b2741049fb4c9f1d358325c309a83280For the past several weeks, my girlfriends and I have been exchanging group texts, the gist of which are: “What page are you on,” “Did you get to the part in the elevator,” and “I’ll never look at an ice cube the same way.”

So in answer to your question, yes, we are reading the blockbuster of the year, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” known in particular for its ability to raise an eyebrow.

I got the book after my friend Candice presented each of us a copy, with a grin on her face as wicked as Christian Grey’s. It was, I’ll admit, peer pressure that got me to crack the spine, as soon thereafter the texting started and I wanted to know what it was all about. I was quickly immersed in the world of Anastasia Steele, soon-to-be college graduate, virgin and extremely prone to blushing.

The story starts when Ana, as a favor to her ailing best friend, goes to interview Grey, a very rich business magnate, for the school newspaper. Since she is a literature and not journalism major, she is instantly in way over her head, so much so that she trips and falls as soon as she enters his office.

Grey is immediately “beguiled” — blech, I hate that word — and romance, kind of, ensues.

As soon as I started reading, I realized the writing is actually quite terrible. And by terrible, I mean you may find yourself wincing or putting your hand over your eyes because you feel embarrassed. The dialogue between Ana and Christian especially is stilted and unrealistic, and even when they’re trying to banter with each other over e-mail, you realize neither of them is very quippy.

But, of course, you don’t read “Fifty Shades” for the realism of the dialogue or the character development, you read it for the naughty bits. God knows there are plenty of them, and God knows you’ll pick up a few tricks. And when the writing gets really bad and Christian and Ana start using 19th century words like “ill” and “shall,” you tell yourself it’s summer and you’re partaking in a cultural phenomenon.

In all truth, the book brought me back to my Sidney Sheldon days — or nights, I should call them, when I would stay up until 3 a.m. to see how the amazing protagonist would be amazing. I was 16 and my bookshelves were lined with every one of his books, which had exciting titles like “Master of the Game” and “The Sands of Time” showcased in puffy, gold font. In fact, it wasn’t until I read “Fifty Shades” that I realized just how much Sheldon’s books were responsible for my expectations when it came to romance. For example, I wholeheartedly believed that a man and a woman could have a conversation entirely through eye contact — whether the eyes were burning and searing or if they were dewy and expectant. And it wasn’t until the age of about 32 that I finally accepted that, it doesn’t matter how fantastic you are, real men don’t generally gasp in response to what you’re saying.

But the Sidney Sheldon books had their place and, after a whole lot of wrestling with it, I’ve decided “Fifty Shades” does too. I realized this very plainly two weeks ago when I was on the final leg of a trip from Winnipeg, a short jaunt between Atlanta and Lexington. We’d boarded and I was seated beside a slim woman who was blissfully quiet in her seat. We were about 20 minutes into our flight when the pilot came over the loud speaker and announced that the plane’s pressurization system had “failed.”

Upon hearing that word, which we all know is just another way of saying “broken,” my heart lurched, and I suddenly felt very, very high up in the air.

“Air traffic control would like us to turn around and head back to Atlanta,” the pilot gravely continued.

I looked at the woman beside me and she buried her nose in her Kindle. I opened up “Fifty Shades,” whose cover I had up-until-now been hiding, and started reading too. Suddenly, what was happening between Ana and Christian had never been so interesting. I read and read and read until I finally started feeling my ears pop, indicating descent. The woman beside me was likewise taken with her reading material and when I glanced over at her Kindle, I recognized the words, since she, too, was reading “Fifty Shades.” So we exchanged a small, guilty smile and kept reading about the interesting torture Christian likes to inflict on Ana. Like a People Magazine, the book had just enough scintillation to keep us going and just enough depth to allow us to read at all, given our extremely distracted frames of mind.

So I can definitely recommend this book to people trying to forget the fact that they might plunge to their deaths at any minute. As for the rest of you, you’ll have to take your chances. But know that when your girlfriend knowingly hands you a tattered copy or you get a text message that says, “My husband and I had the best time last night,” it’s hard to resist.

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