fifty things.

So, since I've already gone and admitted that I read Fifty Shades of Grey, I'll tell you what happened at our book club discussion. While I feel that our book selections are hit and miss, the discussions are regularly excellent. When I have to read a book that is painful to get through, I consider that my admission price to attend and participate in the meeting.

No one loved the book. We rate them from 1 (hated it) to 5 (love it forever, yay), and the highest rating was a 3.5. I gave it a 1, and gave basically the same reasons that I wrote about last week. Most people who said it was okay said that it was a page-turner and it kept them entertained. The discussion was lively.

Here are some random book club things from the meeting.

Thing 1: Romance, the genre
I did learn a few things about romance novels. One of our regular members is a woman in her seventies who writes (and publishes) these sorts of books. She used to be a judge on some kind of panel that gave out awards. There are specific rules within the romance world, some of which vary by the publisher. Since the genre is acknowledged to be pretty formulaic, I guess this shouldn't be a surprise. For example, Harlequin requires that the male love interest be rich. Romance novels are also required to have a H.E., which stands for a happy ending. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up. This woman said that the writing in this book was truly bad, but did say that the author did something unusual by tying the explicit scenes to the main conflict.

It made me think of musicals - the way sometimes the songs don't really have anything to do with the plot and sometimes they seem almost natural. It's like that. Except with sex. I think maybe romance novels are just not for me. I would've liked it much better had there been elaborate song and dance sequences instead.

Thing 2: Bad Writing
After several of us mentioned the awful quality of the writing, a woman asked us what we meant by that. She thought we were talking about the grammar. We pointed out the repeated use of the same phrases, and then the topic went somewhere else. I wished we could've stayed on that, because it was an interesting question. Mostly, I wanted to say that there aren't actually rules, because a sufficiently talented writer can break them all and make it seem natural. Art is cool like that.

I did gleefully tell Josh about the lady's question. Language comes so naturally to him that he doesn't understand the way other people react to it. To hear that some people not only can't tell the difference between good and bad writing, but have never before contemplated that there was a difference, made him a little sad.

Thing 3: Bad writing
A woman at work, who knows that I read a lot, was asking me about books that I liked. I wasn't sure how to explain it. Good ones? I dunno. She said she only liked real page-turners, otherwise she got bored. I thought to myself that that meant she didn't actually like books at all. I went through my shelves to find some books she might enjoy, ones that were quick-flowing plot-wise, but well-written and with interesting themes and ideas. Before I could lend her any, she found out that we were reading Fifty Shades, and she specifically asked to borrow it. Sigh. Then, as I was reading it, I couldn't help but think that she would probably really like it.

Something that became clear to me at the meeting was that different people read for different reasons. While I found the wretched writing distracting, a lot of people mentioned that the writing was poor, then said they liked the book anyway. They also said that not liking the characters didn't keep them from enjoying it either. They mentioned the same things that I did, yet their reactions were completely different.

Romance novels seem to be mostly escapism. While I frequently enjoy movies that are merely entertaining, rather than educational or throught-provoking, I want more from my books. So it was unfair to think that my colleague doesn't like books, she just wants something else out of the experience than I do. And as a result, I'm better able to answer what kind of books that I like. I want to learn something or think about something in a way that is new to me.

Also, the writing should be good, whatever that means.

Thing 4: Steak at home
When I was complaining about the male love interest, how he didn't appear to be anything more than hot, rich, and mysterious, the other women seemed to think that was plenty for them. Again, that comes from the perspective of what is essentially a fantasy book. And it's true, in a romantic comedy, that would be enough to fill a ninety-minute film. But the main conflict of the plot was that the female lead wanted more than sex from the relationship. And I just felt like there wasn't anything more to this guy.

These women also made jokes about looking askance at their husbands/boyfriends after having read about the drop-dead gorgeous bazillionaire (someone said she needed fifty shades). I don't think anyone's actual relationships are in danger. They were just jokes that you can make with a bunch of other women. I laughed, but I didn't really feel it. Hot and rich is not enough for me, I want someone to talk to! I do not need to fantasize about a made-up man, because the real-life man I have kicks his well-tailored pants up and down the street.

So yeah. Romance is probably not my genre.

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