Five Ways You Offend Women by Insulting Fifty Shades of Grey

Provocative title, isn’t it? Anyone who reads my blog is familiar with my love-to-hate affection for the Fifty Shades of Grey series. After all, I’ve captioned it here, here, here, and in my last entry I showed you my homemade Pin the Penis on Christian Grey game. There are many things wrong with this series, but quite frankly, that’s a topic that’s been exhausted as of late, by individuals willing to take it a lot more seriously than I. In fact, while researching for this blog post, I found this one, which makes a lot of great points and this one, which makes me giggle.

Reba: “Everything makes you giggle, Belle.”


I do have a pretty low threshold.

So, don’t misunderstand my point here. I am not defending the series, as a whole. It’s just that in reading all of the thought-provoking and giggle-inducing critiques, I’ve come across a few criticisms that insult women all on their own. For instance:

Women who read Fifty Shades of Grey are unintelligent.

Zetus lapetus, is this book badly written. The characters are abhorrent, the dialogue is beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief, and it is just so redundant. I don’t care that Anastasia says “double crap.” I just said “zetus lapetus.” I care that she says it 88 fucking times. It’s just… unreadable, but you know what? That’s just me. I read books about pushy special ops alpha males and werewolf love stories and that one about the sexy alien king. One of the most well-read women I know has a soft spot for hobbit slash fanfiction. Does that make either of us any less intelligent? If your answer is yes, kiss my ass, because I’m also reading The Teenage Brain, by Frances E. Jensen; and I devour at least 10 articles a day on everything from current events to the issues facing prison libraries.

If your argument against Fifty Shades of Grey is that intelligent women can’t read poorly written smut, you are one of the reasons reading is not a more popular hobby. Some people don’t watch American Idol or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Some people just Googled “most popular reality show” to make that point. That doesn’t mean they don’t need to turn down their brain to relax. Not everyone considers reading a chore all the time. There are two kinds of librarians: literature snobs and those who hate literature snobs. I am the latter. I am intelligent. Sometimes I read smut.

Ana is only 22.

I’ve seen multiple criticisms of Fifty Shades of Grey fixate on the age of the heroine. For one, they get it wrong. Ana turned 22 in the third book, Fifty Shades Freed, so actually, the character in the movie is supposed to be 21, until otherwise specified. If you’re gonna bitch about something, do it accurately.

fiftydollars

When I was 21 years old, I lost my baby to a nearly second trimester miscarriage. Six months after that, I helped my best friend bury her infant daughter. That year, I accepted over $20,000 in student loans, graduated college, made the decision to enter graduate school, and chose to leave my ex-husband. Perhaps it wasn’t the typical middle-class American 22-year-old experience, but I was unequivocally an adult. By 22 I had bought a car, moved several times, paid my bills, taken out more in student loans than I could possibly earn in a year, and made major decisions about my future career path. That is typical. So, how dare you tell me that I wouldn’t have been of sound mind to enter into a sexual relationship of my choosing? If a woman old enough to vote, marry, drink, be tried as an adult, and sign binding contracts wants to sign a pretend contract before consensual sex, it doesn’t matter how much she giggles or how “mousey” she appears. I was 23 when I learned to apply eyeliner from a YouTube video and actually style my damned hair. That’s not what made me an adult. Being both responsible and accountable for my own choices was. Regardless of where things go in the books (spoiler alert: it ain’t good), Anastasia Steele was both of these when she met Christian Grey. Her age had absolutely no bearing on the situation and it’s disrespectful to young adult women to imply that they are not capable of making their own choices.

Ana is still a virgin.

This article is not the first one to take issue with the fact that Anastasia Steele has never had a sexual experience until she meets Christian Grey. The writer actually suggests that, because Ana has had no genuine interest in a man and doesn’t masturbate, it’s more likely the character is asexual. For one, the lead character in a romance isn’t asexual. That’s not how the genre works. Two, we learn later that Ana has had encounters with the opposite sex and they just haven’t gone anywhere. In regards to masturbation, I do know women who just aren’t interested. A lot of women have trouble reaching orgasm, both by themselves and with a partner. Their bodies just work a bit differently and without an emotional connection, physical stimulation may lack appeal… and that’s okay.

My biggest problem with focusing on this criticism of the series, however, is the assumption that a woman who is not sexually active is asexual or somehow abnormal. I am 27 years old and I have not had sex in five years. Furthermore, I’ve only kissed five people, ever. I am not asexual. I’m just not interested in sharing my body with someone with whom I see no future. I once let a man in a bar kiss me, with tongue, when I’d just met him that night. It makes me uncomfortable even remembering that, because physicality without an emotional connection just doesn’t do it for me. Different women have different needs and it’s just as offensive to shame a woman for not being sexually active as it is to call another a slut.

Fifty Shades of Grey is only popular, because the hero is rich.

While Christian Grey sure isn’t my dreamboat, I can tell you that in the current dating pool of grown men with flat-billed caps and job titles as specific as “n/a,” it’s not so far-fetched to think that, perhaps, it would be easier to repair deep-seated emotional scarring than to motivate a man to get his shit together. Regardless, I’m not convinced that the ability to “buy all the planes” is what appeals to the Fifty Shades of Grey target audience, particularly the over 30 bracket. This article actually suggests a somewhat circular logic: women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey, because women are reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Finally, a woman with traditional goals (marriage, children, an optional career) can come out and say…

No longer is it only Carrie Bradshaw that gets to talk dirty, but housewives too!

As a librarian, part of my job is analyzing literary trends. This is why I am particularly aware of the rise of the billionaire romance novel. Along with Christian Grey, in the last few years we’ve been introduced to Gideon Cross, Gabriel Emerson, Jesse Ward, and many other laughably wealthy and emotionally damaged heroes. However, long before well-worn copies of Fifty Shades of Grey hit nightstands all over the world, we met the heroes in these series: Rock Chick, KGI, Black Dagger Brotherhood, Psy-Changelings, Immortals After Dark, and The Sookie Stackhouse Novels. Every title listed stars leading men who are borderline abusive and financially set. That describes most contemporary, paranormal, and historical romance. This shit ain’t new. Not only does the insistence that this book simply broke new ground with an abusive megabajillionaire give the title far too much credit, it also implies that all women who enjoy romance are gold digging whores. That’s just not nice.

Note: I have been known to declare that I’d let a man string me from the ceiling and whip me if he’d pay off my student loans, but I am hardly the standard by which all women should be measured.

Fifty Shades of Grey is responsible for sex injuries.

This article and many, many more suggest that the rise in bedroom play injuries is the fault of Fifty Shades of Grey. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but…. I call bullshit. You are an adult. You likely have a smartphone on you at all times, meaning you literally have endless information at your fingertips. If you are stupid enough to purchase a spreader bar and use a trashy novel for a user manual, you are the only one to blame for the broken spine. Have some faith that the majority of women are intelligent enough to manage a Google search, y’all.

I can say a lot of bad things about Fifty Shades of Grey. A lot of writers can. I mean, two twenty-somethings e-mailing each other? What is this, Amish country? Between Ana’s “inner goddess” and Christian’s “laters baby” this librarian actually fell out of love with reading for a few days. I love when women ask me to suggest titles “like Fifty Shades of Grey,” because it gives me the opportunity to introduce them to much better written erotica. Perhaps I can get them started on Kristen Ashley’s special-ops-saves girl books. Maybe I can send them back in time with one of Karen Marie Moning’s sexy highlanders. I can even show them more plot-light erotica, but with with steamier scenes that don’t read like a child reporting her molestation – “Then he touched me… down there!” You know what I won’t do, though? Insult them.

My Scottish Highlander Time Travel Adventure Romance Satire: Why I Don’t Write Fiction

I think the thing that makes me such a great blogger is my dependability. I never just randomly disappear for weeks on end. Oh, wait…

Chiefly, my reason is that I desperately need a new computer. Every time I start to write a blog, this one spits popups at me and growls. Also, I got really into this book series… hashtag librarian woes, y’all.

Speaking of which… while Gail and I align on many levels, our literary tastes are not one of them.

As you can tell, this doesn’t stop me from making references she wishes she didn’t understand. After all, fair’s fair and if I have to read her NPR transcript, via text message, she’s gonna know the outline of my latest novel. This month, I’m stuck on the Outlander series.

Yeah… that about sums it up.

Kidding. There’s actually a lot more plot to this one than my typical werewolf porn. I mean, they had to have some basis for the Starz series. Essentially, though, it was the first in what became a slightly obscure genre (Amish romance is a thing y’all) of Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance novels. I kid you not. There are many, many knockoffs of this series and they usually focus much more heavily on the romance (sex) than the rest. This one, however, has sparked a great deal of conversation between Gail and I, for two reasons…

1. Deep down, I’m still the 12-year-old who not only knew all of the shippers for Roswellian fandom, but also the rules of chat room role play games. I will talk Gaily’s ear off about a new obsession.
2. Even the fandom I adore gets over-analyzed and mocked by me, because everything in this world is funny.

While neither Gail nor I have grown up in any true luxury, we both came to adulthood in Shetland, a middle income Southern suburb. We graduated high school in 2006, with dial up internet connections, cell phones, and three-minute microwavable pasta. So, in my chatter over my latest series, Gail the Mailman and I, Belle the Librarian, have been discussing just how very poorly we’d do in 18th century Scotland.

11-7-14 1

Naturally, this has led to plans to pen a Scottish highlander time travel adventure romance satire… because we bring the party. It’s actually been great fun trading ideas back and forth.

dancing

 

Braxley Engel’s Unsexy and Disappointing First Person Narrative of a Venture Through Time, by Belle Roquemore and Gail Frederickson. I think a catchy title is key.

Chapter 1: How I almost died of exposure.
For realz yo, it was 65 degrees out today… in mid-November. I feel confident stating that 18th century Scottish winter wear does not have the word “PINK” emblazoned on the butt in rhinestones. 

Chapter 2: Why doesn’t anyone speak English?!?!
There actually is no universally accepted criteria for differentiating between dialects and languages. However, over 30% of Scotland speaks Scots today and no one can quite decide if it’s a language or a dialect.* It’s pretty reasonable to assume that if 2014 Braxley woke up in 1743 Scotland, she would be fucked.

Chapter 3: Wait… what the hell is my backstory?!?!
If the destruction of the personalized keychain industry wasn’t enough to make you reconsider that ridiculous damned baby name with all of its x’s and apostrophes, perhaps this will! All silly first names that aren’t actually names aside, most Americans know very little about their origins. Sure, Braxley knows that Engel is German, but does she know that Germany was Prussia? Furthermore, can she speak the language? Also, that accent doesn’t exist yet.

Chapter 4: Why is my warrior so hideous?!?!
Folks, we dose our water with fluoride for a reason. We also lose a lot fewer limbs these days. Aside from such trivial matters as teeth and arms, though, the average height of a Scottish male in the 18th century was 5’3″.* That’s like, ignore his eHarmony message short. That’s like, stand on my feet while we slow dance, short. That’s like… hope I don’t have any 5’3″ male readers, short. Not to mention, while I lack a Wikipedia article on it, I’m pretty sure 18th century warriors weren’t shy about farting and scratching their asses.

Chapter 5: Where’s the soap?
What’s toothpaste? Who’s Tampon? You guys, you’re out of toilet paper! Where are the razors? Oh my stars, what is that smell?!?! What’s 18th century for “dick cheese”? I need to buy some nail clippers. Oh, look. Pubic lice. 

Chapter 6: Why am I wearing an entire winter wardrobe?!?!
18h-century-dress-Lacma-2
Imagine traveling in the heat… or rain. Also, that tickle in your throat? It’s a rib. 

Chapter 7: Um… I bring nothing to the table.
How dare they treat me this way!?! I have a Master’s in Library and Informat… um… FINE! I also have an in-depth knowledge of 20th century liter… oh.

Chapter 8: Everything is just so… hard.
The other night, I got home from both jobs (where I sit a lot, in air conditioning) and was too tired to cook, so I went to bed without eating. EASY MAC EXISTS, y’all. Poor Braxley and her expectation of only wearing an outfit once before having it clean and dry in about two hours, while she watches TV. 

Chapter 9: I have some nutritional concerns.
Where are the bananas? How do I make bread out of flower, water, and this rock? Why is the water green? Should we really be eating cat? Do maggots count as protein?

Chapter 10: All my pets are food.
Why is the dog on a spit?!?! 

Chapter 11: He won me in a card game?!?!
What dowry? Of course I have no dowry. I don’t need a man to arrange a marriage for me! What do you mean middle-aged?!? I’m only 27!

Chapter 12: Wait… how do I fake virginity?
Fish bladder full of blood. Google it. It was a thing. Just don’t overdo it. The scene from The Shining is going to look awfully suspicious. 

Chapter 13: Marital rape… and punishment.
1993. That’s when it was illegal for a man to rape his wife in all 50 states.* Furthermore, there are still some mighty creepy corners of the internet using the phrase “Domestic Christian Discipline”. I shudder to think what 200 years ago felt like. 

Chapter 14: Woot. Scurvy.
What’s an orange? You know what else sounds fun? Smallpox… and plague.

Chapter 15: At least I won’t live past 40.
It’ll probably be due to the rampant STD’s, but at least Braxley won’t have to look at that scabby, pussing torture device again. Ooh! It could be because the baby tries to come out sideways. That’s always fun. This is all, of course, only if she can keep her mouth shut about time travel and they don’t burn her for a witch. 

Who wouldn’t buy this book?!?!

Psh. Nothing’s too trivial for citations.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_language
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_height
https://www.rainn.org/public-policy/sexual-assault-issues/marital-rape
http://www.nber.org/bah/spring06/w11963.html

Shelving the Stereotypes: When I say I’m a librarian…

When Gail and I go to a bar, there’s always this great moment where she says she’s a Mail Carrier and I say I’m a Librarian. We are both fully aware that we sound like we’re making up sexy alter egos and she’s just really bad at it. I’ve had high school acquaintances, dates, and even attendants in high-end shops assume I am joking when I say I’m a librarian. They aren’t being rude. I’m just 26 and they’re visibly waiting for the punchline. 

However, when I say I’m a librarian…

… no, I’m not kidding.

librarian stereotype

Everyone pictures one of two people when they hear “librarian” and the frumpy gal with the bun is generally the first. I’ll get to the second in a minute. In actuality, about 50% of the librarians I know are in their 20’s and early 30’s. We’re also not typically ultra conservative. On the contrary, it is a hugely liberal profession and includes tattoos, pink hair, and piercings, depending on the library. Massachusetts even has its own Tattooed Librarians Calendar. While I have more conservative political beliefs than my coworkers, even in the Midwest, the Librarians for Obama bumper sticker is quite common. My point, though, is that most of us actually look a lot more like this

zooey d new girl
… if Zooey Deschanel had Harry Potter tattoos up and down her arms.


… I’m not wearing nipple clamps.

sexy librarian stereotype
… and we rarely look like this.

This is the second most common image conjured. I’m sure most librarians like sex. In fact, if I could remember what it was, I’d probably like it, too. It is a biological drive. That does not mean that we do strip teases with ladders on rollers. Do you have any idea how many germs are in a library?!?! I think this fantasy actually developed as the result of the aforementioned “ultra conservative librarian” stereotype. We’re so prim and repressed, if properly triggered, we must go absolutely wild. On the contrary, librarians are in public service and just like cops and poison control operators, we have some of the most bizarre encounters. We’re all about free information, therefore, our calling is to give information freely; that means without judgement or surprise, regardless of whether it’s a 10-year-old’s request for Fifty Shades of Grey or a man’s desire for books on rape. We do not get to voice an opinion. If you ask your local librarian for books on sexual positions and STD treatment and she even bats an eye, she’s not doing her job very well. So, hearing the phrase “demure ladies in the streets, but utter freaks in the sheets”, in regards to my profession is neither going to scar my virginal soul, nor is it going to cause me to rip my tweed pantsuit from my swollen breasts. It’s a career path… a wonderful one. It does not, however, come with any sexual requirements. In fact, the beauty of being in such a liberal field means that heterosexuals, homosexuals, transexuals, transgenders, and swingers would really all be welcome. 

… no, Kindle is not putting me out of a job.

It used to really stress my out to hear these kinds of comments, as they were usually accompanied by the implication that I would never get to be a librarian. If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know how that usually went.

Today, I find the people who make the above suggestions have not usually been in a library in the last ten years. They aren’t library people, because they don’t know what libraries offer. In addition to programs, classes, access to technology, and on-site IT assistance, we do offer e-media… for free. Go ahead and spend $11.99 on J.K. Rowling’s new book for Kindle. That’s a bit redundant, though, because you probably already bought it with your tax dollars. The state of e-media in libraries is up in the air, right now, as publisher’s decide how it affects their profits, but a few facts remain the same. Someone has to decide how many copies to order in e-book versus hardback. Someone has to choose a vendor. Someone has to teach people to actually use the Kindle/Nook/Nabi/iPad. Furthermore, people freaking love books. I am a traitor librarian, because I prefer my Kindle. I’m sporadic in my reading and I love carrying 40 different titles at a time, but I’m a minority. Most people I talk to prefer to hold the book and feel the pages, without worrying about pdf/Kindle/adobe format compatibility. As there is a place for both radio and television, there will be a place for both hard copy and e-media, because not only does not everyone want to use an e-reader, but not everyone can afford to use an e-reader.

… no, Google is not putting me out of a job, either.

“So… no offense or anything… I’m actually curious… why do you need a master’s degree to be a librarian? What do you actually do?”

I need a master’s degree, because we’re rendering bachelor’s degrees redundant in this country, by sending confused kids to college to major in general studies so that they can graduate and work in food service. That’s another rant, though. Ahem… I need a master’s degree, because I spent 44 graduate level hours studying program development, advocacy, public relations, grant writing, evaluations, books and materials for children, books and materials for young adults, the effect of technology and social networking on society, collection development and maintenance, cataloging, the very concept of free information, the organization of information, and the information seeking habits of individuals. They didn’t teach me that when I was getting my required bachelor’s degree. That’s why I needed a master’s degree.

What do I actually do? I plan community programs that people may actually attend. I figure out which books aren’t being circulated and pack them for the annual book sale so I can make space on the shelf. I find the appraised value of a customer’s neighbor’s house. I find books at a sixth grade reading level that will interest a second grade child. I spend 30 minutes on the phone helping an elderly woman download an e-book. I look for poetry to read during an infant’s funeral. On an average day, I take on the roles of social worker, researcher, saleswoman, IT specialist, teacher, and babysitter. Some days, it’s Realtor, historian, scientist, and job coach. I wear many, many different hats and the most important one is the customer service hat. I do not get to talk down to anyone and I must always have a smile on my face. It’s exhausting… and wonderful. 

zooey d hats

I am an Information Professional. As technology takes root in our society, we have more and more information to sort through and the average person isn’t as well trained to do that as they think. Google, for instance, is a keyword search. There is no accounting for author, date, full text, pdf, peer reviewed, or content. You get to pick one, maybe two, of those parameters and hope for the best. Librarians are trained to use search terms and tax funded databases to narrow the results. For example…

My grandmother died in 1991. In the 50’s or 60’s, there was a newspaper that published an article on her influence as a teacher. I think she taught third grade. I want to find the article and don’t know what newspaper.

Go ahead. Google that.

In addition to the increase in information, for better or worse, this country is becoming more socialist, not less. Libraries are one of the only institutions that serves both the engineer and that man on the street corner that he just loudly suggested should get a job. It takes Internet access to apply for that job. It takes knowledge of technology to use the Internet.

Go ahead. Google that.

… no, I have not read that book.

When I was in the sixth grade, I was assigned a 9-12 grade reading level. I was not allowed to read anything below an 8th grade level for credit. That meant no Harry Potter, no Babysitter’s Club, and no Ramona for credit, no matter how much I read. I made one C in K-12 and it was the year I refused to read on my level.

I was an advanced placement student in high school. I read The Inferno and The Bell Jar for fun, but spent more time looking up Sparksnotes summaries than it would’ve taken to actually read the damned book, when we covered The Great Gatsby. I don’t regret that. Daisy was a horrible heroine… like written by Nicholas Sparks horrible.

My bachelor’s degree is in family and consumer science education… home-ec. I was not required to read any of the classics for that. During my MLIS, I took Books and Materials for Young Adults, Books and Materials for Children, and Children’s Literature. It was in these classes that I did the last of the required novel reading I will ever do. So, when I read a librarian’s blog and she talked about all the varied reading of popular materials we all do, just to keep up with the interests of customers, I thought…

It’s not that I’m a lazy librarian. It’s that there are an assload of books out there. You can’t read them all. You can’t even read just the New York Time’s Bestsellers. I know. I type up the Bestsellers list every week and they’re listed by fiction, nonfiction, children’s picture books, middle grade, and young adult. That’s not even counting the e-books. I cannot read them all, so I read what I like.

“Have you read…?”

Unless the rest of that question is “that one where the hot guy morphs into a dragon to save his mate, only to find out she’s a unicorn?” then the answer is likely no. I primarily read paranormal romance, romantic suspense, memoirs, blogs, and articles on current events and information theory. Every now and then I’ll read something deeper or more popular, because I want to do soMost librarians just read what they like, be that inspirational fiction, Amish romance (it is so a thing), or historical accounts. News articles may increase awareness, but romance novels increase vocabulary, graphic novels increase comprehension, and themes are universal. It all has value, so I’m not reading something just because the New York Times tells me, especially when it’s just as pretend as my werewolf porn. If you want a recommendation, I can recommend within my preferred genres, or I can suggest some awesome resources that cater to your own tastes like LibraryThing or Novelist. I’d rather see the occasional customer leave psyched about the three paranormal romance series I suggested than never please anyone, because I only read the most popular items in their genres, which they have likely already read.

dragon bound
Fo sho.

The Romance Novel vs. Reality

As I’ve been working to finish my Master in Library and Information Studies, crying in a ball underneath my favorite chair about how “I’ll never be a librarian and I don’t want to join the military!!!!!”, I’ve been losing myself in escapist fiction. I have little attention span for television and movies, so the only way I’ve been able to pull myself from my own irrational, hyperventilating internal monologue has been with romance novels. Of course, this has just added to the mantra with “I don’t have time to date and even if I did, I wouldn’t give guys any real chance and I’m going to die alooooooone!” Nothing’s sexier than a girl sucking on an inhaler in an empty bathtub, wearing leggings and an oversized butter-stained Ice Age 3D t-shirt from her fat days, amiright?

panic attack
Chicka chicka yeah…

I’ve not previously been a romance novel gal and I used to mock them mercilessly. My interest started with Nicky Charles’ Law of the Lycans series last summer (because it was free) and moved forward with J.R. Ward’s The Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I read a lot of paranormal romance, because what’s hotter than a hot naked alpha male? The answer is… a hot naked alpha male with a barbed penis. I had a brief foray into erotica, though there’s just not enough plot there for me. Lately I’ve been engrossed in romantic suspense of the hot-spec-ops-guy-saves-girl-from-Somali-pirates variety. I’m not kidding. I just finished that one yesterday. My MLIS has taught me that all literature has value, so I regret the days I mocked romantic fiction. I feel it’s increased my vocabulary significantly and it’s just fun to escape my brain, which is pretty much like having 533 windows open in a browser at all times. That being said, I have noticed some recurring themes in romance novels and they annoy the crap out of me. I’m not even talking about the traditionally ridiculous names of the male leads, but rather..

… the best friend that I hope dies screaming, while strapped down spread-eagle and disemboweled.

Too graphic? I’m gonna give a shout-out to my Gail here and state that I just have the best best friend in the whole world. She may be a little (lot) paranoid, but for the most part, she respects my life choices. She’s the voice of reason in my head and often just my conscience in general. She’s my Jiminy Fucking Cricket and I’m her Tinker Bell whispering in her ear to shoot Wendy out of the sky with her bow and arrows. We balance each other out and for the most part, we do so without any touchy feely crap. It’s awesome. Maybe that’s why I hate most of the best friend characters in romance novels. They just don’t measure up. Yeah, Gail. You ruined my fiction. Go fuck yourself.

tinkerbell

I only recently noticed this trend when I tried to read the This Man series a couple of months ago. It was recommended to me for the alpha male bit I find so appealing in fiction-only-fiction-ever, but it was just too much for me while somehow still managing to be too little. Oh my gosh. My favorite? The part where he was a bag of dicks and then nothing happened. Ooh! Then there was that part where he more or less ass-raped her and then nothing happened. And sa-woon, the part where… holy shit I cannot actually come up with anything else to say before nothing happened because nothing happened.

Some of the review titles:
This book made me fear for an entire generation.
Just… really bad.
There is only one E.L. James. (Yeah. Thank GOD for that, but seriously, she’s saying this was worse than Fifty Shades?)

This Man may not have suited me in general, but I absolutely hated the best friend. Main Character Ava was pretty awful, but at least I could pity her as the victim of both the male lead and her bestie roommate. There was actually a scene where Best Friend Kate leaves her van parked on a busy one-way street, causing Ava to be manhandled by an angry driver. Kate takes her sweet time, then comes out and does not freaking care. What the crap?!?! Gail would never do that… well period, but she’d be especially contrite if I were harmed because of her actions. I didn’t actually finish this book, because there’s this one part, at about 60%, where nothing happens and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

After This Man, I realized that this is just a thing. Maybe Kristen Ashley just has really pushy and obnoxious friends like all of her supporting female characters. It throws me a little that she writes such unlikeable friends when I find her main characters generally pretty relatable. Maya Banks has the same problem. In Jennifer Armintrout’s analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey, she suggests that E.L. James attempts to villainize the best friend so we’ll be rooting primarily for the main character… to die in Anastasia’s case, but you get the idea. Maybe this is just a bad effort to make readers favor the lead, but it always leaves me thinking THIS IS WHY I DON’T SPEND TIME WITH VAGINAS! A GIRL ONLY NEEDS ONE! The best friend characters of romance novels are supposed to be concerned, but they often come off as disrespecting the lead by refusing to acknowledge that they are adults who’ve been making their own decisions for years. They nag them and repeatedly insist that this relationship is a bad idea, despite the lead making it clear that they’re going to see things through. When Gail dated the most terrifying postal worker ever, I expressed my concerns regarding specific stories and waited it out. She’s a big girl. She’ll decide when she’s had enough and I’ll be there when that time comes. Pissing her off and alienating her isn’t going to make any headway. Other times, the best friend characters are supposed to be supportive, but they often come off as gluttonous alcoholics encouraging their friends to cope poorly or ignore their problems. When I got divorced and drank a vat of Long Island Ice Tea, Gail slept in my car with me because I couldn’t get up the stairs, but she didn’t encourage the behavior in the future. I suppose the real problem is that these characters just aren’t Gail.


7_2502200
The This Man series… only instead of paint, it’s anal blood.

… the size of the men.

I am 5’5.5” tall and weigh 175 pounds. I don’t look like a supermodel or a teapot. I just look pretty average at a size 8/10. I, however, totally understand the appeal of feeling like the dainty little woman and recognize that writing big tough alpha male characters is a reflection of this common desire. It works, too… within reason. My paranormal romance phase involved a number of male characters who were described as being larger than most humans. It made sense, because they were supernatural vampiric warriors and I never gave it much thought. I started with paranormal romance, but as I moved to stories that took place in the real world, I realized that the main characters were still 6’8”. I’m into tall and have said a few times that I won’t date beneath 5’10”, but come on. 6’8” is no longer attractive, but rather something to get past. I’m not saying I wouldn’t date a guy that size, but I consider that abnormally tall. “Abnormal” is never hot, just endearing at best.

In addition to being the tallest men in the world, these guys are always freakishly built as well. In Kristen Ashley’s and Julie Ann Walker’s novels, they’re often described as not having an ounce of fat on them and are compared to professional wrestlers. How is there enough space in the room for our lead heroine when a redwood is standing next to her?!?! Honestly, I don’t really find professional wrestlers attractive. I’d give Alcide Herveux a rim job if I had the opportunity, but he’s hardly got the build of a WWE fighter. I never want to be with someone morbidly obese again, but I want someone I can cuddle. It’s tough to cuddle the Statue of David. The guards tend to chase you off.


Redwood
This is my husband, Rogue.

… the way people smell.

Gail doesn’t typically read romance novels, because Dave Ramsey is never the lead, but she recently had this idea to read the most disturbing erotica we could find on Amazon and discuss. I read
Comfort Food, by Kitty Thomas which was very well-written and also gave me nightmares. Then I got distracted with school and Gail was left to read Tender Mercies, which apparently involved a tailed butt-plug, all alone. Shucks. I missed out. Having read very few romance novels, though, Gail understood exactly what I was talking about when I texted her the following yesterday.

PEOPLE don’t smell like a day at the beach.

Brock always smelled like that time at the lake when I fell asleep in the sun and got lightly burned and then woke up and realized I had a handprint tan line on my chest and then the dog leapt into my lap and scratched my thighs and then I washed the blood off in the lake, so I had to ride back on a towel to protect the interior of his truck.

We’re so oddly in-sync that she immediately responded with:

Lucas always smelled like that time I went shopping for the kind of shoe strings that curl instead of tie and that guy left his dog in the car, but I didn’t call the cops because it wasn’t really all that hot outside, even though it was almost June.

When men describe how women smell, however, it’s always something tangible. For example, she smells like lavender. What 9′ body builder with a concealed carry license knows what lavender smells like?!?! don’t even know what lavender smells like and I’m girly as fuck. If I’m with a man who can pinpoint lavender and honeydew, my 15th anniversary is gonna suck when I find him knee deep in another dude. Seriously, if he tells you you smell astoundingly like nutmeg, buy him an ascot as a parting gift.

fred scooby doo
He thinks you smell like warm cashmere.

 the virgin sex that is the best sex ever.

I’m not gonna lie. The idea that men like inexperienced women is pretty encouraging since I don’t know what a penis is anymore. What bugs me about this is the propensity for women well into their twenties to be inexperienced, while the men make a huge freaking deal out of how awesome it is. She’s a virgin, not a damned unicorn princess.

princess-unicorn
Believe it or not, I write this shit and then find the pictures. Call me Google Master. Do it.

The men in romance novels are always, always, always so experienced that we don’t get a number, while the women have been with either no one or few enough people to keep count on one hand. When Heroine has just not been with a lot of people, she catches on really quickly and shows a lot of enthusiasm and the sex is awesome. That gives me hope and I consider that one reasonably realistic, because while inexperienced, I would not call myself prude. However, if Heroine shares that she’s a virgin, Hero is totally freaking psyched that no one has squeezed this peach before him… even though she’s like 25 and people only wait that long for pretty much one reason: so they can share the experience with someone who means a lot to them. For realz, that’s a bit daunting.

When Hero finally twirls his mustache and steals Heroine’s virtue, it is absolutely the most mind-blowingly not awkward sex anyone has ever had. As a general rule, sex is never awkward in these books. No woman bounces too high, causing him to pop out and bend uncomfortably when she lands. No one’s distracted from their pleasure by the weird snarl the other person just made. No one ever sneezes or does anything else not sexy with their bodies. I get that. We’re reading idealistic sex and that’s the point. I don’t need to read about how Christian Grey has trouble finishing, though that would clearly be because he’s at it for nine hours a day and somehow still maintains his fortune at age eleven, but whatevs. I’m totally comfortable with skipping all fart-in-bed scenes forever. Writing virgin sex as anything but emotionally charged and sweet, though, is just unrealistic. That shit hurts and continues to hurt for a couple of days. Anastasia isn’t waking up and hopping on pop Dr. Seuss style. You may as well write unicorn princess sex. There is not a Google image for that. 

isbn9781846165177-1x2a
I lied.

Paranormal Vs. Contemporary Romance: Why It’s Only Hot When a Werewolf is Pissed

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of “contemporary romance”. What can I say? I don’t have cable and wouldn’t know what to watch if I did. You’ve had the chance to read my fifty rants on Fifty Shades, of course, but I’ve also read Bared to You, the Up in the Air series, and like 40% of the first book of the This Man series. Erotica really isn’t my thing and I don’t say that because of all of the dirty sinful sexy sex-sex. I say it because all of that often gets in the way of real character and plot development and then I can’t bring myself to give a shit. I read the above titles out of curiosity and actually liked Bared to You and the Up in the Air series enough to be excited for the next installments. This Man was the depiction of a horrible girl being assaulted pursued by a horrible guy, while living with a horrible friend… yet still, nothing happens. Seriously, I was able to go from dozing off to feeling as if I were witnessing anal rape in just paragraphs. I’m pretty sure the author just wrote a prequel to Sleeping With the Enemy. Amazon refunded my money.

The primary reason I read these books, however, was because I ran out of paranormal romance series suggestions. The sex scenes in these genres differ only in frequency and not in detail, just to clarify. The similiarity that has truly interested me, however, is the male romantic leads; more specifically, why I find them attractive in one genre, but not another. Gideon Cross, James Cavendish, and Christian MotherFucking Grey really just don’t do it for me and I think I’ve figured out why.

They’re not werewolves. They’re just really controlling and bossy men.

alcide
Oh, there’s no real point to this picture… just that I’d let Alcide Herveaux stick in my ear if that’s what he were into.

I love the Alpha Male thing, and I cannot state this clearly enough, in my fucking fiction and any man who actually tells me what to do will lose a gee dee nut. But it’s only fun for me to read in a paranormal world and until recently, I was unsure why that was. I’ll take one of my favorite paranormal Alpha Males, whom you don’t have to be familiar with to get my point, and compare him to a Contemporary Romance Alpha Male (CRAM).

Hawke Snow, as seen in Kiss of Snow, by Nalini Singh. (Gail loves these titles, as she’s not a fan and thinks they’re hilarious.)
and….. Christian MotherFucking Grey, as seen in Fifty Shades of Grey and many a mugshot.

  • messed up childhood
  • position of power and authority
  • known to manhandle when he doesn’t get his way
  • violent temper
  • outsources people to keep an eye on his gal, without her knowledge
  • seen as cold and distant to many

In case you weren’t paying attention, they’re the same… the exact fucking same. However, Christian gets the middle name MotherFucking for it and Hawke does not. Why is that?

In a paranormal setting, such as the one referenced above, the Alpha Male grows up in a war-torn universe and/or is fighting for his species’ survival. Of course his childhood was bleak, as his parents were viciously murdered/abandoned him, leaving him in charge of the well-being of  everyone else (power and authority). He’s literally an animal, so he acts like one (manhandling and violent temper) and he’s charged with protecting aforementioned gal, because this is a dangerous universe and he’s kind of the boss. Additionally, a recurring theme in this genre is the idea of some sort of psychological or biological draw/imprinting/destiny between the romantic couple. She’s actually his, so the whole possessive thing is completely allowable. I know this sounds oddly specific, but it’s actually a really common layout for these books.

Christian MotherFucking Grey and company, though… well… they’re all just really mad. They had messed up childhoods, sure, but that doesn’t explain why they’re broken as people. I had a fucked up childhood too and I don’t want to pop the people I love in the mouth and masturbate with their blood.*

*Every now and then my mind goes to disturbing places, but seriously, read This Man and yours will join.

I’ve got to note, that I just don’t get the BDSM thing. I don’t think it’s a product of a fissure right down the center of your psyche or anything (cough: E.L. :cough). I just don’t really get it. I’ve been hit… a lot. It just hurts and makes me cry. Why is this sexy? It’s not for me. But the issue I have with CRAMs isn’t the bedroom adventures. No one likes Fade-to-Black Seventh Heaven sex all the time. Lovemaking gets old, y’all. Some people are into costumes and roleplay (and they don’t giggle), some are into hair pullling and spanking, some like group sex, swings, or being strung up like super sexy deer. Everybody’s got their preferences and that’s cool. Whatev.

sexy deer

Holy shit, ya’ll have no idea how desperately I wanted to use this picture again.

My issue with the CRAM is his tendency to act like a bag of dicks outside of the bedroom. My shapeshifters are usually super sweet and touchy-feely characters. Christian MotherFucking Grey and Co., withhold love when they’re angry… and they have piss poor reason to be. This is a terrible theme for romance. Whereas a shapeshifter passionately growls (hellz yeah, it’s a thing) and tells his lady she’s in grave danger for her disobedience, because Evil Entity will torture and kill her; Christian MotherFucking Grey emotionally withdraws from Ana, because… wait for it… she doesn’t like her steak.

growl of passion
Google Image Search: “growl of passion”… and it is haaaaawt.

My paranormal Alpha Males have legit reasons to boss their gals around, because pretty much everyone’s about to die. But the thing is… that’s kind of the only way it’s ever acceptable to be treated that way, even in my fantasies. I get that people fantasize things they’d never actually do, like lesbian sex and facials*. I really just can’t get on board with even the fantasy of being treated coldly and cruelly over trivial things until that person wants to feel needed and throws me a desparately yearned for scrap of affection. I’ve had that relationship for the majority of me life. I call her “mom”.

*Facials meaning when a guy finishes all over you, not when you go to the spa and they… wait… what do they do during a facial? Why do I know the former and not the latter?!?!

I’m all for the shapeshifting/vampiric/demonic Alpha Male plotline, because Disney gave me bestial Stockholm Sydrome and it’s hot that he wants to save his lady in this world fraught with danger. However, I just can’t get on board with CRAMs, because they exist in my universe where women carry pepper spray, manage their own finances, and have the option to go to the battered wives shelter.

Excuse me while I rock in the corner and chew my own hair.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret….

and this is super privileged information, y’all…

I’m a little high-strung.

I’m a smart person… book smart that is. That being said, I can become so single-mindedly obsessed and tightly wound about something that I become phenomenally stupid.

Tonight, I left work at 9:00. There’s a strict rule about walking out together as employees, not just because the handbook says so, but because I work in the ghetto. Within the last few months, there have been multiple shootings around my workplace. Jay once texted me to ask what the zip code was for this location. I told him and he confirmed that I was in prime rapin’ real estate for the city, in a much more serious tone than that. It is bomb.

So, I drove home, chatting on my phone to my dear paranoid Gramma, who has taken up calling me every night to make sure I got home safe since I work “in a bad part of town” about 20 minutes down the highway from my wealthy horse-themed suburb.

driving on phone

I told her I was safe and she went to bed. I went upstairs, got undressed, microwaved some vegetables and got out some lunch meat for dinner (thank goodness for that bachelor’s in home-ec) and grabbed my Kindle to sit down and read while I ate.

What!?!? Where is my Kindle?!?!?! It’s in my bag, right? It has to be in my purse. Maybe I left  it in the car. Maybe I should put on pants before I check. It’s not here! I must’ve left it at work. I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

dramatic scream
I’m also in the middle of two other paperbacks, that I totally could’ve read. I’m really not sure what possessed me to do this, but I threw on my dress pants, the heels I’d worn to work (sans hose), a hoodie over my nightshirt, and my ID badge, tossed my food in the fridge and bolted out the door like my life depended on it. Telling no one where I was going, I spent the last two dollars in my checking account (until I get paid tomorrow) on gasoline and started the twenty-minute, all darkened highway drive to work… in dense fog… going ten to fifteen over. I was convinced that the key fob that allows me in the door couldn’t be set to no longer allow access at immediately 9:00, since we sometimes have to stay later. There was a slight possibility that it was set for 10:00. I was absolutely sure that I had to get there by 10:00… to enter the building without permission and get my Kindle. (In hindsight, I’m lucky I have a laidback manager.) I sped the whole way, looking for lights in my rearview mirror, not even considering what I’d say were I pulled over. I turned into the parking lot, actually seeing a speeding cruiser behind me, and not even acknowledging the confirmation that this was a terrible damned idea when he sped right past me, because this is the fucking ghetto. I parked right next to the back door and bolted out to try my key fob. Red lights informed me that access had been denied. I was crushed. I’d have to make this drive again tomorrow, even though I don’t work, because there was no way in hell I’d leave my Kindle for two days. I planned to get up early and hope to get there at 7:50, bolt in with the first arrivals, and somehow teleport to my local high school to substitute. It was a brilliant plan. As I passed the front door, I started to realize how insane this had been… but was immediately interrupted by the sight of the cleaning man washing the windows, on the other side of the shady guy camped out beside the door.

Well. I came all this way. I doubt shady guy will do anything. There’s a non-English speaking witness right there.
homeless man
“Excuse me, Sir. I just left my Ki… uh… my gun. I just left my gun.”

Yup. I did. I parked the car again, ran across the parking lot, flashed my badge and entered the deserted building alone with the cleaning man to grab my Kindle.

OH! I left my Diet Coke, too!

On the way home, I realized I was out of gas again, but thought it would be unwise to stop at the 7 Eleven next door so late. Yes. That would be unwise. I tried to calm myself on the way home, adrenaline still pumping from The Great Kindle Emergency of 2013.

Slow down. Breathe. You have your Kindle now.

I drove at a far more reasonable speed through the pitch black and fog.

I got closer to home and pulled into Wal-Mart to get gas. That’s when I realized…

I didn’t have my wallet. No money. No ID. No gasoline.

Luckily, I did make it home and  the wallet was on my couch, though it had managed to give me almost as bad of a shock as realizing I didn’t have my Kindle. On my way to get gas, so I wouldn’t run out in the morning, I began to think of what I’d have told an officer had I been pulled over for speeding… and not had my wallet.

pulled over

“Well, I’m trying to get to work. I left something and I’m not sure when the doors will automatically lock me out. It’s important…”

“Well… um… my Kindle…”

“Were I lying, don’t you think I’d come up with something better than that? Kindles are expensive and you see, I substitute teach in the morning and that’s a whole day of doing absolutely nothing and I was right in the middle of this new book and I didn’t even finish the last chapter and it stopped in a… this is only sounding lamer and lamer as far as excuses go, isn’t it?”

The fog began to lift… figuratively, it’s like a fucking B movie out there…. I started to see the light…

crazy woman

That’s the new photo on my ID badge.

Note: Photos used were exaggerative.

Get your porn off my smut!

As I’ve previously declared, paranormal romance is my guilty pleasure. I don’t really watch T.V., so I read book after book after book of what I affectionately and privately call Werewolf Porn or Warlock Smut.

In the last week, I have read 6 books, or 1,800 pages (give or take a few) of my very favorite genre. The thing is, my  title of Werewolf Porn is meant to be ironic, because these books often aren’t even that adult. Don’t get me wrong. They’re dubbed paranormal romance for a reason. I wouldn’t read them to my 9th graders. But LibraryThing, which is far superior to Good Reads, doesn’t even tag many of the series as erotica. On average, I’d declare them a medium on the number of sex scenes. The plots are always incredibly invovled, with an in-depth backstory in addition to the main storyline, which does involve a shapeshifter falling in love with an empath. What can I say? I loved Halloweentown when I was eight and never grew out of that.

Example:

There are three species that control the world: The Changelings, the Psy, and humans. Changelings are shapeshifters. The Psy are beings connected by a neural Internet (not quite a hivemind) and have mental powers, such as telekinesis. They can’t break free of the Net or they die. The Psy shut off all emotions around 100 years ago becaue violence was ripping apart their species. They’re cold and powerful and want to keep it that way by destroying any Psy who are showing a tendency toward power because they can feel. The DarkRiver and SnowDancer Changelings, however, are encouraging the rebellion and a war is a brewin’.

See? That’s no less complex than the latest Janet Evonovich book. It’s more complex than any Nicholas Sparks novel I’ve read. It’s sure as hell more complex than 50 Shades of Grey. Those are still fine options, though, because reading is entertainment. I’m not saying my Warlock Smut is great reading, just that it is reading and it’s pretty much equal to any contemporary literature. So the problem?

slave to sensation

The problem is that that’s the cover of the first in the Psy-Changeling series. The problem is that I’ve been careful not to have that picture show as I’m typing this, because I’m on my computer at work. The problem is that it’s a huge pain in the butt to read about the battle of the Lore, or all supernatural species, while I’m substitute teaching, because I have to make sure that none of my kids get a glimpse of:

no rest for the wicked

There were several sex scenes in that book and they weren’t exactly fade-to-black moments either. But they’re no worse than many contemporary fiction novels. There’s plenty of plot, because I can’t read just plain old erotica without getting bored. I read Bared to You, by Sylvia Day, because I’d read that it was like if 50 Shades of Grey had been written with any level of skill. It was an enjoyable read, for erotica, but I haven’t read any since then, because there’s just not enough going on outside the relationship. I love paranormal storylines and always have, so paranormal romance is great. Sometimes, it is just erotica with claws, and in that case, I stop reading, because it’s dull.

Personally, I often find the covers more offensive than what’s beneath them, because actual pornography is a bigger moral issue for me than literature. As I’ve said before, it’s pretend when you’re reading it. No one is being pushed around (a big theme in most romance) or degraded, because they aren’t real. That naked lady on the screen, though? She had a 3rd birthday party. There was likely a princess cake. That freaks me out.

So, in short:

Get your porn off my smut, because it’s not even kind of subtle to read something with a peice of paper taped to the front. E.L. James can put a classy cover on “I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing. My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”

50 cover

Surely we can get something classier on my Warlock Smut.