Friday, February 20, 2015

Fifty Shades of Shut Up

Because TG’s rant is going on too long, he will be splitting this one up over the next week or so. Stay tuned.

Here’s the lesson for the day, brethren: Honey Badger Don’t Give a Shit. For those of you who don’t understand this reference, TG will explain it later.

The Fifty Shades movie is out and every film reviewer is in total agreement: the book sucked. Wait a minute, what about the movie? No, it’s the first thing they gleefully point out, and usually the last. The movie review seems almost secondary because all the critics, pundits, and essayists who are teeing off over the Shades phenomena have to first establish their own bona fides, both professional and personal, by pointing out that the book is abysmally written porn trash and not the sort of thing they would ever read unless forced to. These protestations are so snide, so superior, so smug and so afraid. They scream, I’m smart! I’m sophisticated, sex writing doesn’t turn me on, I’m way too cool for that! Then they go on to trash the movie, though most of the ones I have read say one of its biggest faults is that it isn’t sexy enough. (!)

This blog is not meant to be an apologia for Fifty Shades of Grey. Any one who read TG’s thoughts on the book knows that TG felt the book was perfectly fine, the writing got the job done, the sex was pretty mild, and there was no real reason for anyone to vilify the book beyond the reviewer’s own discomfort with erotica.

Of all the reviews TG read, only one admitted any favorable reaction to the book (it made her feel “tingly”) and that reaction was against her will as she, too, thought the writing was terrible. The pejoratives are uniform in their invective – horrible, primitive, ridiculous, stupid, pornography, trash and on and on. Sophisticated intellectual readers greet these pronouncements with a smug nod of the head. But TG, who is a professional (don’t try this at home, kids) reads all kind of books, most of them thrillers that would be considered military adventure pornography by these very same people, and he knows from vast experience in the book business, that the real emotion that comes through loud and clear, to those who know the writing biz, is…


Oh, how writers envy the success of other writers. They are a lonely, bitter lot. Economic success, critical success, any success that is not their own brings the bitter taste of jealousy to their lips. They smile a thin smile of false friendship and imagine driving a dagger deep into the bowels of the beaming successful writer. You’ll never hear anyone but TG say these things, because writers pretend to be one big happy family of kindred souls, but remember, TG is the only one who will never lie to you about writing and the writer’s life. When someone like E. L. James comes along and cranks out three volumes of Fifty Shades and sells a hundred million copies most writers die inside and wail to themselves, “The writing is terrible! I could have done this! I am so much better than she is! Why didn’t I do this! Why wasn’t it me! Why? Why?" They did the same thing to Stephen King and Dan Brown and every other author who has had great success. It’s a wonder they haven’t taken their knives to poor Harper Lee.

So then someone assigns them the book to review or they take the book up on their precious blogs and sniff about how terrible it is, shocking in its writerly badness, beneath them and every other intelligent reader.

What irks TG (some of you will point out that everything irks TG) is the lack of fairness and the misconceptions that high culture critics (and almost all critics think of themselves as arbiters of high culture) make when it comes to the reading habits of their inferiors, and nearly all of us are their inferiors. Bad writing, bad novels, genre writing, independent publishing are all present day rocks that their tidy, self-centered ships founder upon. So tell us TG, just exactly what is a bad book?

There have been lots of book bloggers who have wrestled with this conundrum: what is a good book and what is a bad book. The success of James and other independent writers who publish their work themselves on Amazon and elsewhere beg this very question. So reviewers and bloggers ask it, then make an attempt at an answer. But no matter how close they come to explaining what makes good and bad writing (and there are some very good answers to this question) they are missing a valuable point. The mistake they are making in answering is the question itself: They see it simply from their own viewpoint -- what is good or bad writing to them and to other professionals, and to sophisticated, intelligent, educated readers like themselves. It’s a perfectly good question to ask, but in the context of a vastly successful popular novel it's the wrong one. Here’s the real question.

What is a good book, and what is a bad book to people who actually buy books to read for enjoyment. Not for review. Not to criticize. But to enjoy. Here’s the answer: Listen up all you smarty-pants book professionals out there.

To general readers, the people who are the economic backbone of the publishing industry, a good book is one they like, and a bad book is one they don’t like.

It’s that simple.

TG has said this before many times: 90% of the time it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference how good the writing is. If you’re a reader who wants stories about dinosaurs having sex with teenage girls, you’d read those stories if they were carved out of bars of soap. And enjoy them.

100 million readers, most of them women, wanted to read a book about a woman having sex with a fabulous-looking man who was rich, suave, and wealthy, who brought along a little something extra to the bedroom, a little bondage and discipline, which made the sex even better. Forbidden. Hot. And TG would bet that the number, 100 million, is actually much larger, maybe two hundred million, because this is the kind of book that gets passed around from hand to hand, woman to woman. Not everyone has the guts to go to a bookstore and buy a book that has been proclaimed, trashy, pornographic, and that sin of all sins, badly written. Thank God these buyers could go to Amazon and have their copy shipped to them in a plain brown wrapper or delivered to their ereader.

Once again…

100. Million. Readers.

That’s the Honey Badger folks. 100 million readers. Check back in a few days and see why he just doesn’t give a shit.