Why Imperfection and Silliness Are Valuable or What I Learned from Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

I’ve noticed a trend in my reading life. There are all these books that I discount when I first hear about them, thinking that I have no interest in reading them and that I never will. Often, this rule of thumb remains true. But, every once in a while, I break this rule and decide suddenly to give into the reading trend and read the popular book(s) that I initially thought I wouldn’t like.

This happened with The Hunger Games, and anyone who has read my previous posts knows I am now a big fan of that series. So, when I saw that my local library had a new, shiny, brilliant e-media catalog, I wanted to try it out.

So, this week I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. All 1,800 pages of it. In four days.

Why, you ask?

Because I could.

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Now, let me just say before you start yelling and laughing that this post is not about how amazing the Fifty Shades of Grey books are. It’s not. Because, the books are not “amazing.”

As a discerning reader, the books have a lot of issues. If I had to read about main character Anastasia Steele’s personified subconscious and inner goddess one more time I might have screamed. I also often found myself wanting to slap some god-forsaken sense into Christian Grey’s skull. But, I have to admit — the books were entertaining, and whole hell of a lot of other things too (If you’ve read them, you’ll know what I mean).

But they weren’t literary gold.

And that’s okay. They don’t have to be

But that’s just the point that I want to make.

We live in a world that is often obsessed with merits. We are a population of critics. Movies and TV shows bomb because they aren’t “critically acclaimed.” Books and their authors are lambasted for bad writing, predictable plots, and unrealistic depictions. We constantly criticize ourselves and judge others for not fitting into a pre-determined mold.

The Fifty Shades of Grey books and their author, E L James are no stranger to this idea. Fifty Shades has been a phenomenon. Started as a Twilight-centric fan fiction homage and then reworked and self published in print, the trilogy gained immense attention. That attention and popularity grew so great that the trilogy was picked up by Vintage Books and published professionally. According to Amazon UK, the trilogy’s first book has outsold the combined sales of the Harry Potter series on their website.

So what’s my point?

The Fifty Shades of Grey series, regardless of how you feel about it, is an important of example of how perfection and value are not the same thing.

Level of success does not always correspond with level of talent.

Value is everywhere. You just have to drown out the critics to find it.

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Do What You Want

Life is short. Do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what others think or whether you think they’ll judge you. Embrace this idea in your everyday life, but also embrace it in your passions, in your dreams, and in your goals.

Want to travel the world? Make it happen. Want to be the next E L James and write steamy, NC-17 novels? Go right ahead. Want to be a book critic that points out all of the trilogy’s flaws? Do that instead.

I am a strong proponent of the idea that everything is a learning experience. Every single thing you do teaches you something, even if the lesson is to never do it again. When it comes to books, for example, no one has ever become stupider by ingesting information. The more you know, the more nuanced your perspective.

What you do has value. Whether it is silly, intellectual, crazy, world-changing, fun, or intensely creative. Value exists in all things.

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Never Underestimate Your Ability, Never Discount That Others May Admire It

Everyone is talented. We may not see immediately recognize our own talents, but they are there. Think about it. Do you waste time drawing instead of taking notes? Do you love to cook, but could care less about proper business accounting procedures? Your talent resides in what you inherently love. It lies in how you waste your time.

Tap into that. It could be a goldmine (and I don’t just mean monetarily).

E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series may have many flaws, but it is still entertaining. Those flaws and issues do not render its value moot. Even some of the most critically panned things are still feats of creativity in their own way. While James may have not suceeded in creating the perfect novel, she did create something that kept people (including myself) turning pages. And this did not only involve the books’ extremely naughty natures.

Don’t think that you are talentless. Don’t worry that because what you do is not the “absolute best” that it is worthless. Perfection isn’t a guarantee of anything. Think I’m kidding? Ask the Admissions offices of Harvard and Yale how many applicants with perfect SAT or ACT scores are NOT accepted every year.

Don’t think that something you create, something you enjoy has no value. Others may see immense value where you perceive none.

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So What If It’s A Silly Idea, Who Cares?

When I downloaded Fifty Shades of Grey earlier in the week, I said to myself, “This is so stupid. I really can’t believe I’m reading this.” But then, another part of me said, “So what? Read the damn book. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do like it, finish it.” So I did. And I did enjoy the book. I enjoyed all three of them. And yes, they are kind of silly, and a little weird, and definitely have A LOT more sex and profanity than I have ever encountered in reading material. But, so what?

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey may have been silly, but it got me thinking. It made me think about the how flaws do not negate value. It made me think enough to write this post.

The bottom line is that you never know what will make you think. The silliest, craziest, most random things can change your perspective or give new life to your thoughts. Never underestimate the value of doing something for fun.

Look at the Dames Who Dish blog. It wouldn’t be here if us four girls hadn’t decided to do something that we originally perceived as silly, and a little bit crazy, and a whole lot of fun.

So…

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“Beautiful Creatures”: Smart, Southern, and Supernatural Gothic

I just finished reading Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. I flew through it in less than 2 days and thought it was a great read. Read below to see my thoughts on the book.

Beautiful Creatures Book Cover

2012 was a rough year for reading for me. My last semester of graduate school was tough. Finishing my classes, writing my thesis, and thinking about what to do with the rest of my life took up most of my time and most of my ability to think. Summer turned out to not be too good for reading either. I was busy for the first part of the summer, my grandfather became ill, and then I was applying for jobs. The Fall continued on with the job search and I felt guilty about reading when I could have been filling out applications.

But, then in early December, my grandfather died. While he was ill, his death was surprising because it came rapidly and with little warning. Pain gives you new perspective. It teaches you.

Books do the same thing. The stories of others help make the events in your own story make sense. They bring catharsis. So, I resolved to not feel guilty about devoting some of my time to reading. I’ve read 2 books so far this week, 4 since the 1st of the month. So, expect me to talk about books a little more on here in the future. 🙂

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But, back to Beautiful Creatures.

Published in 2009, Beautiful Creatures is technically a Young Adult novel for readers ages 12 and up. It is a Southern, Gothic Romance with a storyline deeply rooted in the supernatural. The novel draws heavily on themes of magic and fate. It is 563 pages.

Authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl wrote the novel after being dared to by some of the teenagers in their lives. Garcia and Stohl came up with the idea for Beautiful Creatures over lunch and wrote initial passages on napkins. They wrote the book in serial form at first, feeding pages at a time to these same teens who became increasingly impatient to read more of the story. Three months later, the first draft was complete and after some editing Beautiful Creatures is an international bestseller, the first book in a four-part series (The Caster Chronicles), and soon to be a major motion picture.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

This is the book cover for the movie-tie-in.

A General, Spoiler-free Summary:

Beautiful Creatures is told from the perspective of Ethan Lawson Wate, a 16-year old high school sophomore living in fictional Gatlin, South Carolina in the present day. At the beginning of the book, Ethan is still reeling from the death of his mother Lila several months before in a car accident and is unsure how to react from his father Mitchell’s depressed behavior. Virtually ignored by his devastated father, who sleeps all day and locks himself in his study all night, Ethan relies on the love, support, and care of housekeeper Amma who is like his grandmother.

Raised to be open minded by his liberal professor/writer parents, Ethan feels out of place in Gatlin, a small Southern town deeply rooted in its history and in its conservative values, and he cannot wait until he can leave after high school graduation. A member of the Jackson High School basketball team and a relatively popular kid in his class, Ethan spends most days with his best friend Wesley “Link” Lincoln. However, as summer ends and his sophomore year begins, something is different. Since his mother’s death, Ethan has been plagued by strange dreams, and now he begins to experience strange occurrences and hear strange music. The dreams, which feature a girl Ethan does not know but who seems to know him, seem real — virtually are real — as Ethan wakes up with dirt under his fingernails and mud in his bed.

When Ethan passes a strange car on the road on the first day of school, he feels inexplicably drawn to it, but doesn’t know why. The car’s occupant is Lena Duchannes, niece of Gatlin’s shut-in, Macon Ravenwood. Like her uncle, Lena is “different” than everyone else in Gatlin and she is ridiculed for it by her new classmates. Ethan, however, is drawn to Lena in a way he can’t explain. She is the girl in his dreams, her scent of lemon and rosemary is what he smells as he sleeps, and the music she plays on her viola is the song that mysteriously appears on his iPod.

Ethan becomes Lena’s friend as the rest of Gatlin’s students and residents shun her for her “otherness” and for odd occurrences that begin to happen at Jackson High. Ethan and Lena’s friendship continues to deepen even as her Uncle Macon and his Amma protest the acquaintance. As Ethan seeks to understand his connection to Lena and their relationship develops, Ethan learns that Lena is a Caster. Along with the rest of her family and others like them, she has magical powers. But unlike the others like her family, the Duchannes are cursed — destined to be Claimed on their 16th birthday for either good or evil, for Light or Dark. In a race against time and in a struggle against disapproval, Ethan and Lena rush to learn the meaning of their supernatural connection and to prevent Lena from Turning Dark on her birthday.

In the process, Ethan and Lena learn that all in their lives are not as they seem. That the connection they share goes back over a century to the roots of Gatlin. That Lena’s life has been dominated by secrets. That they may be powerless to do anything.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

Ethan and Lena, as depicted in the upcoming Beautiful Creatures film.

My Take:

I really enjoyed Beautiful Creatures.  Out of 5 stars, I’d give it a 4. For me it was a fast read — I read it on my Nook over the course of about 2 days. At times, the novel was a little slow and lumbering — not because the story was bad, but because there is a lot of description. With this in mind though, I couldn’t wait to keep reading — the plot kept me thoroughly entertained and thoroughly interested. I desperately wanted to know what happened next, to discover the answers to the story’s mysteries.

I also really liked Beautiful Creatures because I found it to be smart, nuanced, and funny. While some may not agree, I found its commentary on small town life and on the narrow mindedness that sometimes infects those towns (or communities or big cities too) funny and true. You’ll have to read to understand, but for someone like myself who is a more liberal persuasion, authors Garcia and Stohl point out important and blind prejudices that many of us have towards who and what may be different in our worlds.

I also enjoyed the story because of its supernatural themes. While I don’t out rightly believe that magic exists (but, who wouldn’t want Harry Potter to be real??), I appreciate the novel’s perception of supernatural connections and fate. I also found the fact that the novel is told from Ethan’s perspective and not from Lena’s to be refreshing.

Some have placed Beautiful Creatures and the three subsequent books in The Caster Chronicles series in the same category as Harry Potter and Twilight. For someone who reveres the ground that the Harry Potter series sits on, I can honestly say that Beautiful Creatures is not as good as Harry Potter. However, I feel that it is, without question, better than the Twilight series.

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A Note About the Movie:

Beautiful Creatures has been made into a motion picture and premieres on February 13, 2013. It is being marketed as a Romeo and Juliet type story and some changes have been made to the plot and to the characters. This being said, however, authors Garcia and Stohl were heavily involved in the project and I think the film’s trailer looks great!

 

The entire Caster Chronicles — Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption — series has been published.  The fourth and final book, Beautiful Redemption, was published in October 2012.

Happy Reading! Let me know what you think of Beautiful Creatures.

“You don’t choose a life. You live one.”

I’m on Spring Break this week and, boy, has Spring made itself known today. The weather here in Northeast Ohio is beautiful, with the temperature forecast to hover near 70 degrees for the next week. This afternoon, after doing some writing this morning and spending a little time out in the sunshine, I decided to watch my latest movie from Netflix. I’m trying to be better about actually watching the movies soon after they arrive and then sending them back. I tend to let movies languish, and my list of movies isn’t growing any shorter.

I’d been looking forward to this movie though, so it wasn’t too hard to watch it.

The film in question is The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Emilio’s father, Martin Sheen. I  love both Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, the former from his days playing President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing and the latter from the other movie he wrote and directed, Bobby.

The Way tells the story of Thomas Avery, a California ophthalmologist, who travels to France to retrieve his son Daniel’s remains after Daniel is killed during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago. The Camino, also known as the Way of St. James, is an 800+ kilometer pilgrimage route from the French-Spanish border, through the Pyrenees Mountains and the northern Spanish countryside, to the city of Santiago and its Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela where the remains of the apostle St. James are (reportedly) housed.

Thousands of pilgrims have traveled this route for more than a thousand years, to find God, to find themselves, to find enlightenment, to see nature, to experience life. Thomas Avery doesn’t agree with his son Daniel’s choices, scolding that not everyone has the “luxury of just leaving it all behind,” but he loves his son greatly, despite their differences. After arriving in France and claiming Daniel’s body, Thomas, having no intention of staying, decides to walk the Camino and spread Daniel’s ashes as he goes.

His journey is deeply personal, but also communal as he shares experiences and his grief with other pilgrims walking the Camino. Thomas completes the Camino, both for himself and for his son Daniel, arriving at the Cathedral in Santiago to experience the daily Pilgrim’s Mass (a true sight to see). The Way has changed him, like it changes all of his companions.

I really liked the movie, but it may not be for everyone. It’s slow moving at times, very introspective with brief moments of comedy. But, it’s not about the movie’s pace, it’s about the overall meaning.

We’re all searching for something. Faith, answers, guidance, beauty, fresh air, history. We all go on journeys too. Maybe not walking the Camino or even going on a long trip, but we all take voyages – through nature, books, art, music, etc. Our purpose when embarking on that journey is hardly ever the same as we learn it was when the journey is over — we always learn something different or more than we expect.

But that’s okay.

That’s the point of the trip.

Where have you journeyed? Where do you want to journey to?

What do you think you’ll find along the way?

Retrospective

*Note* Ha, my bad, ladies. Big difference between 14 and 15 years. I probably should have double-checked that. Maybe I’ll do a real 15 year post some other time. Updates have been made to this post.

This past weekend, I’m sure that a lot of people were talking about where they were that Tuesday morning when terrorists carried out the largest attack on American soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. I know I certainly do. I was sitting in my 8th grade English class when the school librarian came around to all the classrooms and told the teachers to not turn on the televisions. Only when my mom picked me up from the bus stop did I find out what had happened. Personally, I believe my school when about all this the wrong way, but that’s another post for another day.

I want to go a little further back. Let’s go back 14 years. It was the prime of my childhood. I had just turned 9, and I had just started the 3rd grade. This was one of the the top songs for that year:

They have guys named Soren and Claus in the band. Seriously. I’m pretty sure a very young Katy Perry took some inspiration from that for California Dreams.

But that song wasn’t the only one that would stick around. Here are a few others that have stood the test of time:

  • Mmmbop – Hanson
  • Candle in the Wind ’97 – Elton John (to commemorate the death of Diana, Princess of Wales
  • Don’t Speak – No Doubt
  • As Long As You Love Me – Backstreet Boys
  • Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day
  • My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion
  • Say You’ll Be There, 2 Become 1, and Wannabe – Spice Girls
  • Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind
  • Bitch – Meredith Brooks
  • 3 AM – Matchbox Twenty
  • You Were Meant For Me – Jewel

I remember a lot of these as absolute classics. I distinctly remember singing and dancing to Spice Girls songs with my friends in a back corner of the playground and not really knowing what the lyrics meant. I can still recall Celine Dion’s chest pounding when she performed at the Grammy Awards. There are a few that I didn’t get into until I was older. I remember being an emo 14 year-old and listening to Jewel and No Doubt on a sad song mix cd after the latest heartbreak. As soon as I got my license, I made a bunch of mix cds of great driving songs, including Bitch, Semi-Charmed Life, and 3 AM. Then there was Good Riddance. Guh…

1997 was a banner year for movies, as well. To go along with that killer ballad of Ms. Dion’s, James Cameron made a little flick called Titanic. Sure, that was big. The first (and undisputed better) Men In Black movie came out. Tomorrow Never Dies, the first James Bond movie I ever saw made its way to theaters. (Is it possible that Pierce Brosnan was the worst Bond? Discuss amongst yourselves. Either way, Sean Connery is the only Bond that matters.) I’m sure our parents enjoyed Air Force One, while we giggled at commercials for The Full Monty. And how weird was The Fifth Element? No. The best movie, in my opinion, to come out in 1997 was My Best Friend’s Wedding.

This movie got me through a lot of bad nights during my undergraduate career, and it holds a special place on my movie shelf, next to An Affair to Remember, the only other chick flick I readily admit to loving.

1997, you weren’t such a bad year. At least for entertainment, you weren’t. I don’t think I want to revisit my fashion choices from that era. I feel that if I was old enough to dress myself, then those were legitimate, independent fashion choices I made, and of those, I am not proud.

Enjoy the rest of your day. Revisit some of this nostalgia. Can you believe some of that was 14 years ago?