Erin Lausten

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Shame in Reading

Posted by erinlausten on August 22, 2012

Prior to 2011, I was a reader, period. I had aspirations to eventually try my hand at writing a book, but those were dreams better left for fantasies in the dark of the night. But I was, most definitely, a reader. Having spent a good portion of my 20s at the University, I also read a ton of stuff that was “good” for me. I think my favorite was the Soviet era lit; they were so wonderfully perverse. But as soon as the semester ended, I was cracking open my romance novels and inhaling the “bad” stuff.

And during all that time, I always had that feeling that I “shouldn’t” be reading those books. That a highly educated, socially responsible person shouldn’t waste their time on such drivel. But I loved them. I mean LOVED them. I could read three books in one sitting. On many nights I would look up to realize dawn had come and my eyes had dried out.  I would still do it, if I didn’t have a five-year-old that insists on a keeping mom to a reasonable schedule.

When I would purchase those books, I always hid them in my arms until I reached the register and tried not to make eye contact with the sales clerk. And I definitely did not read them on the bus unless I could scrunch my body so no one could see the cover.

Then something crazy happened. I started writing. And I discovered that all my friends read them too! Suddenly I understood how romance could control 13.4% of the consumer market. Everyone had a dirty little secret, but no one talked about it. They may discuss it with close friends, but they weren’t parading around town, bodice rippers in tow, showing the whole world their reading pleasure.

Fast forward to 2012. Suddenly, we find women reading Fifty Shades of Grey in public. Be still my beating heart, the secret is out.

People are appalled. The attacks are in full force. It is badly written, the story trite, the characters unreasonable and unbelievable. In all ways it should never have sold one copy let alone millions! Now, to be fair, I read the first book and my opinion….eh… not my kind of book. But I wasn’t a fan of Twilight either. There just aren’t enough explosions. (Have I mentioned I love explosions?) And honestly, most of the people I have spoken too are happy that she ran from him, but I would far rather that she’d turn around, beat him senseless and given him a true lesson in the power of a submissive. But that’s just me.

My personal opinions aside, one thing I can’t stand is the detractor’s claim that there is no redeemable value to the book. Really? None? So this and any book like it is being read by millions and they are getting no benefit from it? Then why are they reading it?

There’s more going on here than a story that I didn’t like. I think a recent Newsweek article hit on a few of the reasons behind the popularity. You can read that here.  I’m not going to go into specifics and the main reason is because I think the issues are significantly more complex regarding the why behind 50 shades, but that dialog is fantastic! Because it is encouraging us to think about the processes behind what we love or why we are drawn to the books we read.

I think there is this assumption that people read the “crap” simply as a means to brain dump, escape, or simply to satisfy a pleasure seeking part of their brain. This may be true. But what are we escaping? I don’t read romance novels to escape the life I live with my husband. Shoot, he’s a pain in the ass, but the romance I have experienced with him is significantly more intense and moving than those I read on the page.

Reading impacts the way our brain processes ideas, concepts, and emotion. It allows us to explore the variety of emotional options in a safe environment. I can be terrified without having to face down a real knife and fall in love without the anxiety of really making a relationship work. My brain is practicing. It’s like the difference between running on a treadmill and running from an African lion; it mimics reality without really tapping into reality.

The question when it comes to the popularity of 50 shades or any book is what has that book tapped into that is shared by so many? I may not understand it myself in the same way I can’t understand people that prefer running to biking. But I know that they are getting something from the book that is similar to what I get from my preferred reading material.

I believe there is redeemable value to 50 shades. Love it, Hate it. I don’t see that it matters. Because there are so many things that I love that someone else can’t understand (Doctor Who being one for sure). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a value to it.

The biggest lesson I have drawn from this is I don’t need to be ashamed of what I choose to read. It may be a zombie novel, a comic book, a steamy romance, or an old classic. One could get into the argument that one may be better for my brain than another, but that is certainly a discussion for another day.


5 Responses to “Shame in Reading”

  1. I’m not the target readership, and I’m not going to read the book as it is. I think the fact that it started out as fanfic (especially Twilight fanfic) is a gigantic strike against it.

  2. I haven’t read it–and won’t. I don’t like BDSM. I do, however, love a good non-bodice-ripping romance.

  3. The Desert Rocks said

    The second I received my English degree I bought a romance novel. LOL

  4. Well, as one whom everyone knows liked Twilight, to have this crap supposedly be fanfic of Twilight is almost insulting. Edward would never have treated Bella that way.

    Through reading furiously, and reviewing those books, I’ve gained a new appreciation of books and writing. Oh, and I’m with Norma…I like sensual sex…not being a submissive…that’s not love. I need the romance of two lovers “loving” one another!

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