A close friend of mine cornered me recently and asked me if I’d read Fifty Shades of Grey. “No,” I said. Smiling.
(It’s not the subject matter. I like a little literary titillation as well as the next person. But I’ve seen excerpts. The writing is … well, awful. It’s awful, kids.)
“Oh, it’s really good,” my friend said.
(I’ve heard a lot of women say this about the book. Fair enough. What I think this means is they found the story compelling. This is the same thing women said about Twilight—and I’m on record as having been hooked, initially, by that story, so I get it. A good story covers a multitude of literary sins.)
“But it’s not … well written,” I said. “I really like good writing.”
(I admit it: I love literary fiction, I do. But I read a lot of so-called commercial fiction, from mysteries to chick lit to romance to fantasy and sci-fi, and enjoy that too. A novel doesn’t have to be literary—whatever your definition of that is—to be good. In my leisure time, I read strictly for personal pleasure.)
“So how can you tell good writing?” she asked.
(It’s easier to tell you what bad writing is. When the text is choked with clichés like “moth to a flame” and “heart in my throat,” that’s bad. When the female lead blushes, bites her lower lip, or looks down at her hands over and over and over again, that’s bad writing. When the story is set in an American city with American characters who talk like Brits, that’s bad writing. When there’s an entire cottage industry of ordinary folks ridiculing the book on YouTube—hilarious, but not for the easily offended—that’s bad writing.
Furthermore, one of my pet peeves is the male protagonist who is good-looking and as rich as Croesus. It’s just silly. In Grey, Amazon reader/reviewer meymoon tells us, the male protagonist “is a billionaire … who speaks fluent French, is basically a concert-level pianist, is a fully trained pilot, is athletic, drop-dead gorgeous, tall, built perfectly … and the best lover on the planet. In addition, he’s not only self-made but is using his money to combat world hunger. Oh yeah, and all of this at the ripe old age of 26!” Twenty-six? Oh, stop.)
“If you like it,” I told her, “it’s good.” And I meant it with all my heart.
(Seriously. I don’t care what you read, I care that you read. What you choose to read is up to you. Me, I’m not going to read Fifty Shades of Grey, because I’ve seen samples and the writing is excruciatingly bad, in my opinion.
But I’m in the book biz. I’ll be thrilled if you go out and buy a book. Or three.)
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