Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fifty Shades of Flour: A Baker's Manifesto/Book Review

Any chef/cook/mother worth their salt knows that "all purpose flour" isn't necessarily best for all purposes. There is flour with higher gluten for bread baking. There is cake flour, which adds leavening agents. There's flour from different grains - i.e. wheat, corn, rice, oat, quinoa, spelt, etc. etc.

But all-purpose flour, for the most part, will work in all recipes. Hence, all purposes. But, by work, I mean that the cake will be a cake and the bread will be bread -- they might not be the BEST cake or BEST bread, but they'll fill the role.

Which brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.

I feel very well-equipped to comment on Fifty Shades (FSOG from here on in) because I've read it. I've read it twice, actually. And I read the second book, too.

I read them for one reason. Unless it's YA-related, I don't usually jump on book fads.  I read FSOG because a friend of mine who does not read for entertainment decided to read it. That friend is also a very successful National Director of a romance-related in-home party company. Yes, she sells sex toys, among various other things.

So I read it once - quickly - and read the second one. Then I waited a month or so and read the first one again. And then I baked a German Chocolate Cake with Pecan/Coconut Filling. From scratch.

Baking and reading and sex - they're all things people do for pleasure, hopefully. In the end, FSOG is intended to be pleasurable. James discusses a certain type of sexual relationship, that of dominant and submissive characters. But, in the end, it's also about love, just like everything else.

I've given FSOG a lot of thought and I think I/you/people need to wear a lot of different hats when thinking about it as a text. Here's what I've managed to come up with:

From a reader's perspective:

1. I like that James jumps right in to establish a relationship between the main characters. We immediately feel their chemistry, and that's what drives the book. It's what makes you want to read it - want to see what happens in the end.

2. I like that James didn't shy away from stereotypes and didn't make apologies. The girl is an ingenue, the man is controlling -- in a lot of ways it feels like an adult "Twilight." I realize a lot of people have said that.

From a writer's perspective:

1. The pacing is the best part about the book. Pacing isn't easy -- it's a skill. James has it.

2. The writing isn't bad, it's lazy. When I got the phrase, "pedal to the metal" in the first page or two, I knew what I was dealing with -- it's a genre book. It's VERY not different from what I like to call grocery store books -- it's nothing against them, that's just where they're sold.

3. Sometimes it's not about craft, it's just about story -- and not story telling, just the story itself. That's what FSOG is -- consider it Legally Blonde 2: forward momentum of a story that has a successful formula. It may or may not be good -- doesn't really matter when an audience loves a premise.

From a woman's perspective:

1. I consider myself a feminist. I took a lot of women's studies classes in college. I continue to subscribe to emails from both NOW and FMF. I am not offended by this book. There's a girl. She likes a guy. She was a virgin. Now she's not. They both consent to something that's a little different than what the mainstream is used to; it's also something that millions of people were doing before this book.

2. Between you and me, I think that people are making this book sound a lot worst than it is. Young girl getting seduced by an older man? Well, she's 21 and he's 27. SCANDAL!!!!!!!!! He's a dominant who beats her? Um, well, no -- and that's about as specific as I get on this family friendly blog.

From a baker's perspective:

1. If I want cake, I'll use cake flour.

2. If I want muffins, I'll used bran flour.

3. If I want to read a steamy romance, I'll read FSOG. If I want to read something with more academic merit, or something well-crafted, or something that doesn't mention spanking, then I won't.

Here's the thing -- FSOG serves a purpose. Is it all-purpose? No, of course not. There are niches to be filled. I was listening to Midday with Dan Rodricks on NPR the other day and his guests were discussing this book and the resulting hoopla. A woman called in and said the most interesting thing I've heard since first learning about FSOG -- she said that women she talked to were reading it and enjoying it because of the "giving up control" factor. These were women who worked, ran households, raised children, etc. They liked reading about a life where you didn't have to be in control, where life was taken care of for you.

So, see? FSOG is a fantasy -- just like Lord of the Rings. Well, except for a few key details.

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