Fifty shades of bad storytelling

October 3, 2013 — by Helen Wong

Thanks to our modern-day obsessions with being in the know and up to date with everything, the readers of today seem to immediately grab the most popular book on the New York Times bestseller list, be it literary trash or gold. 

Books on bestseller lists tend to skyrocket in popularity. That is common knowledge, and it makes sense. If so many people have read this book, then it must be good, right?

Wrong. Thanks to our modern-day obsessions with being in the know and up to date with everything, the readers of today seem to immediately grab the most popular book on the New York Times bestseller list, be it literary trash or gold. It seems that the majority of us will read anything, as long as it’s popular.

Sometimes, awful books end up selling tens of millions, garnering undeserved popularity. E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a good example.

That book is, frankly speaking, pornography. Hordes of critics have said that its prose is awful, that the story isn’t gripping and the heroine has no self-respect. All of them are right. After all, the story itself started off as a Twilight fan fiction — that should have been warning enough.

And yet, it continues to top the New York Times fiction best-seller list. It has set the new record for fastest-selling fiction paperback of all time, beating Harry Potter. And now, somewhat horrifyingly, it’s been expanded into a trilogy.

Luckily, there’s still some light on the horizon: the best-selling series of Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Percy Jackson and Olympians all had literary merit, bringing unto themselves well-deserved popularity. Each series had exciting plots and well-written prose, gripping characters and plot twists. Critics backed them up with positive reviews.

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” on the other hand, approaches downright bad writing, but masses of people still read it, which is appalling. Its popularity emulates that of “Twilight,” which was almost as awful. That book pioneered and popularized the horrific formula of muscled, shirtless pseudo-men and a weak, unintelligent heroine. Literature can do without that.

Perhaps we’re all starting to lose the ability to judge things for ourselves in an age of ultra-fast connectivity; everything is all about what everyone else thinks.

Judging good literature from bad is a decent place to start relearning individuality.

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