A couple of weeks back, I was clued in — through the always entertaining and fabulous Twitter feed of author Maureen Johnson — to an article that appeared online at THE NEW REPUBLIC. Entitled “Finally, an Academic Text Devoted to ’50 SHADES OF GREY,” the article, written by William Giraldi, purports to be a criticism of the “moronic craze” engendered by the uber-popular erotic trilogy, and an equally scathing criticism of the idea that any academic treatment of these books is possible. Unlike Mr. Giraldi, since I haven’t read the books, I will refrain from uninformed commentary on their merits: literary, entertainment, or otherwise. But as Ms. Johnson (and many others) pointed out in her Twitter-feed, this article really isn’t about 50 SHADES OF GREY. It’s about women and the romance genre in general. Its thematic core is the belittling of popular literature enjoyed by women, particularly romance novels. As Mr. Giraldi not-so-wittingly stats: “romance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn.”
As a fan of speculative fiction, and particularly horror fiction, these darts hit a sore spot. I’ve spent time on this blog expounding on my frustration with critics and the so-called-gatekeepers who lump entire genres and readers into one shallow pool, and who ignore the genre-roots of any “serious” fiction. Don’t like horror? THE ROAD can’t be called horror (heck, it won the Pulitzer). Don’t like science fiction, then simply carve Margaret Atwood out of the genre. Easy. So I sympathize and empathize with the romance readers and writers irked by Mr. Giraldi’s piece. Hey, JANE EYRE isn’t romance. Can’t be — it’s a classic. The added touch of misogyny is the icing on the cake.
So now, the mea culpa. I too have turned my nose up at romance fiction, dismissed books popular with women as “chick-lit,” and refused to read books my mind classified as “women’s fiction.” Have I derided and insulted women or the romance genre? No. Have I over-generalized and classified a whole genre based on preconceived notions? Yes. As a fan of one of those “lower” genres, I should know better. As Maureen Johnson said, “Read What You Like.” It’s something I believe in, and encourage. So, I’m sorry for not living up to those ideals. A good story is a good story, no matter the so-called genre, and I’ve probably missed out on some good stories in my lifetime because I classified them as chick lit.
The next time my wife recommends I read something from her book club, I’m taking her up on it, no filter, no questions asked. I may or may not like it, but I can’t tell unless I give it a try.
Even if it’s 50 SHADES OF GREY.