reading trends affecting overall reading?

I'm fully aware that the title reads like a social science research topic and - if that were my area of study, and perhaps even if it weren't - I would absolutely love to write that paper.  Considering I spend the majority of my time these days reading political theory & philosophical abstracts I can't help it. But I seriously digress.

One day my mum asked me if I read or had heard of Fifty Shades of Grey and I perked up, commenting that I had.

It wasn't until a few days later that I had completely confused it with Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. I have read neither, but only one of them is on my TBR. I'll let you guess which one.

Regardless, the only thing I know about Fifty Shades of Grey (I need to stop mentioning the title, I'm afraid of the redirects I'm going to get) is from the snippet that someone shared with me. I was promptly repelled - it was a scene involving blood for no purpose that I could discern - and I have absolutely no interest to read any further. On Twitter and through some posts from you guys I have seen it related to Twilight, the most direct having been this:

Now, I'm not sure at all if that's the case or not, but the two series do indeed seem to have a few things in common, and there may be others, or, I may be wrong:

  • Both authors emerged from relative obscurity and became known rapidly for their books
  • As such, I believe, there was relatively little editing on behalf of both books (speaking here of the first installments) due to publishing deadlines
  • Female characters that have a strong male attachment
First I should say that, yes, I have read Twilight. The entire series. (And, no, it is not at all my cup of tea for reasons I won't talk about during this post.) Aside from having those things in common, both series are incredibly popular. I stopped into Posman's (GCT branch) the other day and there is a rather prominent display for Fifty Shades not only in the window, but in the new fiction section right when you walk in. As of 1pm today this is true for Amazon:

The question I'm most concerned with, then, is what, if any, affect does this have on readers and reading? There was huge discussion during the height of Twilight fame that, despite the story, it was good that people (not just children, either) were reading. People were buying books, going to the library. This is a good thing, it was said. Fifty Shades is apparently doing much of the same, given both its sales and rampant discussion in both the media and blogosphere. I am a reader and I love when people want to pick up a book and become immersed in a new world.

So is it a good thing that people are reading these books? Does the reading of these books help people to read more, and is there anything to say about society in part due to the books that are trending?

I don't have an answer to this question, but I think about it often. There's never any one answer, and, honestly, never any one right answer. But I'm curious to see what you think.

9 comments on "reading trends affecting overall reading?"

Alissa wrote: Thu May 17, 01:42:00 PM

I think it goes both ways - good and bad, in a sense. While I'm all for promoting reading and discussion of what you've read, I think some books help more than others at expanding a person's reading ability and level of analysis.

In my opinion, I don't think people actually get anything from the Fifty Shades trilogy. I think it's more of a guilty pleasure - a strictly controversial erotica.

Anonymous wrote: Thu May 17, 01:44:00 PM

I love your article and I could seriously write a dissertation about the the topic Fifty Shades covers. I'm a psychology master's candidate & I am SO enthralled with this series. I was so confused as to WHY at was just...yeah. So, I am on the last book of the trilogy (Fifty Shades Freed) and I STILL do not understand how this is Twilight fan-fic (I refuse to acknowledge it as such because I didn't like the Twilight saga).

However, I think it is the curiosity and the taboo nature that Fifty Shades covers. It's pretty shocking to the sensibilities at first, but as the series goes on, it does become gradually more "vanilla" (tamer). I love how the MC Christian is so broken & needs to be fixed, but is still a complete lovable pain in the toosh, and Ana is hard-headed and refuses to be completely submissive.

I think that the trend of this book is something people should embrace. I absolutely recognize that the writing style is weird and poorly done, but it didn't stop be from flying through this (INCREDIBLY LONG) trilogy in less than 2 weeks. I so badly want Ana to "fix" Christian and live happily ever after. The trend for this, I think may run its course because people are so curious to see what the fuss is about, but reading is reading, regardless of the content. If readers can recognize and acknowledge the weaknesses of the book, can enjoy it, or even both...I applaud them!

Great post!! :-D I'd be interested to hear what you think if you DO decide to pick up the FSoG trilogy!


We Heart YA wrote: Thu May 17, 01:48:00 PM

Um, a salient piece of information: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was originally written as erotic Twilight fanfic. (So Dustin Hansen's tweet was a joke referring to that origin.) When it became popular enough, the author decided to change the names and sell it. So we don't think you can examine them as comparable phenomenons when the truth is, the latter would never have happened/existed without the former.

kaye (paper reader) wrote: Thu May 17, 02:04:00 PM

@Alissa: I think you hit a lot of my thoughts on the head. I love characters and figuring out what makes them tick and being able to take something away from a story on an analytical level. Now, like Em said, there is something perhaps to be said about why people are interested in it. And if she ever writes that paper I would love to read it. I'm not sure, however, that the books are for me.

@Em: That's really interesting about the psychology aspect (and much luck to you, I will be in the same position next year!). Have you read anything or written anything that discusses the story on a deeper, more academic level? When a book attains a certain level of popularity (or, perhaps, becomes infamous) I'm always curious as to *why* people are picking it up, because everyone has such unique reasons.

And you're right about trend vs. reading; if there's no impetus to actually pick up a book then the hype is as far as some people will actually get. You can't make people read. Definite food for thought.

I'll have to think about reading it, though I think it would be more likely if I read some in-depth discussion on the subject. I'm a little academic at heart. :)

Thank you SO much for commenting!

@WeHeartYA: I...had no idea. My mind is sort of blown. Now I'm curious to know if any of the story was changed, or if it was merely a simple ctrl+f to replace 'Bella' with 'Ana'. Fascinating.

I wonder at what point you can separate the love of a traditionally published story that spawns a person to write from when a person reads (or writes) fan fiction and is inspired to write. To be fair, the circumstances are apparently quite different here in that the story was originally about Twilight, but there's a similar element involved. I'm frankly surprised this was allowed on a legal level, then, though I suppose it would have to be different enough on some level, at least, to avoid that?

Thanks so much for letting me know. Like I said, I knew virtually nothing about it except for the fact that I saw (and see) it everywhere.

We Heart YA wrote: Thu May 17, 03:06:00 PM

Having not read either the original fanfic ("Master of the Universe") or FIFTY SHADES ourselves, we cannot say for sure, but many readers (fans, even) agree that it's somewhere in the 90-99% range the same. Meaning Ctrl+F was the bulk of the work.

(PS: Kristan read about 20 pages of FIFTY SHADES and had to stop. The writing was unbearable to her.)

There has been much debate about its fanfic origins and the morality/legality of fanfic in general, but at the end of the day it seems that Stephenie Meyer's camp isn't troubled enough (or at all) to do anything about it.

kaye (paper reader) wrote: Thu May 17, 03:45:00 PM

@WHYA: I am flat out laughing like mad at that title. "Master of the Universe"? Isn't that...He-Man? :D

I feel, however, that I should be clearer in general to readers of this blog that I am an ardent supporter of fanfic where it's allowed. (For instance, GRRM permits Game of Thrones TV fic, but not GoT book fic.) I wrote it when very young before even knowing there was a name, and I still both read and, to a lesser extent, write it. To maintain a separation of me as a writer and reader of original works from me as a reader of fic, there will be none of that overlap here.

But, man, I've read some mind-blowingly talented works. :)

And, well, if they Meyer doesn't mind about it, then that's that, though I wonder if there's a correlation of people who hadn't read Twilight but who have read Fifty Shades and then go on to read the former. Oh, books.

Jenny wrote: Thu May 17, 05:37:00 PM

Now I'm going to be uber negative, as is my nature, and say I've never gotten fan fiction. Think up your own ideas, people! Sheesh! I have no desire to read FSOG because it just sound stupid to me, but I don't care if people are reading it. If it is as risque as people are saying, though, I think parents should be aware and monitor there kids.

Unknown wrote: Thu May 17, 08:46:00 PM

I think most people do t read enough, so these big book phenonmenons are positive in a certain way, but I'm not crazy about the fact that someone just got mega-rich off of Twilight fanfiction. Not a trend I want to see!

M wrote: Fri May 18, 03:56:00 AM

Rather telling that I cliked on your Twitter link that reads like a social science topic!!! :) I've read Between Shades of Gray and it's a wonderful YA read. As for Fifty, I think there are enough other people reading tnat.....the fan fiction comment was interesting to hear though!

Literacy is one thing, but I don't know if we should even be trying to make people read fiction for pleasure. A lot of people engage in various activities for pleasure but I don't want to do them. Am I missing out then?

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