We Are Both Right

Fifty Shades of Grey, and Why Mommy Lived Happily Ever After

Done, done and done. How about you? ©We Are Both Right

I’m a Fifty Shades of Grey convert.

There, I said it.

Until Tracey recently asked Amanda and me if either of us had read it, I wasn’t admitting to anyone (except my husband) that I not only read Fifty Shades of Grey, but Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. Just two months before, I had openly and stubbornly refused to consider reading these books.

You see, I prefer to buck trends whenever possible. And in this case, my decision not to indulge was made in reaction to the incessant gushing of pent-up moms in the bleachers at the town baseball field who thought the trilogy was worthy of a literary award. Seriously, mommy porn? How hard-up do you have to be?

So where was I? Oh yes, I read the entire trilogy. And I liked it. A lot. (I can blame a good friend, whose opinion I very much respect, for my change of heart.)

Once I had read them, it was challenging to refrain from the water cooler critiques which were heavily anti-Fifty Shades. All of my editor friends were saying that any self-respecting writer/editor would never get through the books without covering the pages in red proofreading marks. They were partially right — I was tempted, but distracted enough by the Red Room of Pain scenes to resist picking up a pen and mailing my corrections to author E L James. I also had to overcome a mental top ten list of the most overused fifty shades phrases (Can I get an “Oh my”?). The only thing left to do was laugh at myself for wasting hours on such a guilty pleasure when I barely make time to read anything else. And still, I was glad I did.

Now I am firmly planted on the Fifty Shades bandwagon — that is me, waving the flag, surrendering. But not for all the obvious reasons. Sure the story was hot, steamy mostly. And I even heard of one couple who completely turned around their relationship because the Mrs. had an awakening. But there was more to it than a bunch of sensationalist sex scenes and the BDSM theme.  The most intriguing take-away for me was how Anastasia Steele and Christopher Grey spun their extremes into a whirlwind of self-discovery and ultimately met somewhere in the middle.

I would go so far as to say that the story was touching, dare I say even sweet at times. Anastasia and Christian learned to bend (in most interesting ways) and let go of their fears and inhibitions. Their story, fictional as it may appear, gets you thinking about how far you can stray from your comfort zone while still being true to yourself.

The real theme here is about connecting with someone on a deeper level — and how sometimes you have to expand your definition of normal to get there. But I won’t lie, you will have to repeatedly pick your chin up off the sheets and get through a lot of cable ties and clamps before the real story emerges. Not a bad way to pass the time.

Come to think of it, maybe the real lesson here is about trying something before you decide whether or not you like it — kind of like this book.

Soooo, did you read it? What do you think of the Grey frenzy? Amanda had to deal with the Fifty Shades-hype on the baseball field too, except she’s not giving in. Ever.

Fifty Shades of I’ll Read Something Else

Let’s start with a fun fact, shall we?

Did you know that Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy author E.L. James originally published the work as a piece of Twilight (don’t get me started) fanfiction under the name Snowqueens Icedragon?

Book. Cover. Judged.

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One afternoon about a month ago, I was sitting at my son’s batting practice reading a book on my Nook. My daughter and 3-year-old son were home with their dad, and since me offering my child hitting advice made about as much sense as cleaning the house while my preschooler walked around with a cup of grape juice, I suddenly found myself with an entire hour of interrupted reading time. It was heavenly.

Until it wasn’t.

50 Shades of Grey? Nah, Amanda prefers color. And books without mistakes. GiniMiniGi ©/stock.xchng

Fifty Shades of Grey? Nah, Amanda prefers color. And books without mistakes. GiniMiniGi ©/stock.xchng

“Whatcha reading there, Mrs. R.?,” one of the dads asked. (It should be noted this has always been a pet peeve of mine. I’m clearly reading. Not talking. Why are you interrupting me?) In the interest of social niceties, I looked up and started to answer, but I never had a chance.

“I bet it’s that Fifty Shades book all you women are going crazy for,” he said with a smirk. “Lucky for your husband,” he added.

I started to correct him (I was actually reading the thought-provoking Defending Jacob by William Landay) but he liked the material he had imagined and wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of it. He addressed the other parents (all dads) that were in the waiting area.

“Your wives read the Fifty Shades?” he asked. “Mine did,” he said proudly. “Oh, yeah,” he added as a wink, wink, nudge, nudge, fill-in-the-blanks afterthought. (Lucky girl!)

As the other men started comparing and congratulating (!?!?) each other on the reading habits of their significant others, my inner (ha) nerd had had enough of the locker room talk. She has been a passionate, thoughtful reader since the first time she picked up a book 30-something odd years ago and was not about to let her good, hard-earned reputation be sullied by a 20-something virginal, clumsy woman and her terrible life choices.

“Actually,” she (I) said. “I’m not reading Fifty Shades of Grey, nor will I ever. It’s a ridiculous, poorly-written book with a laughable plot line; incompetently developed, inane characters; and questionable grammar.” (Yes, my inner nerd speaks with semi colons. She didn’t get a lot of dates in high school.) I was about to add, “And I resent that a woman can’t read a book without it being assumed that it’s that tripe,” but the group had already moved on, undoubtedly feeling sorry for my husband and what he has to live with every day. (I think I lost them with my frowny face, furrowed brow and glasses which after that rant were clearly for use and not as a “sexy librarian” prop.)

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Actually, when all the hoopla started, I had considered giving the books a go. I knew of their reputation (subject matter and proclivity for mistakes and repetition) but figured all those people and Facebook feeds couldn’t be wrong. Right? A friend stopped me before I could download the first one. She had read all three and thought they were not bad, but knew “how I was” (whatever could she mean by that?) and said that I would wind up throwing it out the window and mailing a thesaurus and a copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage to the author. I think her exact words were, “It will make you stabby.”

So I stay away from Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, I realize this makes me a social oddity and a snob (an an awesome poet apparently). That’s fine. I’ll keep on keeping on. You and your inner goddess sit over there and blush and bite your lip. Again. And again. Oh my! Holy cow! Don’t forget to bite your lip! I understand 26-year-old billionaire control freaks who are into BDSM also like that. A lot! (Oh my! I’m biting my lip again!)

(WE GET IT. HE IS TURNED ON WHEN YOU BITE YOUR LIP.)

(Holy cow!)

Please, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that every book read has to be a thoughtful tome discussing Important Topics. Far from it. Reading should be fun and enjoyable. A way to escape. That’s what books have always been for me. But if we are going to collectively going to go crazy over something that appears on the written page, can it at least be something that doesn’t include the phrase, “He’s my very own Christian Grey flavor Popsicle.”?

Ladies, there are some very good fiction authors out there that have strong, smart women as the lead character. Want erotic fiction with a good story? Try Judy Blume (Summer Sisters and Wifey, not Superfudge) or Penny Vincenzi. Heck, read Joan Collins! (Did I just write that? I’m probably lightheaded from Christian’s rule about no snacking between meals. Who in their right mind would agree to that? My guess? A 21-year-old college student from Seattle who doesn’t own a computer.) Now in these books, you won’t find any Red Rooms of Pain, but you will find interesting plots, complex characters and no glaring typos! Or try something on this list (Wuthering Heights! Really!).

Sigh.

Have you read any part of the Fifty Shades trilogy? Did you become obsessed? Did anything about the books bother you? Suzanne not only read the trilogy, she liked it! (And I always say she’s my most sensible friend!)

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.

tracey

iPads, Kindles and Nooks … Oh, my!

My pre-schooler has a Nook Color. At first glance, this might seem indulgent, but the motivation to purchase a digital device was purely an act of self-preservation.

My kids are forever intrigued by my iPad. They beg to play games. They whine to watch movies. They just can’t keep their hands off it. Upon picking up my iPad after kiddie use, I discover the thing that grosses me out about kids — even my own — slime. A six-week pinkeye bout later and I was determined to invest in a digital reader for each child.

For me, it came down to the choice between three options: iPad, Kindle or Nook Color. I wanted my kids to read. They wanted to play games. Could I find a device that could meet both of these requirements?

The iPad was the first to be eliminated. I deemed it too expensive and too heavy for little hands prone to dropping things. Yes, there are many cool book apps. However, my goal was to was to get them to read first and then shoot birds across the screen later. Book apps aside, there’s just too many other media offerings on the iPad to distract my children from reading.

Hands down, if it were all about reading books, Kindle would be my first choice. It has the lowest price point and ease of purchase using the Amazon store. At the time I was purchasing, the e-ink black and white device was the only option available. Not such a good option for someone who planned to purchase children’s picture books. And, let’s face it, my kids weren’t attracted to my iPad for the text. They were anticipating vibrancy and interactivity. The Kindle just wasn’t going to cut it.

This left me and my family with one alternative choice, the Nook Color. This device has a good selection of children’s book and offers select, popular apps. My kids can read, play games and watch movies. The Nook has one thing that makes it stand out from the competition, it is the only device that has an association with a physical bookstore. B&N gives full access to select titles and other promotional incentives to bring Nook buyers back into the store. Imagine my son’s joy when B&N gave a free Mighty Eagle to all those who played Angry Birds while in the store.

It has been several months since this major purchase and my children enjoy their Nooks daily. Turns out that there are many children’s books available and even some that will read to my daughter. Oh, and that in-store service came in handy. My husband and I thought the touch screen wasn’t being responsive, so we brought it to the local B&N. Imagine our embarrassment when the associate pulled out the screen cleaner!

Note: I made the decision to buy a Nook Color just as the Kindle Fire launched. The Fire gets less than stellar reviews for user interface, but it has a color screen and is a tablet. If I had to make the purchase again today, I would still purchase the Nook for my children. Why? The integration between the physical and digital, both store and content is important to me and I want my children to make the connection and respect both options.

tracey

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey