Paul and Remy Read 50 Shades of Grey

In the first of (hopefully) many future team-ups with contributors, I’ve partnered with our own Remy Carreiro today to take on a topic that has gone without comment for far too long: 50 Shades of Grey. It’s not a TV show, video game, comic or movie (yet), but it is a pop culture phenomenon, and I finally broke down and felt I was neglecting my job if I didn’t see what the hell people were so excited about. I recently read the book, which was born as Twilight fan fiction and then changed into its own story for legal reasons. It became popular with older women, long the typical consumers of romance novels, but soon spread to every female age group.

I wondered what all the fuss was about. Steamy novels have been entertaining housewives for decades now. What was it about this book that was so special, the thing had to become a national best seller? After reading it, I’m still trying to find the answer to that question. If you’re thinking about reading it for yourself, know up front that it’s pornography. That’s not hyperbolic, it’s actually literary pornography with sex scenes FAR more graphic than I was ever expecting to find. That’s nothing against porn or people’s right to watch it, but 50 Shades being a best seller is roughly equivalent to NBC broadcasting a primetime show starring Jenna Haze and Mandingo. It may be popular, but how in the world is it socially acceptable?

I’ll give Remy a chance to chime in here. Poor soul, I subjected him to this and now I feel kind of bad now that I know what I got him into. Remy, what did you think of the book? (Spoilers follow in our discussion)

The book doesn’t have pictures, so we’ll have to do with Matt Bomer as Christian Grey.


It was like I went through the seven stages of grieving while reading it. Initially, when I started reading it, I felt shock and denial. How can this be so widely accepted, I thought. Then pain and guilt. Did you ask this of me as a punishment? Is this like the movie Secretary and you’re introducing me to this world? I was so confused, and slightly scared. The next step I hit was anger and bargaining. I was going to write you and ask you if maybe I could watch a Madea movie marathon and review it or something, anything but this.

Then the depression and loneliness stage hit me, where I was ashamed I had this book, and that I was reading it, so I didn’t leave the house (for a day) and then I felt the upward turn and it tricked me for a minute. I really believed that every woman on Earth must be a freakishly horny nymph waiting to be placed in a scenario where they willingly sign sexual contracts. Then the reconstruction and working through it phase, where it hit me this was by no means a reflection of woman in general, and moreover, was poorly written smut being passed off as literature.

And finally, as the book fell to the ground, I felt acceptance and hope. That as putrid as this bile was, we would be able to at least have an interesting back and forth that might make a good read for some people, and spare them the horror that is 50 Shades Of Grey.

The thing that stood out to me, besides my pangs of nausea, was how it was OK that woman across the country were carrying this book around and reading it on a bus or at break at work. To me, it would be like a guy carrying around a Penthouse magazine so he could read the letters when he gets bored. That wouldn’t ever be Ok, so why is this?

Don’t get me wrong, when my lady met me I had a whip hung up over my bed, so the lifestyle doesn’t bother me at all. What bothered me is full on smut being passed off as literature, like you said.

Also, there is a really good author who writes about S&M that some people may have heard of, his name was Marquis de Sade, and he actually did something that people who read may find interesting, he wrote well.

Alright, I was wondering:

So when did you realize this book was NOTHING like you expected?

And if I may, what did your fiancée think when she saw you, curled up on the couch with the book? I warned my lady ahead of time to avoid such scenarios.

Ooo imaginary Christian Grey, you so dreamy.


I guess I wonder if this book is actually popular and well-liked, or if it’s simply being so widely read because it’s controversial. Women are saying to each other “oh you HAVE to read this, it’s so scandalous! But I don’t think it’s beloved the way say, the Twilight series is. I think it’s simply created controversy among a group of people who wouldn’t normally be caught dead near “normal porn.”

To answer your question, when I realized it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be was almost at the end, actually. I thought that it was building to something. That there was some reveal planned that was going to give the book some semblance of an actual plot. But there wasn’t, not ever. Perhaps the characters are more fully fleshed out in the sequels (which I will in no way read), but as it stands the entire plot of the book is a girl being relentlessly pursued by a billionaire who happens to be the most beautiful man on earth and dynamite in the sack. There’s literally no other plotline. Their relationship is the entire story, from start to finish. You can’t have a book based entirely on that. Even Twilight has a overarching plots that are past the central love triangle the books are famous for. Even traditional romance novels have a sexy warrior saving a princess or a sexy fireman rescuing a maid. This is just a really rich guy with odd sexual quirks who is as obsessed with a seemingly normal girl nearly as much as she’s obsessed with him. It’s a daydream that someone bothered to write down, and it doesn’t make for an interesting read.

For me, the sex scenes were jarring at first because I didn’t realize how graphic they were going to get, but as time went on, they became the most boring parts of the book. Even the “weird” stuff wasn’t truly that bizarre. You mentioned Secretary earlier, and it’s certainly no more extreme than that film, probably less so. It just describes the acts in greater detail in long, drawn out scenes that last pages. I found myself waiting for the sex scenes to be over in the hopes that in the intermittent dialogue I might discover an interesting plot point. I found none.

And yeah, my fiancée made fun of me plenty when she found out I was reading this. I’m actually telling her to read it because I want to get a female perspective of someone close to me as maybe she can shed some light on why girls like it.

Did you find anything about it that could possibly explain why it’s this popular? It reads like bad fan fiction, and it literally is bad fan fiction, as that’s how it started. What did you make of the characters and their alleged “dark relationship”?

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  1. I read constantly, mostly sci fi. Now whenever people see me with a book I am immediately asked (with leer) if I’m reading 50 shades.

    I am so happy for the woman who made her retirement with this tripe but I loathe it on a cultural level.

    And not just the Marquis btw, Anne Rice’s sleeping beauty books are HOT and twisted with plot!

  2. I’ve read a few extracts of it but I can’t bring myself to read the whole thing. For starters I’m an English lit student so quality of writing makes me want to cry, but the ‘plot’ itself is just insane. The sex scenes made me feel uncomfortable and bored, and the phrase ‘my sex’ made me giggle for far too long.
    I honestly think half the women who have read this are reading it out of the curiosity factor, that’s why I looked it up in the first place. This is one girl who is not a fan.

  3. I am so happy that you suffered through this for my pleasure! For some reason I feel the writers target audience was the walmart shopper who has a limited vocabulary.

  4. OHMYGOD. OMIGOD. Oh. My. God. *sigh* The only thing disappointing about this article, is that when I saw the title, “Paul and Remy Read Fifty Shades of Gray” I almost peed with delight because I thought there MUST be a video of you two LITERALLY READING Fifty Shades of Shit. But, alas, I was wrong, and all my hopes and dreams shattered. I feel like “most” women are reading it because it’s the seemingly cool, hip thing to do. I’m sure a few actually like it. Ok, well I’m going back to wasting time on Google. <3

  5. Loved this. Just yesterday I had this woman in her 30’s sitting next to me on a plane, reading it. She looked like the kind of woman who’d give you a smug, exasperated look if she caught you giving the slightest glance at her legs, let alone her cleveage. But there she was, reading a cheap erotic tale in public. She was reading it, and there can be no argument about this, to get horny. And she probably was, since she went through at least 40 pages and didn’t put down the book at all. If women could get boners, she would’ve been sporting a raging, defiant one. That’s about as tasteless as you can get. But, like you said, it’s accepted and I certainly didn’t mind. I just hate their attitude, and the “intelectual” face they make, like they´re reading Ibsen and don’t want to be disturbed.

  6. There you have it boys; proof that ladies who read Unreality are better than the average female. I have stories for miles about these books and I won’t bore you with all the details, but I was very disturbed when my mother started turning every last one of her visits into a discussion about 50 Shades.
    Seriously, FML.
    Her inner goddess must have been doing the chicken dance or something. And what’s worse is she started quoting metaphors from it and telling me “Oh, you’re SO black and white” like that first grade bullshit made her sound wise. I’m not anti-porn in any way and I’m all for cheap thrills and what have you, but you would not catch me on a bus watching Cannibal Holocaust on my iPod or something where other people could see it and I sure as hell wouldn’t discuss it with my mother unless she asked me what the most vile thing I’d ever watched was. If you must read that garbage, please keep it in your pants, ladies. That’s all I ask.

  7. I think you’re pretty much spot on. I started reading it, of course, because everyone was talking about it (can we say snowball rolling down a hill?) The first book I actually liked fine, the 2nd book was less interesting, and I didn’t even finish the 3rd. What I didn’t like was Christian’s multi-kagillion dollars, because then it made everything possible. Without his millions, it would be much harder to be in control of Anna, and it just made the plot too “easy”. Yes, the sex scenes were jarring for me also, and I did the exact same thing as you guys: basically started skipping through them all to see if a piece of plot would eventually be revealed. For some reason, it took me a while to realize that the writing was that horrible. I needed to read the same passages over and over before it sunk in. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t live up to the hype.

  8. @Trashcanman for the ultimate comment win.
    And I agree hands down, your reactions to this prove you are probably some of the most genuine (and coolest, and intelligent) woman on the web, and I must say, was well worth suffering through for this. PLUS, I got to work with Paul, and for any of you following my (nothing short of epic) run at Unreality, you must know how much of an honor that was for me.
    Scarred for life, but worth it.
    Unreality readers own life, gender be damned.

  9. From what I’ve heard from reviews / plot synopses, it’s just a perpetuation of patriarchy and chauvinism pervasive in society, where whatever the man says, goes. The main character is a submissive women who signs a contract to a guy she’s barely met, but it’s “fantasy” because he’s good looking and rich. That’s disgusting. I can understand things from a “it’s porn” perspective, since certainly, there’s lots of fantasies people would never even want to act out in person, but can find pleasure in deriving their enactment in porn.

    It’s not even like sex is really that taboo, anymore. It seems like women who read this can just go out and find someone to have sex with, live out the fantasy, I’m sure there’s plenty of on-the-surface nice guys who would love some rough stuff. But again, it’s porn, so it serves that purpose. To claim this is anything but simple smut is ridiculous. It’s certainly not “liberating”, since the story involves a submissive women and highlights the importance of “earth-shattering” orgasm (I’ve heard that description is repeated ad nauseum), much like Twilight highlights the importance of having a boyfriend. Agh, screw any merit or value that anyone would give this sort of trash.

  10. God knows I love all your faces (commenters and writers alike), but Christ on toast: woman = one person of the female persuasion; women = more than one person of the female persuasion. Just like man/men. Only with a “wo” in front of it. Because when god created man, he said, “Eh. Man.” When he created woman he said, “Whoa, man!”

    To the point, though: this book lost me at “originally written as Twilight fan fiction.” That drivel masquerading as literature is replicating itself like some kind of teenage-angst-ridden, pliant-female-stereotype, “hey-let’s-take-all-the-fun-out-of-being-a-vampire” reanimated corpse?! Coming for our daughters’ brains?! THE END IS NIGH, MY FRIENDS. MAKE YOUR PEACE.

  11. Paul, Bomer’s supposed to be a great choice for the part, but the screenplaywright flat out refuses to consider him for casting since he’s openly gay. Gotta love children trying to make grown up decisions.

  12. Remy, I know this is late but I’ve got to ask. If you had to do it over again but had a choice, A Serbian Film or 50 Shades?

    This is watching/reading AGAIN.

  13. ^WOW. That might be the best question I have been asked in a long time.
    Honestly, and no one stab my for this, 50 Shades. And this is coming from a guy who LOVES horror, and I would still pick the trashy novel. Why? Because it is bad literature, but laughably dismissive. But Serbian Film, as bad as it is, gets under your skin and into your subconscious (atleast it did to me) and I would never put myself through that again.

  14. What I don’t understand is why people are suddenly willing to pay for this and why it is suddenly seen as socially acceptable.

    There is much better written smut available for free online, better depictions of the BDSM lifestyle that don’t promote abusive relationships. But I swear you’d struggle to persuade many of the women reading 50 shades to read the equivalent online.

    Is it just the fact that it is published that people are accepting of it? I mean, it’s not like it is well written.

    Apparently the first book is based on some Twilight fanfiction that the author was writing.

    I just feel sorry for the author’s son when he found out that it was his mother who wrote it.

  15. Well I appreciate the well written and thought out article, my heart is destroyed that “Paul and Remy read 50 Shades” isn’t actually a video/recording of you guys reading it, a la Gilbert Godfried or Ellen.

    On a related noted, as both a female and a human beings, I cannot fathom the popularity of these books. I only read the first, and only as a way to pass the time at work on day. I regret it, and will continue with my insistence that the sequels do not exist.

  16. I am someone who writes fan fiction.
    I admit this knowing the scorn and ridicule that type of writing receives. However, I believe I make an effort to provide a strong, entertaining plot with believable character interactions. I’ve read great fanfiction that has made me green with envy and I’ve read nonsense that can only be described as the desperate daydreams of often delusional fans.

    It annoyed me when I discovered 50 shades was twilight fanfiction. It was bad enough the twilight saga did so well but I understood WHY it did so well. But to see the smut derived from already poor fiction become mega successful due to the changing of the characters names honestly made my blood boil. This is mostly due to the fact that there are a great number of amateur writers, who write fanfiction as a hobby outside of their normal lives, and provide stories far superior to “Masters of the Universe”.

    And as bold as it might be of me to say, I include myself in that group of writers. But what truly drives me mad is knowing that even if I ever get something published it will NEVER be as successful as 50 shades. I skimmed through the 2nd book, wondering if my anger was misplaced, and saw only what I’d come to associate as signs of a poorly written, smut-focused fanfiction. It truly isn’t worthy of its success.

    This might be the part where I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  17. i am also a fanfic writer, and i also write smutfic (Plot? What plot?) interspersed with full novel length fanfics – but to see someone succeed monetarily on THIS level with THIS thin a plot is a complete insult and injury.
    I browsed through a few pages and it distressed me immensely, because, like Mike S. said, there are dozens of writers that can make me cry and laugh and take me through an emotional roller coaster who make better writers than she.
    I hope, that future generations, when they look back on this dark period in time, will realize how sad popular literature has become, and torch these books.
    I’m only jealous of the money. Everything else? I know I write better porn than that.

    Also, thanks for the many Matt Bomer shots. He is Effing. Hawt.
    I still won’t watch the movie even if he plays the crazy stalker billionaire though.

  18. You both have more guts then I would, I won’t touch that garbage. I’ve read more then enough about it to know it’s trash. My in-laws are reading that book, *shiver*, but fortunately they don’t talk to me about it. Glad they don’t because if they ever bring it up they will get an earful 🙂

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