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  • Jenny Kawecki 5:00 pm on 2015/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , grey, , , , marina keegan, , pass the potatoes, , , , the opposite of lineliness,   

    A Book for Every Relative at Your Thanksgiving Table 

    Thanksgiving is upon us, which means now’s the time to dredge up all the patience and calm you have buried in your tired soul and bring it to the surface—yep, it’s time to deal with your relatives again. Your aunts and cousins have their moments, sure, but most of the time you just want to shove…these books into their hands, and then run. Fast.

    For Your Marriage-Obsessed Grandmother: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
    If you could erase one thing in your grandmother’s mind, it would be whatever impulse tells her to pester you about your marriage prospects every single time she sees you. No, you haven’t “settled down” yet, and no, you don’t have any plans to in the next six months. Years, maybe. So just hand her a copy of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl—not only should the suspense give her something else to think about (finally), but hopefully it just might change her mind about marriage being the end all, be all of life. Because not all marriages are happily ever after…

    For Your Lovelorn Cousin: Grey, by E. L. James
    Your cousin is lovely and smart and totally capablewhich is why you’re going to throttle her if you have to hear her complain about her latest ex for hours on end. What she really needs is a good boyfriend, and you know what makes the best boyfriend of all? A book. Specifically this book, which should provide all the romance, drama, and excitement your cousin needs, so she can get back to doing interesting things with her life.

    For Your Sports-Loving Father: The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
    The trouble with sports fans on Thanksgiving day is that it’s pretty much impossible to change the subject. Distract your favorite football fanatic, then, with The Art of Fieldinga sports book that’s so good, it could quench his need for sports conversation altogether. Or at least inspire him to talk about the book for a bit first.

    For Your Niece with the Attitude: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?by Mindy Kaling
    There’s nothing like a nice healthy dose of perspective to check the overconfident, right? It’s not like your niece is that much younger or hipper than you—there’s what, ten years between you?—but she acts more like it’s forty. Kaling’s hilarious book might make her rethink the way she looks at life (and her own sense of self-importance). And if nothing else, you two will finally have something in common to talk about.

    For Your Know-It-All Brother: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
    You love your brother, but if he interrupts you to mansplain his latest dubious opinion one more time, you’re going to “accidentally” eat that last piece of pie he’s been gunning for. Occupy that brain of his with all 1,104 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which at the very least should keep him busy until the new year rolls around. Bonus? You can spend the rest of the holidays asking for impromptu book reports on his progress and quizzing him on the plot—especially the footnotes.

    For Your Guilt-Tripping Mother: The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen
    How do you guilt trip a guilt tripper? Subtly, of course. And who better to make your mother reconsider her ways than Enid, Franzen’s sympathetic yet terribly frustrating portrait of overbearing mothers everywhere? She’ll love her and hate her for her needy-yet-domineering ways (how is that even possible?), and maybe, just maybe, she’ll learn to cool it on the pressure.

    For Your Perfect Sister: The Opposite of Lonelinessby Marina Keegan
    You want to give her a book that’ll express your frustrations, but let’s face it: even you think your sister is perfect. She’s up there on that glowing, golden pedestal for a reason. So despite the fact that her awesomeness annoys you to no end, you can’t help but want to be the one who gives her a book that’ll fascinate and impress her. With its combination of fiction, nonfiction, and sheer brilliance, The Opposite of Loneliness will make your sister fall in love with being young and break her heart all at once, and she’ll have you to thank for it. (Well, you and Keegan.)

    For That One Inappropriate Male Relative: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
    Is he your uncle? Your second cousin? No one’s really sure how, exactly, he’s related to everyone at the table; he just showed up one year, and no one’s been able to stop him since. But between his creepy prolonged staring and totally terrible jokes, you really wish you could send him back to his real family—or at least get him to stop waggling his eyebrows whenever he talks to you. The solution? Give him a subtle reminder that anyone in your family could take revenge a la Jackson’s creepy classic We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Because nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” like arsenic in the sugar bowl.

    What reading recommendations do you have for your obnoxious relatives?

  • Jeff Somers 8:00 pm on 2015/07/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , grey, sensational, , the fountainhead   

    Look on My Works Ye Mighty: Once and Future Novel Phenomenons 

    As we we recover from the release of E.L. James’ Grey, which tells the story of Christian and Anastasia’s kinky love affair from Christian’s point of view, it will be interesting to see if Fifty Shades of Grey retains its grip on pop culture. A few years ago, everyone was talking about Fifty Shades of Grey—its sexual politics, the quality of the writing, its fan-fiction origins, women’s rights, and issues of domestic abuse. In fact, many people who haven’t even read a line of the books, or only the ones quoted in six billion think pieces written about them, have extremely passionate opinions about the trilogy.

    James said she wrote Grey to please her fans, and there’s no reason to doubt it. Fans are passionate, and when you’re passionate about a work of fiction it’s not at all unusual to have a drive to know every single facet about the universe you enjoy. This is why companion novels, guidebooks, and character encyclopedias do so well, and why an author can return to a successful universe decades later and still sell oodles of books.

    Judging from history, the chances are good that while Grey may sell a lot of copies, it won’t capture the zeitgeist the way the first three novels did. History has seen a lot of books that hit the shelves like a train on fire, capturing not only readers’ eyeballs but the general attention of every single person in the universe, becoming grist for late night jokes and endless discussions, as bloviators bloviate about why this year’s cult novel doesn’t deserve all the attention. These books burn bright, burn fast, and then settle into a comfortable cultural obfuscation—not precisely obscurity, because they often have incredibly long tails, but certainly a much lower profile than in their initial phenomenon phase. In fact, the history of this sort of phenomenon novel can be traced back to the mid-19th century, and what’s known as the Sensation Novel. And if you’ve never heard the term sensation novel, that’s your first clue as to their eventual fate.

    Causing a Sensation

    The “Sensation Novel” was a phenomenon of the 1860s and 1870s, marked by the publication of novels that were melodramatic, romantic, and written with a modern thrust and sensibility that had never existed before. Largely thought to begin with the publication of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (also considered one of the first mystery novels),they were hugely successful commercially (and published in the first blush of the industrial revolution that made their widespread availability possible), but generally poorly regarded by critics, setting the pattern for the rest of eternity: exciting books that reflected the passions of the times sell like hotcakes, and are universally reviled by the supposed defenders of taste and literary quality. Sensation Novels traded in “shocking” plots that included crime, adultery, sex, and, of course, murder, but were considered sensational more for the fact that they used these plot elements in a realistic way, setting them in the recognizable world instead of a fantastic setting where the reader remained insulated.

    Of the Sensation Novels from the time, the most famous remains Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. In fact, that novel and Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood, along with The Woman in White, are likely the only examples of the Sensation Novel that are still discussed widely and remain part of the popular culture to any extent. The rest have faded away more or less completely. Of course you can still discover these books and read them, and very likely enjoy them, but they’re not exactly household names, despite once dominating the pop culture conversation.

    That’s the pattern that remains in force: novels that come out and cause a sensation, whether it’s a mania of people buying and discussing them, outrage over their content, or simply catching a wave in the zeitgeist, the fact is, it has happened before, and will happen again. The books that everyone is buzzing about today will soon be yesterday’s news.

    Which doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reading. You can learn a lot from the “It Books” of the past, partially from what they can show us about what was considered sensational at the time, and partially from the objectivity that time grants us, allowing us to view them as novels—which can be impossible when we’re in the midst of the phenomenon.

    The Modern Sensation Novel

    Every generation likes to think it’s the most debauched and worldly ever produced, that the things that shock us are orders of magnitude more shocking than the things that shocked our parents. This is largely because our collective memory is feeble, and we forget things so quickly. The Fifty Shades books, with their focus on bondage, submission, and non-traditional romance, got a lot of attention because of their shocking nature. But there’s actually a lot more romance in them than explicit sex, and anyone who bought and read the trilogy for the smut was very likely disappointed.

    The fact is, anyone who thought Fifty Shades shocking likely hasn’t read the liver scene in Portnoy’s Complaint, any random page from Tropic of Cancer, or Venus in Furs, whose author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, actually inspired the term masochism (look to the works of de Sade for the other side of that particular coin). The list of novels that pre-date (and very likely out-raunch) E.L. James is long, which just goes to show that it isn’t necessarily shocking subject matter that makes a book a sensation—it requires the perception of a new low (or high, depending on your point of view). Fifty Shades of Grey didn’t become a sensation simply because it explored a BDSM lifestyle and relationship many people were unfamiliar with, or included some explicit details you don’t encounter in most love scenes. It became a sensation because it framed these shocking moments inside a more traditional romance: a young, inexperienced woman meets a powerful, experienced man, pierces his outer shell of defenses, has the best sex of anyone’s life, and then finds her own power by the end. It’s a pretty classic, just with a more honest look at how people process unconventional desire.

    Peyton Place remains one of the most successful “sensational” novels of the modern age. Published in 1956, it sold in incredible numbers, was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 59 weeks, and was made into a film, and then a TV series. More a sprawling soap opera than an examination of a single sexual relationship, Peyton Place hit all the shock points for 1950s America (many of which remain shocking today), including sex, incest, abortion, adultery, and, just to round it off, murder.

    It’s not wrong to characterize Peyton Place as the Fifty Shades of its time—a book that people read not for the writing, but for the supposedly shocking moments within it, a book that didn’t get much love from critics, which seemed to sell mainly due to its “forbidden” nature. The sort of book that, as the famous line in A Chorus Line goes, people locked themselves in the bathroom to read. Yet 60 years on, Peyton Place is hardly part of the buzzing of pop culture. It’s not exactly forgotten, and remains in print, but no one is writing think pieces about it any more. As Shelley wrote, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” No matter how sensational a novel is, the time comes when it’s no longer considered sensational.

    Not Always Sex

    It’s a mistake to imagine that the sensational novel is always about sex. Phenomenons are built on other things, but that doesn’t mean they have any more staying power as cocktail-chatter grist.

    Consider the now-inexplicable cultural fury of The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. It’s hard to believe that just over a decade ago, the world was buzzing constantly about this book. People took it seriously as history, actually believing famous works of art contained hidden codes, or that the Catholic Church has a secret organization dedicated to suppressing the truth (well, they certainly did—but at least in the 21st century, those hidden secrets were far less fantastical, and far more troubling). It sold close to 100 million copies, spawned sequels and two film adaptations and a lengthy list of imitators, and turned Brown, whose first three novels had sold poorly, into a superstar. For a while, every conversation that touched on reading had to cover your opinion of, reaction to, and analysis of The Da Vinci Code.

    Today, of course, not so much. Brown continues to sell hella books, and people continue to read The Da Vinci Code and find it to be either a mediocrity, or a fascinating alternate take on history, and a thrilling story. It doesn’t matter where you fall on that spectrum: the fact is, no one is talking about the book any more, and that’s the point—all sensations fade. While they may remain in print, they stop being cultural touchstones, and eventually, they stop making sense as pop culture references.

    Another example of a sensational book—one that has perhaps been most successful at maintaining its place as a topic of furious discussion—is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, perhaps the least sexy book to have achieved sensation status (perhaps the least sexy book ever written, in fact). Deplored by critics, it gained a rising buzz of word of mouth after its publication, hit the bestseller lists, and was a required topic of conversation for years, whether you wanted to discuss the politics Rand barely hid in her story (now considered the first seeds of the modern Libertarian movement), or that rape scene (which Rand energetically denied was rape at all).

    Six decades later, college kids continue to discover The Fountainhead and go through an annoying phase of pressing the book on everyone they meet, insisting it will change the way they see the world. It continues to be an unofficial bible for a certain type of businessperson who conflates their monetary success with some sort of superior intellectual quality they have discovered within. Still, despite its continuing sales, The Fountainhead hasn’t really been part of the pop culture conversation for decades. No novel can remain a sensation forever, no matter how much sex, profanity, or oddball political and cultural theory it contains.

    Does this mean the Fifty Shades Era will pass? Definitely. The books may continue to sell, they might become the foundation of “dirty bookshelves” in houses across the country in the same way The Tropic of Cancer once did in our parents’ or grandparents’ houses. But there will come a time when no one writes about them any longer. A new shocking novel will come out, and even if it isn’t all that shocking, and we’ll spend an inordinate amount of time discussing it, until we’re all hardily sick of it. And so we beat on.

    Shop all fiction >
  • Jen Harper 3:00 pm on 2015/06/24 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , grey,   

    Haven’t read Fifty Shades? 4 Reasons to Start with Grey 

    You don’t have to fake it with us: We know there are those of you out there who haven’t read the Fifty Shades trilogy yet. And with all the hype surrounding bestselling author EL James’s newest book, Grey, perhaps you’re thinking it’s too late for you to jump on the Fifty Shades of Grey bondage bandwagon. Never fear—there’s plenty of room in Christian Grey’s playroom for everyone (just don’t touch anything). We’ve got four good reasons you might want to read the dark and brooding Christian’s side of the story before getting Anastasia Steele’s perspective in the Fifty Shades trilogy.   

    You want the male perspective right up front.
    With a large female audience, many romance and erotica novels tend to stick with the woman’s point of view. But maybe you’re ready to mix it up and hear about sex, love, and flogging from the man’s perspective. And quite unlike the naive, virginal Anastasia Steele’s insights, Christian Grey’s brooding, domineering, S&M–loving mind is both dark and enlightening all at once, as you learn how tortured and insecure he really is.

    You’re more black and white—you don’t deal well with shades of gray.
    Christian is almost a total mystery in Fifty Shades of Grey. Why exactly is he so taken with this Anastasia girl? What does he even do to have made all this money? How did he know where Ana worked and when to find her there? And what’s with the no-touching-his-chest deal? Imagine all these questions and a million more, and you’re beginning to see what it’s like to 1) read Fifty Shades as told by Anastasia and 2) possibly be Anastasia herself. Seriously, how does she deal with all the not-knowing?

    You’re a bit of a contrarian.
    You like to eat your dessert first, drink coffee before bed, and wear your sunglasses at night. So why wouldn’t you start with the last-released book in a series? The good news about Grey is that you really don’t have to have read any of the Fifty Shades books to understand the story and its characters.

    You’re still mourning the loss of Midnight Sun, Stephanie Meyer’s never-completed version of Twilight from Edward Cullen’s point of view. It’s no secret the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction with Christian as a take on vampire Edward Cullen and Anastasia as a version of Bella Swan. And, as any good Twilight fan knows, Meyer had plans to release a Twilight companion novel—the first book in the series as told from Edward’s perspective. However, in 2008 a partial draft of the book, entitled Midnight Sun, was illegally leaked on the Internet. As a result, Meyer didn’t feel she could continue with the book, breaking Twi-hearts around the world. So while we may never get more insight into the mind of Edward, we can at least get to know his fanfic alter ego a bit better in Grey.

  • Jen Harper 4:00 pm on 2015/06/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , grey,   

    4 Reasons You Can’t Miss Grey 

    It’s been days since EL James’s latest novel, Grey, hit shelves on June 18, and you haven’t devoured it yet??? Perhaps you just enjoy the anticipation of making yourself wait to read it, or maybe you need a little push in the right direction (with a flogger, perchance?).

    Fans have been begging James for this book—a retelling of Fifty Shades of Grey from Christian Grey’s point of view—ever since the release of the first volume in the bestselling Fifty Shades trilogy, which was told from Anastasia Steele’s perspective. And James has definitely delivered. Check out our list of reasons why you can’t miss Christian’s side of the story.

    It’s the ultimate summer indulgence.
    Summer is a time for relaxing in the sun, feeling the sand between your toes, watching blockbuster popcorn flicks at the theater, and reading crowd-pleasing books for pleasure. Books like James’ are called popular fiction for a reason, and she’s giving the people exactly what they want. Have you ever tried to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment while lounging next to a pool? It’s a stellar piece of literature, but difficult to absorb when the temps are up and the winter clothes are packed away. Now, throw Grey into your beach bag, and follow Christian into the Red Room of Pain. We promise it won’t hurt a bit.

    Everyone else is doing it.
    Yes, we know what your mother always said: “If everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you?” No, Mom. And we don’t think reading Grey is gateway behavior to bridge jumping. But can millions of people be wrong? The first three books in the series—Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed—have sold 125 million copies, the movie adaptation made $94.4 million in its first weekend alone, and Grey has shot quickly to the top spot on Barnes & Noble’s bestsellers list. So whether you’re reading it because you think it’s fun, sexy, silly, intriguing, or outstanding, you’re in good company while quickly turning its pages.

    EL James wrote this book for you, the fans.
    Grey’s dedication page reads, “This book is dedicated to those readers who asked…and asked…and asked for this. Thank you for all you’ve done for me. You rock my world every day.” This book was a labor of love for the millions of readers who’ve become immersed in Christian and Anastasia’s world and wanted more. So graciously accept your gift and get to reading already.

    Finally, some answers about Christian.
    Dark, moody, alluring, domineering, intimidating—all of these words can be used to describe Christian, but above all else, he’s mysterious. What is he thinking when Miss Anastasia Steele stumbles into his office for the first time? What is it about her that draws him in? What makes him tick? How exactly has Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. made Christian a billionaire? How does he always know where to find Ana? What’s the deal with his dark past? Why is it that his interests are so singular? We can’t promise you’ll get all the dirt on Christian in Grey, but you will at least start to understand the inner workings of this complicated man, and what makes Anastasia so appealing to him.

    Have you read Grey yet?

  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 6:08 pm on 2015/06/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , grey,   

    EL James’s New Novel, Grey, Reveals the Truth About Christian 

    Although it was just a few weeks ago that EL James announced her newest novel, Grey, would hit stores on June 18, fans have been clamoring for this book—a retelling of the story from Christian’s point of view—ever since finishing the first volume of the bestselling Fifty Shades trilogy.

    A dark, brooding, and maddeningly complex Byronic hero, Christian Grey is the sort of character whose inner workings deserve a closer look. Today, readers get to see what’s been going on behind that controlled and somewhat menacing façade. We tore through Grey as soon as we got our hands on it this morning, and we’ve discovered some surprising twists—and the answer to a few burning questions. Here are five of the most fascinating things we learned about Christian, now that we’ve finally heard his side of the story.

    His life was empty when Ana stumbled into it.
    When we first meet Christian in Grey, he’s suffering from ennui. He fills his days with work, personal-training sessions, and golf (which, amusingly, he appears to loathe). He may be a billionaire, but his wealth and status aren’t making him happy. When Ana tumbles into his office with her dowdy clothes and reserved, skeptical attitude, she’s a breath of fresh air, a welcome reprieve from the bland business associates, gold-digging opportunists, and other sycophants Christian is surrounded by in his day-to-day life. Ana’s meek response to Christian’s intimidating presence initially arouses his interest, but it’s her quick wit and the spark of a challenge he sees in her eyes that really ignites his obsession with her.

    He’s actually pretty thoughtful.
    If you’ve read Fifty Shades of Grey, you know that soon after their first meeting, Christian rescues Ana from a Portland bar after she passes out drunk, and she awakens in his hotel room with a fresh change of clothes waiting for her. It’s fascinating to revisit this scene from Christian’s point of view, because you get a glimpse of the thought behind some of the more considerate gestures he makes toward her. Ana didn’t think much about how Christian managed to get the clothes to her. We now know that they showed up because Christian sent a polite late-night email to his faithful assistant, requesting that he pick up items like: “Blouse: Blue. Pretty. Size 4” and “Converse: Black Size 7.” We also see Christian leaving orange juice and Advil on the nightstand after realizing that Ana is going to wake up with a wicked hangover. A small gesture, but nonetheless a thoughtful one.

    He and Ana have more in common than you might think.
    As confident and self-possessed as Christian is in the arena of business (and also pleasure), beneath the surface, he doubts himself—particularly where his relationship with Ana is concerned. Early in the novel, when Christian shows up at the hardware store where Ana works, he is a mass of conflicting desires and insecurities. Fifty Shades of Grey fans will be amazed to learn that during that scene, while Christian is asking Ana to show him where the cable ties are, he’s thinking things like, “Is she laughing at me?” and “I could just ask her out for dinner. Like on a date? Would she accept?” After reading that scene from his point of view, you’ll see his character in a completely different light—and their romance will make even more sense to you. Christian and Ana get along so well because deep down, they aren’t all that different; they each yearn for love and acceptance on their own terms, and each one wants it desperately from the other.

    He’s not all business, but he is at least some business.
    One common refrain of Fifty Shades detractors was, “How is Christian such a successful businessman? We never actually see him doing any deals!” While we personally were not disappointed by the lack of (unsexy) business dealings in the original novels, since Fifty Shades of Grey is not a legal thriller, Grey does lay this criticism to rest by showing that Christian Grey is, in fact, quite focused on the day-to-day running of his enormous empire. Even while fanatically pursuing a relationship with Ana, he schedules a lot of meetings, takes a lot of calls, and constantly checks his work email. He also drinks some beer, watches some sports, and does some mountain-biking. It’s a little strange getting a closer look at the somewhat ordinary man behind the myth, but it’s a good strange.

    He is troubled by his past.
    No spoilers, but let’s just say that as much as he wants to pretend he’s left his traumatic early childhood behind, he hasn’t. Not by a long shot.

    There’s a lot more to Christian Grey than meets the eye, far beyond what we’ve divulged here. More than a simple retelling, this is a completely different story—one that just might make you fall in love with its protagonist.

    Pick up Grey at your local Barnes & Noble, or download it instantly on your NOOK or NOOK Reading App!

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