Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fifty Shades of I-Don't-Care

With all the publishing world agog at the phenomenon known as Fifty Shades of Grey, there's been a lot of chatter about what makes a book a bestseller. Conclusion: nobody has the foggiest idea. On the Fifty Shades marvel-of-the-moment, I have mixed feelings. I love the idea of an unknown writer doing an end-run around the haughty gatekeepers in their glass-and-steel fortresses in Manhattan and rocketing to fame and fortune. Who didn't root for Cinderella?

Unfortunately, in this case, the gatekeepers were right about quality, if not marketability. Fifty Shades is bilge water. At least, that's what I understand. I haven't read it. I will not read it. I may be the only woman in America who never cracks its spine, but that just brings to mind the classic parental phrase "If everybody jumped off a bridge…"

No. Life is too short and my to-read lists (yes, I have at least three) are too long. And there are far better novels than Fifty Shades that I refuse to read. I was reminded of that recently when one of those "How Many of These Books Have You Read" lists made the rounds on Facebook. Of 100, I counted about 30 that I had made my own. That's a pretty poor showing, but my reaction was not that I needed to upgrade my reading, but "Who makes these lists?"

I don't know who compiled the Facebook list, but checking out other such exercises in literary snobbery, I discovered that my 30 was an excellent grade in comparison. Modern Library, an imprint of Random House, put out a list of 100 novels educated folk should have read. My score: 0-2 (the variation coming from my inability to remember if I actually read Animal Farm and The Maltese Falcon. I think so, but I couldn't swear it under oath).

Call me Illiterate.

I did better on the list Time magazine put out back in 2005 of what its advisors considered the 100 best novels that had been published during its existence, i.e., 1923 to 2005. My score: about 9 (Animal Farm is on this list, too).

My defensive ego suggested that maybe I'd do better on Time's list of top 100 nonfiction books. This was updated from 2005 and expanded to 101 books, despite still being named "Top 100," I suspect to include the President's  Dreams From My Father—just one more I haven't read.

The verdict went for the defense, but just barely. My score: 11, unless I can count The Looming Tower, which I had to return to the library after only finishing the first section. (I try to keep my library fines well below the firstborn-child level of indebtedness.)

All in all, nothing to write home (or a blog post?) about. But for the blow to my self-concept, I have no regrets. Most of those books I wouldn't read even if required to by an act of Congress. So, there you have it, E.L. James. I'll get around to your masterpiece just as soon as I've finished Ulysses, Lolita, Coming of Age in Samoa, Syntactic Structures, et al.

That would be shortly after Satan's Zamboni finishes smoothing out the ice rink at the Hades Sportsplex.


  1. My scores are not as good as yours. A major factor in the scores that I do have is the English curriculum in our high school. I have begun reading acclaimed novels recently -- this time, without having them forced on me -- and I am slowly developing an appreciation for them.

  2. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. I still haven't forgiven the literary establishment for forcing The Grapes of Wrath on me. I'd love to know what books others like you think are worthwhile reads, though.