If you own a Kindle then you may already know that the books occupying the first, second, and third positions on the Kindle Top 100 Paid list are the Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy by E. L. James. This trilogy also occupies a spot on the New York Times Bestseller list.
What does this mean?
My son just burst into my room a while ago to give me some important writerly advice. “Mom.” he says with a straight face, “Just one. All you need to do is write one trash book and you would never have to work another day in your life. As good as you write, you could polish off a 300 page crap manuscript in no time.”
“Never,” I tell him.”
“Mom. Throw in a couple of vampires, or,” he said eyes brightening as if a light bulb has just turned on inside his head, “make a werewolf romance and you can just sit back and watch the money roll in.”
The funny thing is, this is the first time I’ve been given this advice. A few days ago I told my daughter about a book that I’d found in iTunes, an terribly written uninspired sappy vampire story (see my review here). I was astonished to find that this book had received 34/46 five star reviews on Amazon. I was more than astonished, I was appalled. My loathing for this book in contrast with other readers isn’t a matter of a difference of taste in genres but this book is poorly written among many other things. My daughter turned to me and said, “You know mom, since people seem to like reading crap, why don’t you just write something crappy?”
Because as much as I want people to read and enjoy my work, I also want to be proud to put my name on what I’ve produced. I want to learn while I write, about myself and about others and about how things are and how they could be. I write as a means of confronting my fears, learning from them, and ultimately overcoming them. I write to grow and evolve and stretch. I write to prove to myself that I can and in the hopes that I will be better at it tomorrow than I am today.
Could I do any of that if I submitted to writing the current hot hip thing that is so much trash? Not so much.
A few weeks ago I asked a co-worker what she was reading these days. She said, “You’re going to think I’m a bad person if I tell you.” I assured her that would not be the case. She whispered, “Fifty Shades of Gray. But it’s not just ‘mommy porn’, it has a deeper story.” I asked her to elucidate and she did. Apparently, 50SoG does indeed have a deeper story. And I still think it’s trash.
So I pose the question again. What does it mean about us and our society that something so trashy, that even the readers themselves call it trashy, is at the top of reading lists. Why are people downloading such drivel in droves? I’m honestly baffled.