E.L James' Fifty Shades of Grey novels have taken the literary world by storm - but do they have any merit?
E.L James, the British novelist behind the polarizing Fifty Shades of Grey books, is the highest ranked author on Forbes Celebrity 100 list, placing at No.42 and beating the likes of crime specialist James Patterson, horror legend Stephen King, Hunger Games writer Suzanne Collins and Harry Potter author J.K Rowling.
E.L James Signing Copies Of Her Hugely Popular Fifty Shades of Grey Books
James' erotic novels Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed have taken the publishing world by storm, selling in their bucket load, catapulting Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey into public consciousness and spawning a soon-to-be-filmed movie likely to star Henry Cavill, Ryan Gosling, or...some other bloke.
Forbes ranks its Celebrity 100 list on annual earnings, but also social media impact and marketability. The upper echelons of this year's list features Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, et al - it's a decent achievement that, as an author, E.L James has made the list at all, especially given she's largely eschewed the celebrity limelight, instead choosing to let her characters take on mythical status. Though James Patterson has a team of co-writers, he is tremendously prolific and currently has 29 different titles on e-book bestseller lists in the last year. Stephen King publishes one book a year and is currently working on his 13-part mini-series Under The Dome due to air later this summer. JK Rowling has numerous interests and recently released her first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy. It begs the question, should E.L James - a woman who's penned three shakily written books based on Twilight fan-fiction - be entitled to the riches that come with commercial literary success when countless of serious novelists, screenwriters and poets are plying their trade with little reward?
E.L James Has Sold Bucketloads Of Her Fifty Shades Of Grey Books
There's a scene in Josh Radnor's recent movie Liberal Arts where the literary snob protagonist grows tired of his friend's devotion to a trashy novel - assumed to be Twilight - and vows to read it in a day whilst she studies at college. He is seen delving into the book throughout the afternoon and true to his word, returns having read every chapter. "This is..the worst book...ever written...in English," he tells her. It recalls a similar collective reaction to the Fifty Shades books by both the literary intelligentsia and.anyone who's read and enjoyed anything considered a classic. In fairness, most of those who scoff at E.L James' erotic novels will have never read a page of them, though there's enough of a consensus to assume that these are badly written books with high entertainment value, in the right hands. Is there a difference between Fifty Shades of Grey and the myriad romantic novels piled to the rafters in every train station, airport and service station in the world? Books called A Gentleman Caller, books called Cottage By The Sea, books called The Pursuit Of Lies! If anything, the Fifty Shades books are probably more entertaining and one thing's for sure: they sure got people reading.
E.L James Holding Up Her Book, Fifty Shades of Grey
In her review of Fifty Shades of Grey, The Guardian's Jenny Colgan wrote, ".I liked it, and here is why. A woman chose to write it, and did so from the safety of her kitchen table. Nobody had to get naked to pay rent; nobody was forced into anything, Tulisa didn't have to go on YouTube, crying." It's a valid point and one worth remembering. E.L James - a former television executive - wrote the first Fifty Shades book because she wanted to. Not because she had an impatient editor wanting to rush it out for the Christmas, not because a movie deal was looming and certainly not for the money. The book was originally rejected by two agents before E.L James released it as an e-book and print-on-demand paperback via The Writer's Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher in Australia. Anyone familiar with this style of publishing will be aware that it allows readers to read and comment on chapters and request more chapters should they enjoy the books. It's a labour of love for the writers and the majority are under no illusions their work will go on to sell millions.
In his defence of E.L James, Nicholas Tufnell of The Huffington Post said, "Fifty Shades does not attempt to be, or even so much as hint at being, anything other than what it is: pop erotic fiction. The novel is entirely absent of arrogance or delusions of literary grandeur, to complain that it's low art is like ordering a triple chocolate cake, with chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream, and then moaning it has too much chocolate on it. What did you expect?"
Fifty Shades of Grey, Piles of the Stuff
It's clear that Fifty Shades of Grey is not a particularly well written book, but it's hardly James' fault that YOU bought millions of copies of it. And if it wasn't you, it was your mother at her local Tesco Express, shovelling copy after copy into her basket while trying to coyly hide them under her finest quiche Lorraine. And if it wasn't her, it was your grandmother buying it from the local charity shop, or your sister borrowing it from a friend at college. So when you next sneer at somebody on the tube with that recognisable black and blue cover, all dog-earned and torn, just remember this whole thing was YOUR fault.