Tagged: Fifty Shades of Grey

Purity by Jonathan Franzen (Review #2)

Fifty Shades of Franzen

Hey, did you know that Jonathan Franzen can’t write sex? He was even nominated for bad sex award a few years back.

You think I’d be all over this kind of criticism, but no. It’s stupid and lazy. Not just because the quotes are taken out of context and so rendered almost meaningless, but because it assumes that the only reason for a sex scene in a novel is to arouse the reader. Which… no. Sex can be bad. Gross. Awkward. Sometimes sex is a way to say goodbye, or a way to give in, or give up. It’s not always sexy. And novels? They’re just like real life! Sex scenes shouldn’t all be sexy and steamy and politically correct because life isn’t that way.

Anyway, those articles are about The Corrections and Freedom, which featured scatological fantasies and the C-word and such. The sex in Purity is a little different:

She could feel his hands trembling on her hips, feel his own excitement, and this was something – it was a lot. He seemed honestly to want her private thing. It was really this knowledge, more than the negocitos he was expertly transacting with his mouth, that caused her to come with such violent alacrity.

I don’t know how much intersection there is between readers of E.L. James and JFranz, so let me tell you: this is very Fifty Shades-esque. The “private thing” instead using her (C) words. The weirdly clinical, or in this case, business-like tone. The gee-whiz innocence of the heroine and experience of her “expert” partner.

There’s some quasi-BSDM in Purity (the BDSM in Fifty Shades is quasi at best too,) particularly between Pip and Andreas, who most clearly correspond to Ana and Christian, what with the power imbalances and the mind fucks and the innocent young girl/bad boy with a secret thing,  but also between Pip’s mom Anabel and Tom, who share a memorable, not-really-consensual sex scene (see Zink’s review for a spoiler, whenever it’s back up) and have a freaky sex ritual that involves a stuffed bull named Leonard. The bull thing has nothing to do with BDSM but I had to mention it somehow.

This stuffed buffalo does not approve.

This stuffed buffalo does not approve.

And the Fifty Shades of Franzen don’t end with the sex scenes! Both feature a really clunky literary allusion; Purity to Great Expectations and Fifty Shades to Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Has anyone written about Fifty Shades and Tess? Am I going to have to do it? Another day, perhaps…

The point of this mini-review was not to suggest that Purity is on the same level of Fifty Shades, but rather, to show that the way we react to sex in literature (and allusions, too?) has a lot of do with how it’s marketed and who’s writing it. I didn’t make this up to be funny. There truly are parallels between the books, only with one, we snicker and roll our eyes because readers ARE getting off on it, and with the other, we snicker and roll our eyes because they AREN’T.

As for me, demographically speaking, I’m in the target market for both mommy porn and OMG Serious Literature. After reading both Purity and Fifty, I plan to read more Franzen, but won’t continue the adventures of Ana and Christian in Darker, Freed, or cash-grab Grey, mostly because they’re boring as hell. Talk to me when Ana is throwing around the C-word or Christian adds some stuffies to his playroom.

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What Do You Read After Reading Moby-Dick?

I finished Moby-Dick way ahead of schedule. I’m still writing weekly posts for the next little while, but in the meantime, I need something to read. So, what does one read after a long, difficult, literary classic? Here is what happens when a book snob looks for a “fun” read.

My criteria:

  • Short
  • Easy
  • Fun
  • No whales

The candidates:

1. The Worst Book Ever Written Continue reading

REVIEW: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty

I post on a women’s forum that runs very much to the mainstream. The posters tend to be married with children or heading that way. When a poster went “undercover” to post about her secret life as a submissive, it caused a bit of a sensation. She has a “taken in hand” marriage, which means her husband calls ALL the shots. They discuss things, but he has the final say. Period. And that might mean deciding what car to buy, where to live, or it might mean whether they have sex tonight.

It doesn’t much concern me what consenting adults do in their homes. However, the definition of consent in this scenario makes me nervous. The poster said that she gave her husband “blanket consent” for sex, whenever, where ever, and however he wants. But is consent still consent when it’s given in advance? How do you get out of this agreement if you want – isn’t it sort of, too bad, you gave your consent, so now what I say goes? To me, consent is rooted in the present tense. I can consent to sex now, but I can’t give consent for sex that’s going to happen tomorrow. Anyway, Drama Ensued. There were even accusations that this poster couldn’t be for real, but, a quick search of the internets tells me that “taken in hand” is a thing.

As I read The Claiming of Sleeping BeautyI thought about consent quite a bit. Sleeping Beauty was my first erotic novel. I admit to reading the odd, shall we say, flash fiction erotica, but it’s not a genre I ever considered for a literary experience. I chose Sleeping Beauty because it has a reputation as a literary Fifty Shades (I know, I know).

I knew that the story was based on Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, and that it would have a BDSM element, but I was not expecting so much cruelty and so little tenderness. I don’t have a problem with BDSM, and I understand this is fiction; however, when presented with non-consentual, penetrative sex with a minor, or if you wanna get real, a child being raped, on PAGE TWO I was taken aback. Context: “Beauty” is fifteen and unconscious.

He mounted her, parting her legs, giving the white inner flesh of her thighs a soft, deep pinch, and, clasping her right breast in his left hand, he thrust his sex into her. Continue reading

Book Snob

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” Henry David Thoreau

(A bit of humility before I go into why I’m so good at reading and you’re not: I spent half an hour searching for the above quote. I could remember the jist, but not the actual words or the author. Then I noticed that it is literally the first thing I ever posted on this blog.)

This about sums it up. Via Perez Hilton.

I’m a book snob. I’ve been feeling extra snobby lately, and I blame Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s all I hear about on forums, Facebook, and Twitter. But wait – isn’t it a fan fiction of a young adult novel, not to mention very poorly written and edited? Okay, it’s racy, but so are lots of novels, from romance to erotica. That’s nothing new. So, what gives? And why does it bother me?

“Fifty Shades Fever” feels like the culmanation of a bigger trend towards adults reading “young adult” and/or just plain *bad* novels. And I do not mean “so bad it’s good.” I lurk in a few book challenge discussions online (people trying to read 25 or 50 books in one year), and lots of them are reading chick lit after chick lit book. Why bother? What’s the point of a challenge if it’s not challenging?

I realize that these feelings make me a snob of the worse kind. Why do I care what people read?  Who am I to decide what’s worthy of a reader’s time? But… I can’t help myself! As the Thoreau quote suggests, there are SO MANY good books. More than anyone will ever read. I’ve been working at the 1,001 books list for FIVE YEARS and I’ve read 10% of it. And I started at around 5%. I get that people are looking for a fun read or escapism, but it’s unfathomable, and even offensive, that people spend so much time reading terrible books!

The bad book by which all other bad books will be judged.

Of course, like most snobs, I think it’s okay to go slumming as long as it’s done ironically. Some work colleagues are running a fantastic bad book club. I was lucky enough to sit in on a discussion of “Flowers in the Attic”, that classic and horribly overwrought  ode to family dysfunction (and incest.) But, most of us read it for the first time as children, not adults. (Which, upon reflection, is pretty messed up – due to all that incest!)

It will probably surprise no one that I’m also a music snob, and in a former (pre-kids) life a clothes and bag snob. What can I say? I appreciate quality. And I’m judging you. Sorry. But, if you must read bad books, at least William Faulkner’s got your back:

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!”

What do you think? Do you consider yourself a book snob? Why are people freaking out about Fifty Shades and the like?