There are hundreds of bad books published every year. Some are very bad but fizzle away quickly, left to die a lonely death on bookstore clearance racks or in suburban garage sales. Other books are so terribly bad that they go on to become best-sellers and incite frenzied fans to talk non-stop of the inherent brilliance found between their covers.
Books can be bad for myriad reasons: perhaps they lack a good plot, or the author isn't an effective storyteller. Or maybe the characters are two-dimensional and boring. I did my undergraduate degree in English literature, so I've read bad books that span continents, centuries and genres. I'm not a book "snob," nor do I believe that my degree confers upon me the ability to deem certain literature as trash merely because I've paid thousands of dollars and worked for a diploma. In fact, some of the books I've enjoyed most came from my children's collections and involve a talking sponge.
I spent years at university reading and then beyond that in book clubs talking at length about novels. I'm fascinated by the reach of literature and I love the power it possesses to unite us, or inspire us, or to make us so rabidly horny that we become people who strike up conversations with strangers what qualities we prefer in our submissives. We even ask our adult granddaughters to find out what this 50 Shades fuss is all about. (Note: That is a conversation I'd prefer to never have again. In the end, I lied and told her that 50 Shades of Grey was a home decorating guide, focusing on monochromatic colour schemes.)
Normally I don't resist reading anything that is suggested to me merely on its popular reputation, but when it came to 50 Shades of Grey I wasn't up for drinking the Kool-Aid. Practically every woman in my life -- from my hairdresser to the clerk at the grocery store -- asked me if I had read it, and did I like it, and in the case of my Nana, was it as good as they say?
So I decided to bite the bullet (or ball-gag, as it were) and read it. Besides, I like strong characters, and a racy story. And a little well-written erotica thrown in for good measure is always nice.
My negative critique of 50 Shades of Grey isn't so much a comment on the writing or story itself, but rather the dialogue the novel has opened. I think passionate conversation is great, and that free speech is fundamental to the survival of democratic society. I have no issue with adults talking about sex, except maybe when it comes to my grandmother; she's never even had sex as far as I'm concerned.
What I want is some control over the conditions in which I discuss things as intimate as how tightly I like to be bound. No; my issue with the book is not so much the content, but a matter of personal preference relating to the conversation the book has inspired.
Recently my partner and I were enjoying a sunny afternoon on a local restaurant patio. The waitress took our order and after making sure our drinks were satisfactory, she proceeded to inquire about our sex life.
She leaned in and asked if I had read "the book." Everywhere you turned this summer it was 50 Shades of Grey, so I knew exactly what book she was talking about. I replied that no, I hadn't. She assumed "hadn't" meant "hadn't yet," because she went on to describe in great detail how much I would love it. She then told my lunch date to buy it for me, as it would be "worth it" for him. After I recovered from choking on my drink, I became grateful that my initial lunch partner -- my brother -- had to cancel.
I was, to put it mildly, steaming-rage-mad-furious. Who was she to assume my sex life was horrible and required repair? I checked my reflection in the restaurant window and saw that I was not wearing a leather gimp mask, and wondered how she knew I would welcome her advice. To insinuate that I need assistance in this area made me so angry I wanted to leave, except that I had already ordered what I heard was the best cheeseburger in town and didn't want to risk missing that opportunity.
Couldn't she tell that I prefer men who chop down trees, or fix engines? That I like them sticky with sweat from hard work, not tying bondage knots? That I want them to smell like crankcase or engine oil and sunshine, not something you add to a baby's bath? And the bit about being the book being a gift from my partner? Did I not have first rights to my own pleasure anymore? This was all too much for me.
I just wanted a cheeseburger.
I'm fine with wait-staff making suggestions. I'll gladly accept recommendations on appetizers or how I'd like a particular cut of beef cooked, or which wine pairs well with my entree. I welcome advice from people who are professionals in their field, but I usually like to request it first. If I had specifically asked "How long can I expect to wait for the chocolate soufflé and/or a mind-blowing orgasm?" then perhaps her words may have been appropriate.
When it comes to restaurant servers, I'm pretty easy going, and think my general preferences can be boiled down to two simple rules: Please keep your fingers out of my drink and your mind off my G-spot.
Follow Jeni Marinucci on Twitter: www.twitter.com/highlyirritable