sparks fly and the two seem incapable of avoiding each other.  Pretty typical romance novel, right?  Ummm…not so fast.  You see, Christian is not just a control freak.  He has rather eccentric and dark sexual habits which compel him to require a non-disclosure agreement to be signed by Anastasia before they can enter into any type of physical relationship at all.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there.  Christian wants Anastasia as his partner and, to that end, he requests that she enter into a contractual relationship with him, giving him complete sexual dominance and her submissive response in all things.  The specifics of the relationship are spelled out in complete detail regarding what is and is not “acceptable,” and what can or cannot be negotiated.  Simply stated, then, Fifty Shades of Grey is Fiction Erotica.  Or, as the New York Times has dubbed it, “Mommy Porn.”

Imagine walking into this book not knowing any of that!  I’m not a prude; I’ve read the Kama Sutra.  No, that’s not entirely true.  But I have flipped through the pages a few times over the years.  I’ve seen The Joy of Sex and flipped through its pages, too.  I’ve read my fair share of romance novels, some of which were pretty “steamy.”  In addition to all of that, I’m 41 years old and I’ve had two children.  So I’m not completely innocent.  With that said, though, I felt myself blushing throughout this entire book.  There were times when – sitting all alone in my house – I kept looking over my shoulder to be sure there wasn’t someone reading over it.  The book is very descriptive and graphic, and leaves almost nothing to the imagination.

I tell my kids that there’s no such thing as a “bad book,” and that every book has at least one redeeming quality; at least one thing that you learn from it and take away to store in your mind’s vault of information.  That is certainly true of Fifty Shades of Grey.   There were more than a few words and phrases I didn’t know and had to look up on Google.  Umm..word of caution:  Be careful which website you pull up in your quest for knowledge.  More than once I found myself flustered and frantically trying to see how quickly I could close the page when unexpected images popped up.  Ack!  I have no idea what I’ll do with all that I learned from this book, but I can assure you that I’ll store it in my mental vault to be pulled out for some obscure purpose some day.

At this point, you might be wondering:  Are people really reading this book?  What kind of people are reading this book?  The answers to those questions are:  (1) Not only are people reading this book, they’re enjoying it and discussing it with their friends, and (2) Lots of people are reading it, including a good number of people right here in in Rochester.  At Rochester Public Library alone, the Library owns three copies and there are (as of this afternoon) 112 people on the waiting list.  According to Lynette Perry at RPL, that’s a statistic equal to the same type of interest as Rochester residents have shown for the new releases of a Harry Potter book.  It’s that popular.

At Barnes and Noble at Apache Mall, Community Relations Manager Janice Jett says “It’s flying off the shelves…We’re selling at least 20 copies a day.”  She goes on to say that earlier this week she sold three copies in just thirty minutes as she manned one of the store’s registers.

“Some people are shy about it and ask for it with a whisper” Jett said.  And, while the majority of the consumers appear to be women, there are some men who have walked in looking for it as well.  Jett went on to say that it’s become so popular that it’s pushed The Hunger Games out of the top spot and they have had to move the copies of Fifty Shades of Grey closer to the front of the store.

So what, then, is all the hype?  Why is this book flying off of books shelves?  Is it really any good, or is it just “Mommy Porn?”

As a reader, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I enjoyed this book.  I immediately fell in love with the main character, Anastasia Steele, and I wanted to see her be successful.  Unlike most romance novels, Anastasia didn’t come off as simpering and weak.  Rather she came off as intelligent, motivated, nurturing and possessing a strong set of principles.  I wish I could say the same of the male lead character, Christian Grey.  It took me much longer to decide whether I liked him and, honestly, the jury is still out on that one.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a bit deeper than your typical fluffy romance novel.  There’s nothing fluffy about the relationship between Anasastia and Christian.  In fact, at times the story is extremely dark.  Christian Grey is a man with many layers and clearly comes with a great deal of emotional damage.  It will take a strong woman like Anastasia to cut through the barriers he’s put up to reach the man inside.

At its core, Fifty Shades of Grey is simply a well-told story.  Yes, it is graphic and, because of its graphic nature,  it may turn off some readers.  It’s simply not for everyone.  It’s not a book for young adults, and I’m not sure it’s one that I’d pass down to my 81 year old mother.  The passages are so descriptive that I’m afraid they might give her a stroke.  But, with that said, it’s an enjoyable read for those who need a bit of escapism and who can take their reading assignments a little less seriously.  And, really, don’t we all sometimes need to take our reading a little less seriously?

For more information about this book, visit the author’s website by following this link.  In the meantime, take a look at the YouTube video of Ellen Degeneres as she attempts to read the book for an audiobook format. It’s sure to give you a giggle.

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