A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

Tag: Fifty Shades of Gray

HuffPost Editor Calls You a Liar for Your 10 Novels List

by evanmcmurry

HuffPost tech editor Alexis Kleinman thinks your 10 Novels That Shaped Me lists are bunk:

No, your favorite book is not “The Sound and the Fury.” No, you did not finish “Infinite Jest.” “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”? You read that in 10th grade. I know because I was in that English class with you.

Yeah ok.Tthis is as much categorical error as it is strawman. Here’s Kleinman’s switcheroo:

Sure, we’re calling this “books that changed the way I think” but really it’s just meant to be your favorite books.

No it’s not! Favorite books and books that shaped you/stuck with you certainly can be coincident, but not necessarily. One of the interesting things about the list was that making it forced you to distinguish between books you liked and books that have had an sustained and consequential effect on you. (The Long Goodbye, for instance, would make the former list but got struck from my latter.)

But Kleinman thinks you’re covering up your actual, trashy reading tastes with random selections from Le Canon:

There is nothing wrong with liking popular books. You shouldn’t be ashamed to have read Harry Potter a dozen times. [Ed: nobody is.] Reading is just like anything else: it can be fun and it can be challenging. There shouldn’t be a stigma against fun books. [Ed: there isn’t.] If you’re super picky, remember that fluffy books can be gateways into more serious literature, ya prude.

Per Kleinman, here’s the “real” list you faux-elitists would have written if you’d been telling the truth:

1. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone
2. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
3. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban
4. The Phantom Tollbooth
5. The Hunger Games
6. Fifty Shades Of Grey
7. Gossip Girl
8. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One
9. The Lord Of The Rings
10. Where The Sidewalk Ends

Leaving aside that FB published metrics of the lists (they were watching) that revealed that most people did disproportionately list the Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, this misses the entire point of the exercise, which, once again, was not to name the most recent titles you gorged on but works that have stayed with you. 50 Shades of Grey went through a trillion printings, but nobody’s rereading it — just ask the charities overburdened with unwanted copies. The Hunger Games sold like gangbusters, but will anybody still be reaching for it on the shelf in ten years?

The 10-novels lists was a perfect filter for fads; only the books that survived multiple apartment moves made the cut. That’s how One Hundred Years of Solitude ends up on the list and 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t: because you read One Hundred Years of Solitude in 10th grade, and still do.

Today in People With Book Deals Who Aren’t You

by evanmcmurry

Sylvia Day, who’s written 20 novels in her (10 year) career but only achieved sales success after her last title got a contact high from Fifty Shades of Gray, just inked an eight-figure contract for her next series. (Everything is a series now.) The following paragraph is the novelist version of a fancy sports car pulling up to a members-only club:

“We sat down for drinks, and she said, ‘Let me just put it on the table: I want to publish you,’” said Ms. Day, who lives in Las Vegas but keeps a pied-à-terre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Rough life. The Times article, which all but states that her check should be written to E.L. James (whose checks should be written to Stephanie Meyer), goes on to remind god and everybody that the whole 50 Shades thing took a U-turn to the dump a while ago: charities are literally overflowing with unwanted copies, while chop shops have been churning out knock-offs for over a year now at a minute fraction of Day’s paycheck.

Hey, Sylvia Day could be our generation’s Elizabeth Bowen for all I know. But the $10 million-plus is explicitly responding to the trend, not her writing. That seems like an extraordinary amount of money to plunk down in the hope that lightning strikes the same tree twice, especially given the number of other trees it could have bought.

More people with book deals who aren’t you.

No, USA Today, The Great Gatsby Was Not the Best Book of 2013

by evanmcmurry

Can USA Today seriously not find a book published in 2013 that was worthy of highlighting? It’s not like there aren’t lists, if it wants to skip the hard work.

But despite itself, the paper’s post illustrates an interesting point about bestsellers and longevity. I remember talking to a bookbuyer once who said that classics consistently outsell even the Clancys and Grishams of the book world. On any given day, a new Stephen King or David Balducci title might sell astronomically more than Middlemarch, but average it out over the year or the lifetime of a book, and it pays much more to stock George Eliot.

That appears to be what USAT is describing without realizing it:

E.L. James and her titillating Fifty Shades of Grey bondage trilogy is so 2012.

In 2013, it was another love story — one that’s 88 years old — that redefined sexy reading.

At least in the MFA/budding writer world, we tend to view sales in terms of individual careers; year-end bestseller lists view sales as a race among an elite slice of competitive books; nail-biting articles on the health of the book industry tend to view sales as a giant monolith.

Lost in all this is different types of books perform differently over time. Fifty Shades sustained the book industry for a while, but the sheer tonnage of unwanted copies is actually causing problems for charities. Great Gatsby, which was in danger of going out of print when Fitzgerald died, is now a perennial bestseller. It pays to write a book that lasts, even if it doesn’t always pay the author.

That’s no reason to name a title published almost 100 years ago the best book of 2013. In fact, it’s all the more reason to find The Great Gatsby of 2013 among the hundreds of excellent novels published this year to the same modest sales that befell Gatsby’s initial run. Once again, it’s not like there aren’t lists of these things.

Sad Bondage Trombone

by evanmcmurry

Ha ha:

Charities are struggling under the weight of thousands of copies of the trilogy that no one in the country wants anymore. A spokesperson from WeBuyBooks.com described the ‘paper mountain’ of Fifty Shades books that threatens to engulf the whole of England. Rhona Coulter, Books Manager at Cancer Research UK told of the plight of her shop managers who have been victims of the floods of ‘hundreds of donations of Fifty Shades over the recent months’.

Remaining ever-professional and grateful for the donations received by the charity, Coulter said that, “We always welcome donations, but the secondary sales potential of the novels is a big problem”. Then she looked down and her eyes darkened*, and she uttered the four words that signalled the very end of the nation’s regrettable love affair, which had resulted only in trouble and queasy reading experiences, “Nobody wants it anymore.”

* Maybe

At least we’ll always have the knock-offs.

Why You Shouldn’t Read The Bone Season

by evanmcmurry

The announcement that the first selection of the Today show’s new book club* would be The Bone Season stamped Samantha Shannon’s debut novel with inevitability. A seven-part YA occult-themed vampire-wizard epic published by Harry Potter‘s imprint and already optioned for a film, The Bone Season is destined to become the next ubiquitous Hunger Games/Game of Thrones/etc.-level hit in the book world. You’re probably going to read it.

But you might also hate it, which should matter. Hit series that have followed the basic Potter template—New York Times‘ Janet Maslin calls it the “book club craze,” though that seems imprecise—have come and gone with increasing rapidity and decreasing reward. Even fans of Fifty Shades of Grey acknowledged the books were lousily written and largely disappointing. There must be a threshold at which these series’ diminishing returns no longer make the time and energy devoted to reading them worthwhile.

The Bone Season is the perfect candidate for this mass disenchantment. Maslin, in an uncharacteristically scathing review, describes the novel as a greatest hits of YA fads, from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, with even a dash of 1984. And this was Shannon’s second crack at a novel, after a Twilight ripoff. Sample sentence: “I was drawn toward him as if a flower to the sun.”

Its author’s tale is even less encouraging. Via Vulture‘s profile, Shannon was picked up by agent David Godwin after interning for him for a whopping fortnight, and signed a seven-book publishing deal after working on the first volume for only six months. To be clear, that’s more planned volumes than months she spent writing the first one.

Not surprisingly, the book’s heap of advanced press has focused less on the writing and more on its packaging. Via Maslin:

The “Today” news anchor Natalie Morales said she had found this book by reading a newspaper article about it, and such reports have focused on Ms. Shannon’s hitting the jackpot, not on her writing. And Al Roker…plugged the Google Hangouts that “Bone Season” fans would be able to enjoy. Google Hangouts are a way of conducting e-chats, rather than reading books…Not one bit of the five-minute segment concerned exactly what Ms. Shannon has written.

In fairness, all published books come to us by some combination of luck, privilege, and access, and an author is not responsible for its presentation. But both Shannon’s novel and the hoopla around it so explicitly disparage actual writing, both in its expedited process and pedestrian results, that they seem almost intentionally insulting to the solicited readership. Her publishers are really asking people to sign up for seven volumes of trendy pastiche, neither original nor artfully executed. The sole payoff seems to be the serial-ness of the series: everybody involved is openly counting on the multiple volumes to submerge questions of quality, hoping pace obscures prose.

Shannon’s publishers have every reason to bet on this. Book series tend to reach a tipping point at which people don’t even know why they’re reading titles except that everybody else is doing so—hence the strange cognitive dissonance of readers avidly consuming Fifty Shades while openly admitting they don’t enjoy it. If publishers count on this behavior, they’ll push writers of one novel into a series, inflate a three-book series into a seven-book series, and so on, all to the dilution of the end product. The result will be many more books, none of which are very good, and all of which can’t help but depress people about reading in general.

In short: you’re going to see a lot of people reading The Bone Season very soon. Resist the urge to join them. You’ll miss out on seven desultory books, and you might help improve the literary industry in the process.

* Why?

Great News For The Publishing Industry!

by evanmcmurry

Your pick as to which of these is more of a reason to order a Gertrude Stein-shaped cake and party down:

1) Barnes and Nobles has been essentially saved by Fifty (50) Shades of Gra(e)y. The bookseller reported a significantly better-than-expected fiscal quarter, and it’s all thanks to the glorified Twilight fan fiction.

2) That better-than-expected fiscal quarter means “the company reported a net loss of $41 million — an improvement from 2011, when the quarterly loss was $56.6 million.” (via)

There are no refunds on the Gertrude Stein cake.

Sex toy sales have also soared in correlation with the book’s popularity, but I don’t think that industry was in danger. By the way, I can’t be the only person getting E.L. James and P.D. James confused. That’s gotta suck for P.D. James.

Fifty Shades of Gray Is Awful, Announces Panel Nobody Will Listen To

by evanmcmurry

Last week I whined that a phalanx of renowned and respected authors were gathering in Manhattan to blah blah blah about Fifty Shades of Gray; my problem was that this book didn’t need any more attention, and if we’re going to get everybody together in a big room to talk about a piece of literature, why not make that book a good one that needed promotion, i.e. the exact type of work that gets missed because of fads like Fifty Shades of Gray?

On the bright side, at least the writers found the would-be erotica awful. Alas, Fifty Shades is well past the point at which demerits from the literary community will affect its sales. I’m happy Erica Jong is on record as giving the thing a big thumbs-down—better than her putting her imprimatur on the cover—but we still could have spent our time talking about something else.

Tearing Down The High Culture / Pop Culture Pseudo-Hierarchy

by evanmcmurry

I’m with Jed Perl:

MOCA, Deitch, and Broad are part of a much larger catastrophe, a catastrophe that began in the last years of the last century, when Thomas Krens mounted a show at the Guggenheim in New York called “The Art of the Motorcycle.” Krens filled the ramp of Frank Lloyd Wright’s great rotunda with motorcycles, and mused at the press preview that he might or might not ride his own bike up the ramp. Don’t get me wrong. Motorcycles are beautiful. But “The Art of the Motorcycle” was not really about motorcycles. Krens was telling the world that all cultural institutions are pop culture institutions. He was a populist demagogue with an Upper East Side pulpit. He was preaching to the Wall Street types who were hankering for some cultural glamour, telling them it didn’t matter if they didn’t know or care what distinguished a Mondrian from a Kandinsky. Krens has been swept aside. But his message—make it dumb and then make it dumber—has been resonating around the world.

[…] The question is not pop culture versus high culture. We live in a world where there are many opportunities to experience pop culture and many fewer opportunities to experience painting and sculpture. In a wealthy society—and recession or no, this remains a wealthy society—why can’t there be a place dedicated to Mondrian, Kandinsky, Rothko, and Pollock? Is that such a sin?

Hey, replace museums with bookstores, motorcycles with Jonathan Lethem novels, and you’ve got a half-decent literary manifesto, too.

Seriously, Perl’s is an astute and crucial point, and it finally offers a substantive riposte to pop culture’s irritating claim to authenticity that’s so effectively exiled literary fiction (and art). You can’t suggest that perhaps people could read other books than Harry Potter, or maybe feature another book in their book club besides The Hunger Games, or gather famous minds together to discuss something other than Fifty Shades of Gray, without being called an elitist. To insist that literary fiction have a spot in the public consciousness is automatically interpreted as a proposal of a qualitative hierarchy. And everybody wants to play rebel by sneering at a caste system, even—especially—an imaginary one.*

But nobody’s saying that high culture must take precedence over pop culture; we’re saying that pop culture is plenty successful on its own, and it doesn’t need institutions that could be benefiting smaller, more independent, and, yes, more serious artists, to further endow its success. Popular discourse is finite and exclusive; if Feministe is discussing Hunger Games, or if Erica Jong is discussing Fifty Shades of Gray, then they’re not discussing The Vanishers, or By Blood, or Threats, or Other People We Married, or Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta, or any of the other books published this year by lesser-known, up-and-coming female writers who composed texts that didn’t start out as Twilight fan fiction.

This is not saying that one is more or less entitled than the other; it’s saying that since Fifty Shades of Gray already has every facet of capitalism working overtime on its behalf, we shouldn’t feel bad about petitioning for attention to be paid to other novels. In fact, we should, like Perl, demand it without shame. (via TNR)

* That pop culture products eternally benefit from this faux-hierarchy by using the strawman of high culture to excuse its flaws is a post for another time.

Get Ready For The 50 Shades of Gray Rip-Offs!!!!

by evanmcmurry

A couple of years ago, agents were pleading for an end to plague of pitches for Eat Pray Love-style memoirs, which were immediately followed by a swarm of vampire pitches.

Now the 50 Shades of Gray extremely soft-core S&M epidemic is starting in earnest, as evidenced by this job posting seeking a ghostwriter for a combo light erotica / beginner’s guide to S&M. Note: having read all three 50 Shades of Gray novels is a requirement. That’s 150 shades of gray. (Bonus: since nobody pays for anything anymore, most of these rip-offs will likely be ghost-authored by college sophomores looking for intern credit with a publishing agency, which means next year’s racy hit will have been written by someone who was two years out from taking the English AP exam. Enjoyez-vouz!)

Freelance Author for Beginner’s Sex Guide to S&M Sex

Date: 2012-07-18, 4:09PM EDT
Reply to: [redacted] [Errors when replying to ads?]

Callisto Media, a fast-growing digital publisher based in Berkeley, CA is looking for a freelance author to work with us on the creation of an entertaining and informative sex guide for beginners interested in S&M sex.


– You will work with Callisto Media to produce a book of approximately 25,000 words.
– The book will be a combination of light erotica and a beginner’s guide to S&M sex.
– This is a ghostwriting project.


– Exceptional writing skills, with strong attention to detail, grammar, and style.
– You consistently deliver high-quality work on time, under tight deadlines.


We require that you have experience in the following:
– You are an author who has written and/or ghostwritten published nonfiction work for a well-regarded and/or major book imprint or magazine.
– You are well versed in writing on the topic of sexual instruction and erotica.
– You are familiar with the topic of S&M text, and have demonstrated experience in writing about the topic.
– You have read and are familiar with all books in the 50 Shades of Grey series.


– Authors will be compensated on a per-word basis. The project is anticipated to take roughly 2-3 weeks.


– Please submit your resume, a cover letter that describes your areas of expertise, and at least two representative writing samples to the email address shown at the top of this post. PLEASE INCLUDE THE FULL TEXT OF THE WRITING SAMPLES IN YOUR RESPONSE (PLEASE DO NOT JUST PROVIDE LINKS to your work as these will NOT be opened).
– If your resume indicates that you might be a good fit, we will send you a short writing exercise that will simulate the type of content you would be writing. We send an identical exercise to all prospective candidates, your response will not be used or published in any way, and it will take less than fifteen minutes to complete.

We look forward to reviewing your submission!