I’m many years behind the times, I know, but after plowing through The Bestseller Code, which analyzes the plot structure of Fifty Shades of Grey in detail as an illustration of what makes a book popular, I decided I’d better read it and find out more. I went to my local library and checked out a well-thumbed, dog-eared, and stained (ew!) copy and tore through it in a few days. In other words, this was research, people.
Reader, I liked it. I like trash, what can I say? I cut my literary teeth on The Carpetbaggers, Susann’s Valley of the Dolls and my personal favorite Once is Not Enough (it never is), and of course Peyton Place. And I’m happy to report that I’m not the only one who appreciates the bad and the entertaining. Trash, like a good campy horror novel, has its place in my reading library, along with the leather-bound tomes of classic literature. I think a lot of readers are on the same page (no pun intended). I needed to flush out the wizards and orcs and lengthy iambics from my Tolkien marathon, and what better way than with some super popular—over 100 million sold!–erotic romance?
Now, that isn’t to say that the story isn’t ridiculously silly—my inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves—douche chills! A twenty-two-year-old virgin? Please. And any poor woman on a bondage dating website looking for a Christian Grey to whisk her away in a helicopter would most likely end up with this guy. But fantasy is fantasy for a reason. And after reading it with an objective eye (as an indie author, I too would like to break the bestseller code), I can definitely see why it was popular beyond the explicit sex scenes—pretty vanilla actually compared to Susann’s hippie orgy scene, just saying.
The author, E. L. James, hooks readers (I’m guessing mostly female ones) by tapping into the age-old dynamic of pulp romance: he’s a cad who only wants one thing: she’s a nice girl who wants more. Will she break him down and tame him into husband material? Which, let’s face it, is the ultimate female fantasy. That James put the novel spin of S&M into the mix is to her credit. As literature goes, the book is indeed fifty shades of odious, but I was intrigued enough to keep reading till the end, and I may check out the next two from my lending library when my taste for sordid, erotic romance rears its ugly head again—plus, I am dying to know how this relationship ends.
As for The Bestseller Code, I highly recommend it for all aspiring writers. Especially interesting was the section that examines the reason for the proliferation of Girl novels: The Girl on the Train (I checked that out of the library too), Gone Girl (saw the movie), all those Millennium novels I’ve yet to read. The shabby girl archetype (a fucked-up Cassandra who hasn’t earned true woman status) is popular now. Seems like every other book I see on Goodreads has the word girl in the title. Just as in the wake of Fifty Shades there’s been an overabundance (can there ever be too many?) of headless male torsos on book covers with titles like Baby for the Billionaire and Submit. I may delve into a little erotica myself one of these days, although for now I’m sticking with horror. Although whenever a someone mentions my book to me, they do seem particularly focused on my sibling ménages à trois steam bath scene. Hmmmm.