Jul 25, 2014

Blogger Anonymous: Fifty Shades of Book Shaming

Welcome to the third edition of Blogger Anonymous. Not quite so anonymous, but definitely a place where people (mainly me, but feel free to join in), post about issues and drama that is currently plaguing me pertaining to blogging and books and reading.

So let's talk about a subject currently burning my biscuits: Fifty Shades of Book Shaming.

I've been an avid reader all of my life, ever since I figured out how to sound words out and have them make sense. I've always been that girl with her nose stuck in a book. The girl who was just as likely to sit at the lunch table reading as she was to chat with her besties.

Around high school, I felt this ... shift in my reading. I remember reading a Sweet Valley High novel (one that I had actually re-read several times) before class started and a classmate sat down next to me and posed the, "What are you reading?" question. I flipped the book around so she could see the cover and was met with a small smile and a nose wrinkle.

A freaking nose wrinkle. Like I was an adorable little sister who just didn't get it. She leaned over and proceeded to pull out a Stephen King novel that was easily five times the size of my SVH one and leaned back in her chair and started reading, making sure to angle the cover towards me.

Hint, hint, Hannah. Time to grow up.

That was my first taste at someone judging my reading. So I did what any normal teenage bookaholic would do - I went to the library and checked out some Agatha Christie, Stephen King, and (because I had enjoyed the mini-series) Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. 

I made it about halfway through Agatha. Stephen and I got pretty close over bonding with a psycho clown, but even that was ... weird. As for Larry and Lonesome Dove, well it wasn't the same as what I had seen on TV and I knew it wasn't the book for me when one of the prostitutes described a guy's business as a shriveled carrot with the roots attached.

But I felt confident whipping that book out of my JanSport backpack before class. Even if instead of devouring a book a day I was lucky to sludge through a chapter. It didn't matter because now I was reading like an adult.

Albeit an unhappy one who developed an aversion to carrots (seriously, I don't eat them anymore). 

This went on for a few years where I secretly read my Francine Pascal fluffy goodness in secret while keeping a dusty stack of "age appropriate" material on my nightstand. Towards the end of high school and college I found a new genre to sink into.

Christian Fiction.

Being raised in a very Christian family (and being Christian myself) this was the perfect medium. I loved finding essentially clean, adult books. I wasn't all that into the sexy scenes back then - give me some kissing and emotionally vulnerable moments and I was golden. I still maintain that these are some of my favorite authors: Tracie Peterson, Dee Henderson, Deanne Gist, Terri Blackstock, Lori Wick ... These women can write romance like you wouldn't believe. And I bought these books by the series, eagerly reading everything I could.

Until one day, I was sitting in the break room at work reading and a coworker walks in and asks the question: "Whatcha reading?"

I show her the cover. Cue another nose wrinkled, but this time with a question: "What's that about?"

I hand over the book so she can read the back cover because I suck at summarizing plots out loud when put on the spot. I seriously kinda fangirl and flail and screech, "It's good! There's kissing! And I love it! And you should READ IT!"

But after a second she hands it back and does the sucking-air-through-teeth thing with a wince. "I didn't know you were so ... religious." She set the book down and high tailed it out of the room.

I froze for a few seconds, trying to figure out a reply, but she left. I mean, yes, I am religious, but I wasn't going to start a prayer circle around her by myself. Or start preaching. But suddenly, my "safe" books didn't feel safe. They came with judgement. Again.

I went through these cycles for years. Yes, I found my way back to YA but it was sudden;y more acceptable because Stephenie Meyer made it so. She (along with a lot of other authors) made Young Adult something that was accessible and ground-breaking and compelling. The tiny little mass-market paperbacks of 200 pages were replaced by gargantuan novels that were 300-400 pages of hardbacked brilliance. 

But even still, I carry around a book and sometimes, I still get the, "What are you reading?" accompanied by the wince and pity look. Because clearly an adult reading young adult fiction is means I am somehow lacking something in my life that makes me stuck in the teenage past. Or I'm an idiot.

No. That's not it.


Now it seems people are switching their focus from adults reading YA to the Fifty Shades craze currently taking over the world. I am reading tweets, facebook posts, and articles criticizing people who read this series, fanfiction, the unrealistic way it portrays relationships, the BDSM aspect that is borderline abuse ... Can we all just stop for a second?

No matter what your stance on Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James, fan fiction, here are a few things to consider:

1. Fifty Shades of Grey may not be your kind of book but it is someone's kind of book. So if you don't like people judging what you read, you have no place to judge what they read. Critique/review the work, fine. But not the reader. Reading is just starting to be cool again, let's not send people scurrying back under the covers with their books.

2. Ana and Christian do have an unrealistic relationship. She's a shy, wallflower virgin and he's a 27 year old tycoon. And they fall in love. And do ... things. So, what exactly is the problem with this? That a 27 year old can be that successful? That a gorgeous guy would go for a quiet wallflower? It's called fiction for a reason. I don't read fiction for the realism. It's OK to write about dragons and faeries and a twelve year old wizard, but we draw the line at two adults falling in love and being kinky? 

3. If BDSM isn't your thing in fiction or real life, cool. Don't read it. Don't go to playgrounds or engage in these activities. Personally? It's not my thing. I don't mind it in fiction (again, fiction), but in my day-to-day life, I know it could never be for me. But that doesn't mean it can't be for other people. I have friends who engage in this lifestyle and neither of them is abused or mistreated or are serial killers - it is consensual and safe and sane. And they are adults in a committed relationship. 

4. A lot of people criticize that this was once fan fiction. "Bella and Edward porn" is the term most often thrown around. Yes. This once was fan fiction. But so what? I've been part of the fan fiction community for years, decades even. I have several websites where my work is up and I've won awards for my writing from various fandoms and even won a few contests. The process is different for every person, but taking a character from someone else's creation (be it a book, TV show, movie, etc.) and creating a new story, world, interactions for them is work. It is a lot of work and fandoms are a lot less forgiving than bloggers and the general public. It is a whole new level of rabid addiction you cannot imagine if you've never been involved. 

So, just to lay a few things out there:

1. I read all forms of fiction - young adult, Christian fiction, adult (romance and erotica).
2. I've written fan fiction for years.
3. I don't hate Fifty Shades of Grey. It's not my favorite book or one I would re-read, but it isn't the Devil's Handbook either.
4. I probably will see the movie because ... why not? *shrug*

Any questions? Comments? Or are most of you like:


  1. I really like this post a lot. I definitely feel judged about the books I read (YA as an adult), but I consciously make myself hold my head high and tell people to shove it. They don't even know!

    I do find myself having to stop myself from sticking my nose up about 50 Shades. I try not to, I don't want to be judgy about it, and I've never read it, so I really have no right. I just have HEARD that it's very guy-controlling-girl, and even if it's play acting, I just think it's harmful (personally). I can't understand why anyone would want to dominate or control someone else, even if it's play. Things like that just tend to really, really bother me. Probably because I've encountered way too much of it, and way too many women who don't realize it's happening to them, and men who don't see anything wrong with how they're treating women. BUT here I am getting all preachy. SO ANYWAY, I don't think I'm so much judging as I am concerned about the effect reading stuff like this will have on people...

    Maybe I'm crazy. Most likely. :P

    1. You know, I never really considered BDSM or the fact that is was a community prior to 50 Shades. But the books did get me intrigued and I did what I do anytime something piques my curiosity - I investigate the beegezus out of it.

      BDSM is very much a thing where it seems like a guy (or, girl in the case of a Domme/Dominatrix) has all the power to the outside world, but it's actually the submissive person who holds all the power. They set the limits, they can call a stop to it when they want, etc. It's find of a fascinating subculture and not at all the big bad, abusive type of thing I had in my mind.

      Some people on use D/s in the bedroom. Others make it a 24/7 thing. Personally *I* could never do it, but I also don't understand how people eat cooked spinach and jelly beans. We all have our quirks and this is just another one.

    2. Yeah, I know that, and I get that it's supposed to be like that. (Assuming the person actually respects those boundaries). But even though the submissive has the power, the dom is still pretending to control/hurt. Also, and again I haven't read it, it was more his behavior/attitude toward her in general than the actual bdsm that concerned me. I thought he was a controlling person, just in life. No?

  2. As a writer of YA, Fan Fiction, and Smut/Romance, I applaud this thread. If everyone liked the same things, and made the same things, how boring life would be! I don't particularly like kebabs, but I don't sneer at the people eating them, and force a plate of sushi under their noses instead.

    People will like what they like, and dislike what they dislike, and that's okay.

    I've read excerpts of fifty shades, and I decided it wasn't for me. But people will read my books and think exactly the same. I can't please everyone, and I shouldn't have to. No one should.

    If even one person likes a book, then that's the most wonderful feeling. Writers write for the sake of the people who like their writing, and so that they can share their story. We don't need billions of people around the world to enjoy it, just so long as certain people do find some solace, comfort, romance, and joy in something we've poured so much work into.

    Because, at the end of the day, what you're reading was a lot of hard work, and it's no easy thing to create a plot, characters, and an entire world in your head. It's even more difficult to span a story across tens of thousands of words in a coherent manner. And yet, they still have.

    That kind of success alone deserves applause.

    Kudos to you, writers, for hitting submit and throwing your precious work into the public forum.

    And kudos to the readers who loved it, because if not for them, the literary world would shrivel and die.

    There can be no story, if there is no one to hear it.

  3. +JMJ+

    It was after I finally fell in love with the Twilight series this year (after being "judgy" about it since the first movie came out) that I resolved never again to make people feel inferior for their choice of recreational reading. Not for the reason that people are entitled to choose their own entertainment (though I don't dispute that), but for the reason that there is often demonstrable good in a lot of "low-brow" reading.

    Still, now that I'm finally getting to all the "Twilight rip-offs" (a term I use with affection!) that I bypassed five years ago, I find myself feeling more self-conscious than usual. Although I probably now have the best answer to the question "Why are you reading that?" that I've had in all my years of reading, it takes so long to explain that I'd get weird looks anyway if I tried.

  4. I haven't seen any of this bashing going on, but this is the 2nd time I have read about it happening. I haven't seen it because I don't like 50, didn't watch the trailer and won't watch the movie. I have read all the books.

    I'd never bash any person from reading anything, but I do have definite opinions on 50, and I do share those opinions with those who care to hear them. I only read the books because a close friend wanted to read them and I wanted to talk to her about them.

    My problem with 50 is that it tries to have the BDSM aspects and every single one of them in inaccurate. It pains me that people are reading/watching this and getting very wrong ideas about BDSM. For some people, all it is is an enjoyable book and that's where it ends. For others, they may seek out BDSM and fall into dangerous situations if they believe that someone like Grey is a good "dom", because he's the furthest thing from.

    That's what worries me about it. Hopefully, the people it really intrigues will read and learn more, but I fear for those who won't. I applaud you for knowing more about BDSM (in your response to the 1st comment you mention how the sub has all the power. YAY! Most people don't know that!). Hopefully most people will learn more, and not be left with misconceived notions of BDSM being about abuse, because that is NOT what it is at all.

  5. I've kind of figured that there's never really a certain type of reading that will be approved by everybody. I read YA and some people think that's too juvenile. Then I'll read some kind of nonfiction book and people will tell me it's boring. Either way, you can't read for other people. It won't make you very happy.

    I don't really know much about 50 because I'm not a fan of that sort of thing, but in general, I try to live life focused more on me and what I like than on shitting on other people for liking something different.

    Great post!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

  6. Oh I am so over this judgy attitude from people about books I'm reading. As an adult reading YA fiction or paranormal or even smut - people will find something and I don't care anymore.
    Alrighty about 50 shades.
    I don#t have a problem with it being fan fiction! Actually, I am excited about fanfic authors who get published! What I don't like is that she didn't put much effort in changing it from her original fanfic. This is what bothers me and of course, people who haven't read the original fic wouldn't care or see it.
    Also, it was way too close to Twilight! Settings and people. Like the Isle Esmeralda? I mean seriously?
    sp YES for fanfic's to get published! But, make the fanfic into a story on it's own.

    Second: BDSM - It's not my thing in RL - but yes I like reading about it:)

    I would never judge people for what they read or like, never. And I just don't care if anyone judges people.

    People just need to relax a little and realize that there are different tastes out there! :-))

    Oh and I am also totally going to see that movie:))

  7. Me too! I started reading "grown up" books and didn't start reading YA again until about 5 years ago!! I think, in part, YA is so much greater and more experimental now, so it appeals to me in new ways! My new manager thinks it's so weird that grown-ups read YA and that we all flail about it. But it's so good! I ignore it when people judge, lol!

    I personally haven't read 50 Shades. I also haven't read Cassandra Clare. I'm not a fan of fanfiction being published and authors paid for the world of of someone else, but that's a thing I won't get into and has nothing to do with this post. I agree, people should read what they enjoy and never be shamed!!! :)

  8. Hannah, I completely agree with you! First off, I have never read any erotica and though I'm pretty sure that it's not something that I would personally be interested in, I have no problem with other people reading/loving it. Every reader had his or her own reading preference and it's is really just rude for someone to judge another based on what they find entertaining. I mean, that is what fiction books are meant to be right? Entertainment! I am a 27 year old reader of mainly YA. I also have been blogging about them for almost 2 years now. BTW: I'm pretty sure we met at BEA '13 and walked around together for a bit. Not sure if you remember me or not(my Mom got into a huff while waiting in line for a copy of Altered by Gennifer Albin lol) Anyways, anytime I tell people that I review young adult books, I get "Why? Your NOT a young adult!" I then have to try to explain why I love YA and that it is a point of view more than a reading level. Even though I have branched out this past year and started reading a LOVING some adult fiction as well, I still hate that I get those funny looks when defending my first love(YA)! I don't get why people care what anyone else reads! I also don't get why many people make assumptions about a reader's moral code, intelligence, and/or maturity level based on the type of books someone enjoys. Yes, your little rant has got me ranting...which means it was a great discussion topic. Thanks for writing about this issue, it really got me thinking about how often I get those same "nose wrinkles" from people and just how much it annoys me too! : )

  9. Love it, doll! To me, 50 Shades was horrible as was Twilight and anything Jodi Picoult. But people love them and THAT'S OKAY!! Hell, I'm happy they're reading (even if that's the ONLY thing they're reading which drives me nuts and I keep trying to share different books with them and they say no and I can't help but heave a great sigh...*sigh*). Boo to book shamers. Read what you like. Don't give a shizz. Just...READ.

  10. People say the same thing of me reading a lot of YA (I guess it will get worse the older I get!), but who cares! I love it and I have the same right as everyone else to spend my money doing something that I enjoy. Now, it gives me a common language and interest with one of my boys (you know who.)

    I haven't read 50 Shades, so I cannot judge. It is just not for me, to be honest I don't feel comfortable reading or watching anything with "detailed" descriptions (that includes erotica.) That's just my preference. However, people write, read, buy, eat, wear and watch whatever makes THEM happy. We are creatures with different tastes and the right to act upon them.

  11. I had the same issue with reading what I liked - judgement. I stopped reading in high school and never really picked it back up until about 5 years ago, because I just do not like adult fiction.
    When I found a group of people who LOVED YA and were, you know, all adults, I slowly began to accept that I was free to read what I wanted, and to be proud of it!

  12. Thank you Hannah! I get the nose wrinkles when I say I read for fun!

    After years of not reading fiction I got back into it when my mom recommended Twilight and I tore through the novels in days, even leaving my dorm in the middle of the night to pick up the next book. Granted I will probably never re-read them but I still made every midnight showing of the films and I have no shame. I read about 95% YA now and proudly take my books to work!

    Years later I read 50 Shades, which was my introduction to erotica because I had never been interested in "milky white thighs". While it maybe different strokes for different folks, it did introduce me to a whole new genre and I felt empowered as a woman that it was not shameful for me to read and enjoy reading about sex.
    - meghann

  13. This was just a brilliant post. I shall be sharing it on my facebook page. Was reading through my personal news feed where several people were going off about the trailer when they havent even read the book. This is a perfect view point. thank you


  14. Great post! I'm a very eclectic reader and read just about everything, like you :) While I'm careful to talk about certain books around some people, because I'm respectful to their beliefs/comfort level, I am not ashamed about what I read-whether it's a children's book or something by Maya Banks :)

  15. Seriously, Hannah, I almost could have written this post! Not as well as you have, but I've had similar experiences. I allowed other people's opinions to sway my reading habits for a very long time. I stopped reading romance because society has an awful lot of negative reaction to women reading romance, I stayed away from Christian fiction because of a similar experience to the one you had, and for years I kept my YA reading habits a secret- I had switched to adult novels as a teen but I still loved certain writers like Christoper Pike, but even as young as 18 I'd pretend I was buying books for someone else. And I'll also admit to being book judgey at times, but thankfully I stopped that shiz once I realized what I was doing. And confession time: I've spent YEARS helping to moderate a Harry Potter website, complete with rpg, teaching classes, playing quidditch and writing fan fiction. I'm still somewhat involved in it. And I'm not ashamed anymore! ;)

  16. So this is why I love you. I HATE getting judged for what I read and according to your story it doesn't freaking matter what you read because somebody somewhere will judge you for it. I used to read a lot of Christian fiction too, but got judged by my friends for it and kind of stopped. Which is sad because I remember really enjoying it.

    Now I get judged constantly for reading YA as an adult. And I'm so over it and sick of it. And I get judged for reading 50 Shades. You know what? Who cares what people read??? I think that as long as they are reading it's a win. And if it's not something that's your taste, that's fine, but it may be for somebody else. Everybody is different and they should be able to read the books that appeal to them judgment free. I'm so sick of all the hate and the book shaming. People need to grow up and get over themselves.

    I'm going to continue reading whatever I want and giving all the haters the finger. Lol And you know what? I probably will go see 50 Shades of Grey because I want to and I'm going to hold my head high as I do so!

  17. The problem with the book as seen by BDSM practitioners is not that it';s BDSM, but that it isn't - it's misrepresented completely, and dangerously in the book, contributing to the general misunderstanding about the safety and focus on consent that BDSM should embody. But now everyone who doesn't know about it thinks it is what is put forward in 50 Shades. Read this blog for an incredibly detailed breakdown on ways it's abuse-not-BDSM if you're interested - http://pervocracy.blogspot.ie/2014/07/lets-read-fifty-shades-of-grey-chapter_24.html

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