In the New Republic, critic and writer William Garaldi recently took on Fifty Shades of Grey. Expressing his supreme distaste for Fifty Shades and romance novels in general, Garaldi makes such winning remarks as
With their drooling enthusiasm for Fifty Shades, millions of dreamy-hearted women have chaperoned a cultural phenomenon—one that amply shows how far taste can be removed from hunger...The trilogy’s assembly-line asininity is really a fomentation of the worst that can be believed about both sexes. Romance novels—parochial by definition, ecumenical in ambition—teach a scurvy lesson: enslavement to the passions is a ticket to happiness.You can tell he enjoys being nasty. Go on, girl:
...[S]ome of us find it inconceivable that intelligent readers would participate in the abnegating of their minds and the debauching of English just to feel some twitching in their trousers.But what about those of us whose trousers twitch only when English is debauched? Like, tied to the bed and told she's a bad, bad language. Mmmm. Mind abnegation.
But if you were among those who found the books not even a smidgen sexy, that’s because they aren’t....Sex is sexy when it’s suggested, furtive, and not when all the moving parts are acrobatically swung before us.Do you mean sexual line breaks? Or do you mean that sniffing panties is sexier when the lady doesn't know you've broken into her house and sniffed them in a furtive manner? Because I totally agree!
And what's wrong with some empty entertainment to kick-start the sleepy genitalia? Nothing, unless you believe that a nation’s reading habits have something potent to say about that nation’s character. Tell me the books you read and I’ll tell you who you are; tell me you read no books and I’ll tell you there is no you.Lots of people don't read books. They appear to be perfectly fine, intelligent people who don't need Garaldi to tell them they, um, exist.
What the commercial coup of Fifty Shades reveals about us is this: We’re an infirm, ineffectual tribe still stuck in some sort of larval stage. Do I really expect Americans to sit down with Adam Bede or Clarissa after all the professional and domestic hurly-burly of their day? Do I expect them to appreciate the sexually terroristic satires of Sade, or the erogenous verse of Sappho and Catullus, or Nicholson Baker’s comical romp Vox? Pardon me, but yes I do.This is intellectual gasbaggery. And just for the record, I think even simple-minded dopes like me think Sade is awesome. I love "Smooth Operator."
In response to Garaldi and The New Republic, Rachel Kramer Bussell interviewed Eloisa James, a professor of English at Fordham University and one of my favorite romance authors. James articulates my feelings for the romance genre and why I enjoy it so much despite the fact that it gets very little love everywhere else except in sales reports.
Romance is the best-selling genre, but it faces so much criticism from the mainstream— From intellectuals. What you’re often seeing is intellectuals rather than the mainstream, because that guy is not mainstream and the journal he published in is not mainstream. The Washington Post is a lot more mainstream, and they have a romance column. But intellectuals wield an enormous amount of media space. The women buying romance don’t give a damn what is said in The New Republic. They’ve never even heard of it. They would probably think it’s communist. This guy with his nasty opinions and deep misogyny doesn’t exist for them.James makes the point that there is room for everyone's tastes, and that reading one type of book doesn't make a person incapable of understanding another.
What would you say to someone who’s never read a romance? Romance is something that can enter your life and leave again. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t disparage people for what they happen to be reading at a given point any more than we disparage people for musical choices. The impact of that article was these people are stupid because they’re not challenging themselves to learn about the blood trade in diamonds. I think there’s time in life to learn about the blood trade in diamonds and to learn about something else.Coco Chanel once said, "I don't care what you think about me. I don't think of you at all." Garaldi's impotent little screed doesn't win me over to his argument, but it does make me wonder why a highbrow reader would waste pixels and ink on denigrating lowbrow readers. Not even his most carefully-crafted vitriol could sway such readers away from books that we already love.
The thing that bothers me the most is Garaldi's laziness. If he wants to criticize the dubious literary merits of the book Fifty Shades of Grey, have at it, my man. That's your job as a critic. But going after its readers and fans? Garaldi has no idea who we are or what we stand for. Drawing such reductive conclusions about millions of people discredits him in my eyes as not only a literary critic, but as a so-called intellectual as well.