The Acid Tongue
Selected By Jess C. Scott
William Giraldi's essay-review in the New Republic begins brusquely enough, by relating a personal anecdote which occurred during the "height of the moronic craze over E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey."
He introduces the reason for his disdain by getting straight to the poor quality of E.L. James' prose:
As the wife read aloud her favorite lines from one of the books — sentences, as you know, of such galactic ineptitude it was hard to believe a primate could have written them — the husband sat beside her on the sofa, blinking at the camera with a look of the most shell-shocked capitulation [italics added].
Giraldi is not averse to attacking fans of the popular series:
With their drooling enthusiasm for Fifty Shades, millions of dreamy-hearted women have chaperoned a cultural phenomenon — one that amply shows how far taste can be removed from hunger — just as millions of frail-headed men have made Tom Clancy a household name, Clancy's bestsellers being a breed of poli-sci porn for gruff guys.
Neither is he averse to putting the author in her place:
A great many women indeed have been living it up while dumbing it down, titillated by a charlatan amorist who goes by the nom de plume of E.L. James. I'm made distinctly queasy by uttering that sacral American surname when referring to this empress of inanity, so let's use her real name, Erika Leonard. She who has done so much to help debase our culture should stand revealed. . .There simply isn't much to say about Erika Leonard's eighth-grade gurglings, about books this derivative and reductive, wholly barren of a single idea or sophisticated psychological insight. . .You might recall that Fifty Shades originated on a "fan fiction" Web site devoted to those other crimes against language, the Twilight books.
Giraldi quotes another reviewer, Katie Roiphe, to further illustrate his contempt for the mass's apparent want for "this orgy of reduction, this puerile simplifying of Eros":
...most alarming about the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomena, what gives it its true edge of desperation, and end-of-the-world ambience, is that millions of otherwise intelligent women are willing to tolerate prose on this level.
We can infer that Giraldi is self-inclusive when he makes a reference to "some of us finding it inconceivable that intelligent readers would participate in the abnegating of their minds and the debauching of English just to feel some twitching in their trousers."He sympathizes with readers who share his sentiments, by explaining what quality prose is when it comes to portraying sexuality in literature:
But if you were among those who found the books not even a smidgen sexy, that's because they aren't. In her 1972 essay "Seduction and Betrayal," Elizabeth Hardwick, sapient as ever, was clear about this: "Sex can no longer be the germ, the seed of fiction. Sex is an episode, most properly conveyed in an episodic manner, quickly, often ironically." Put another way: Sex is sexy when it's suggested, furtive, and not when all the moving parts are acrobatically swung before us.
I hesitate to call William Giraldi's essay a complete and utter diatribe, due to the concluding paragraph:
And what's wrong with some empty entertainment to kick-start the sleepy genitalia? Nothing, unless you believe that a nation's reading habits have something potent to say about that nation's character. Tell me the books you read and I'll tell you who you are; tell me you read no books and I'll tell you there is no you.
Most notably there is this poignant passage towards the end of the review:
At least people are reading. You've no doubt heard that before. But we don't say of the diabetic obese, At least people are eating.
We are what we consume, whether it's books, pop culture, or food--a harsh truth that is at the crux of William Giraldi's caustic critique.
QLRS Vol. 14 No. 1 Jan 2015