Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shades of Grey … Confessions of a Hopeful Romantic

In 2012 E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey hit the book-stand and took the world by storm. What began with one little book transformed the romance industry and elevated a shadowed genre into the mainstream.

Perhaps it wasn’t actually a "new" genre. Heck, I'm sure it's been around. Underground. But suddenly extremely and intense … um … detailed ... um -- let's just define them as "aspects of love" -- went mainstream in the vivid manner they were captured in print. No matter how you feel about the characters, the subject, the plot, the choices made or the writing in general, these books obtained both popularity and notoriety. 

Everyone was talking about them. Everyone had an opinion about them. Everyone had heard about them. Sales sky-rocketed, resulting in the release of numerous new trilogies following the "aspects of love" introduced so graphically in Fifty Shades. The Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day and Stark Series by J. Kenner are just a couple examples. Scroll through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com’s websites for books with similar themes to Fifty Shades and Fifty trilogies come up.

As a savvy reader, I found myself curious. What was this book all about? What was it about Fifty Shades that was sucking in the readers? Was it "all that?" So.... yes, I read it. In fact I read all three.  (This Trilogy concept of writers nowadays is becoming rather annoying. I can't read just one book to get the story? I have to read three??? But that's another blog.) 

I downloaded the books to my Nook. A common choice with this series I have discovered. When it's on an electronic reader, it can be read anywhere. And no one is the wiser. Again, an interesting element of this genre. And yes, I was intrigued enough to read to the end.

Now, I'm not for a minute stating that the "aspects of love" described in this tale are the way to go for the mainstream. Fifty Shades dealt with a specific lifestyle choice -- and examined some of the reasoning behind that choice too if you read to the end. I'm not in any way approving or advocating victimization or domination or cat o' nine tales or physical abuse. That's not what I'm saying here at all. No, this book involved consenting "characters" making choices on their own and shined a spotlight, taking these "aspects of love" into mainstream popular novels. I'm not getting into a debate about the subject matter or peoples' rights to choose how to express love to another consenting adult. We're all unique individuals and what's right for some isn't right for others. 

No, I'm just observing here and admitting that I was intrigued by this book series. And I don't think I'm the only one out there who was drawn in by the storytelling crafted by E.L. James. 

This week, all the conversation and focus has turned to the movie. People are slamming or laughing or commenting or criticizing. BUT -- and this is what I find so curious -- they are GOING. People are talking about it. People are buying tickets -- no matter what the critics say. They are taking dates. And they are watching this film. The Fifty Shades movie whipped up $81.7 Million its opening weekend!

What is that? Why is that? Curiosity? Hype? Perhaps, like me, they are simply curious ... perhaps they wonder where these "aspects of love" lead? And, if people are curious, they will read on or buy that ticket to find out themselves in the safe environment of a movie theater or their own imagination. No judgement here ... just an observation.

Whatever the case, Fifty Shades has sparked a writing revolution. Bared to You, Reflected in You, Entwined with You, Release Me, Claim Me, Complete Me. WOW! That doesn't draw in the Pearl Series or Glass Series or these numerous other trilogies out there that have continued to explore these ... um ... detailed "aspects of love."  

When I started to read "romance" novels, it was Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney that inspired my imagination and made my heart race with their tales and characters.  I liked the romantic settings and the intrigue. MM Kaye gave me India in Far Pavilions. Jane Austen gave me Mr. Darcy. Charlotte Bronte gave me Mr. Rochester. And Emily Bronte gave me my beloved Heathcliff. These strong male characters all had their own issues but I'm still drawn to their stories. Anyway ... as detailed and creative as these stories were, there were few graphic scenes. 

My reading selections are really beside the point but I have them. I remain a hopeful romantic. By choice. But Fifty Shades has commandeered and created a spin-off to the romance genre that no one could have predicted. People are talking about it -- if they object to it or not, they still are giving it air time. And that makes me curiouser and curiouser. 

Yes, I read the Shades. No, I didn't explore any of the spin offs. One series of this type was sufficient. I personally prefer a little more romance in my reads. I'll take Jamie Fraser and the Outlander series any day. I'll take images of Scotland and dashing highlanders over red rooms and safe words. I'll take Healthcliff and the moors. Stories that inspire my imagination and dreams.

But, that's just me. 
                                                                                     -- Jenni