Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Long Overdue Review

Let's not talk about how long it's been, hmm? I know I've been away for far too long, but I'll probably have long breaks in the future, too. I finally (finally!) got around to reviewing a hugely popular book series: 50 Shades of Grey. I read it a couple years ago, but never got around to sharing my thoughts. With all the hullabaloo surrounding the upcoming movie, I decided to share my feelings. So here it is!

50 Shades of Grey: to Read or Not to Read?

            I can’t recommend that you read E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. On the other hand, I can’t recommend that you not read it. Wait, what? How can you recommend reading it AND not reading it? Here’s how: the books aren’t bad, but at the same time, they’re awful. 50 Shades has some definite flaws; however, it has positives that balance the negatives. In this review, I’ll address the good, the bad, and the ugly of 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels.
            First, the good. The story’s character development is quite appealing. Christian Grey is a round, dynamic character. In the beginning of the tale, he is emotionally closed off because of psychological damage due to sexual abuse as a teen and parental abandonment as a child. You have to admit, those are good reasons for mental issues. As a result of his emotional trauma, Grey is jealous, possessive, and controlling. These are things we do not want to see in a mate, and this seems to be one of the chief complaints of many reviewers. Over the course of the books, though, he allows himself to heal and learns to accept love. While his possessiveness and need to control others’ lives is troubling, he does learn to let his loved ones be independent by trusting them not to hurt him. That is enormous progress; by the end of the series, Grey is emotionally healthier, and therefore a much better person & spouse.
            Anastasia Steele doesn’t grow quite as much as Grey, but her character development is, nonetheless, important. She learns important grown-up lessons, like standing up for her own needs. In the beginning of the story, she is hopelessly naïve. In the course of the story, she learns to assert herself and not let Grey completely control her life. For example, when she leaves Grey at the end of the first novel, she is standing up for her independence—even though she should have told him to stop, at least she knows that she can’t relinquish her autonomy entirely. Steele’s most important function in the story is that she is the driving force behind Grey’s growth. Because of his desire (and eventually love) for Steele, Grey must learn to trust. Because he must learn to trust, he has to let go of his past. Because he let’s go of the past, Grey’s emotional wounds heal. All because of Steele. Not because of her actions, but because of her existence. I could argue that this points to a girl power theme. (I won’t, because I don’t think that Steele grows enough, but it’s possible.)
            I’ve established that James’ character development in the 50 Shades series is good. Now I’ll address the bad. The plot is mediocre. The underlying premise is good (albeit somewhat trite): injured hero is rescued by tenacious heroine. He heals; she learns. They all live happily ever after. The only difference between this and the standard fairy tale motif is the male/female role reversal. I enjoy retells of the classics, especially when they have a fun twist (Shrek and Tangled are a couple of my favorite animated movies, and E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess series is one of my all-time favorites. Spoofs of fairy tales always grab my reading attention.) In this respect, 50 Shades is okay. Going beyond the fairytale theme, though, the story is weak. My biggest complaint about the plot is that it is repetitive. I could swear that James repeated—verbatim!—entire passages throughout the books. It seems like she would copy and paste sections when she couldn’t be bothered with either editing them out (the best option) or varying them (not as good as eliminating the chaff, but better than just repeating). I don’t have any examples handy, and I don’t want to reread the books to find any, but if you do choose to read the trilogy, you’ll see what I mean. On the topic of repetition, in the sex scenes—one of the big draws for so many who love the books—there’s similarly little variety. If you read one sex scene, you can skip the other 5 bazillion. By my estimation, half of the story is made up of sex scenes. James could have cut many hundreds of pages by leaving some to the reader’s imagination. I feel that a story (just like an essay) should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the important bits, but short enough to keep it interesting. In this respect, the author failed. James seems not to trust her readers to do the work of using their imagination as they read. There’s nothing wrong with explicit descriptions, but there’s a problem with the same exact explicitness over and over and over again.
            Having addressed the good and the bad, I’m ready to tackle the ugly. The writing is execrable. It made me cringe! James’ use of language is an affront to readers & writers alike. A few of her sins on this front are: poor word choice, lack of variety in description (I know I addressed that in the previous paragraph), punctuation & grammar errors, and lack of figurative language. She could have saved herself a few demerits by using some good similies and metaphors in her descriptions. In one of the books, Steele “murmurs soundlessly” (or maybe she “mutters wordlessly. I don’t remember which, and I feel no need to subject myself to rereading the whole trilogy just to jog my memory). My problem with this is that it is physically impossible. The nature of a murmur is that it is a sound (likewise, the nature of muttering is that it contains words). Added to this, James was either not motivated enough or not creative enough to describe thoughtfully. Here is where a few metaphors would have come in handy. Grey has a pair of jeans that he wears “that way.” What does “that way” mean? Is it appearance? Attitude? I don’t know, because James didn’t write the story such that I, as a reader, could figure it out. While I do feel that a writer needs to let the reader use imagination, vague or nonexistent descriptions are taking that too far. James flipped where she should have included description and where she should have cut words. So, there it is: the ugly is poor language use—the ultimate writer’s sin.
            Should you read 50 Shades of Grey or not? I can’t tell you. All I can say is that the story has it’s good points in character development, but it also has bad & ugly points in plot and language. Pick your poison: enjoy the characters while being subjected to uncreative plot and lousy writing, or skip the crap and miss the good character development.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I posted this on Facebook, but thought it would be worth sharing here. 
Have you noticed that the world seems to believe that a humanities degree is worthless? This is frustrating for those of us who have these degrees and whose interests and passions lie in the humanities. While an English major may not directly prepare you for the increasingly high-tech, math- & science-heavy workforce, it does help you develop an open and flexible mind. It also fosters creativity and critical thinking skills. In the last couple of decades, these traits have become less important in the work world, but it's a mistake to discount them. ("Big mistake. Big. Huge!")
Is having read the works of Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, Twain, Sophocles, or Poe going to help you in our society? Does the ability to write a strong essay or a beautiful poem, or understand Beethoven's music, or paint a breathtaking sunset get you anywhere economically or employment-wise? Does knowing the origins of sayings like "sword of Damocles" or "Catch-22" make us valuable employees? No. But it's still worth reading, writing, making/listening to music, and painting. In the end, these are what make life worth living, not your income, employment status, or what bank you use. It's frustrating not to earn enough to live off of, not to be able to afford your medicine, to feel oppressed by the people who seem to control our world; however, none of that should make us try to change our fundamental interests or desires. Let's not lose who we are just because society tells us what our interests or desires should be. These are a big part of who we are as individuals, and it's tragic to degrade that because there's more money in technology than in knowing classical mythology and being able to quote Austen.

I'm an English major, and I'm proud of it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years

Dear Terrorists,

You haven’t won. 10 years ago today, you tried to break the American Spirit. You thought that, by taking the lives of our loved ones and knocking down buildings, you could beat us. You thought that you could destroy our hope, our ideals, and our faith. You thought that you could win by killing American people and demolishing American symbols.

You were wrong. You didn’t break our spirit; you made us stronger. You made us mourn people we loved, but in mourning we discovered how much love we still have. You forced us to see our landscape swept of some of our landmarks, but we realized that we don’t need those landmarks to be Americans. You showed us your hope, ideals, and faith—your desire to force yourself on others; your inability to thrive without destruction—and that showed us that our hope, ideals, and faith are not knockable. You thought you won. You didn’t win.

Instead, you showed us how to persevere through tragedy, how to turn to neighbors and countrymen to give and receive support, how to mourn but carry on. You showed us how strong we really are. For every life you took that day, we have rebuilt lives. For every stone you knocked down, we have shored up our emotional monuments: the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; the ideals of freedom and brotherhood; the strength of spirit and hope that will never desert us.

So, terrorists, remember this: You haven’t won. You will never win. And we will never forget the lessons you have taught us.

And on that note, I forgive you. Not on behalf of the whole nation, and not for your sake. I forgive you for what you did to me that day, and for my own sake; in forgiving you, I free myself to continue living. In forgiving you, I remove from you any speck of victory you had over me. I release the hold you may have had on my heart. In forgiving you, you lose, I win.


An American

Friday, July 1, 2011

Punctuation: A Matter of Life and Death

I know that language evolves over time. I know that means that things like spelling and punctuation change. But sometimes, it's really just easier if we follow the rules. I would like to present the following evidence that punctuation can be a matter of life and death:

Exibhit A:
A panda walks into a cafe, sits down, and orders a sandwich and a drink. After he finishes his meal, he stands up, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter. The manager shouts, "Hey! Why did you just shoot my waiter?!" The panda tosses him a poorly-punctuated wildlife manual and says, "I'm a panda. Look it up." So the manager opens the book to panda and reads: "Panda: a bear-like mammal from Asia with distinctive black-and-white markings. Eats, shoots, and leaves." **

Exhibit B:
Look at the difference between these two sentences:

"It's time to eat, Grandma!"


"It's time to eat Grandma!"

You see? Punctuation makes a difference.

**If you think this joke is funny, read Lynn Truss's book "Eats, Shoots and Leaves". It's an entertaining spin on a punctuation book.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hide and Seek: Cat Antics

First, I have to confess that I'm cross-posting this from Cat Lady Kate (which, by the way, you should check out if you haven't already. I'm using that site not only to enable my cat lady-ness, but to raise money. Just click on the ads or the Amazon links). Anyway, here are some Hide and Seek stories you might enjoy:

One morning recently, I woke up to see Seek dangling from the door frame in my bedroom. Just hanging there, holding on with his front claws. Why? No idea. My guess is that he was chasing a bug, but still! That was pretty silly.

Another recent Seek story: I woke up (hmm. There seems to be a trend of Seek waking me up...) to a funny noise. Seek had knocked a box of tissues to the floor and was pulling them, one by one, out of the box. Maybe he had a runny nose?

Hide gets into plenty of trouble, too. He recently figured out how to open the front door of my apartment. It's a sliding door, so he just lies on his side, grabs the bottom corner, and pulls. This usually isn't a problem, because the door is locked. BUT, if I leave it unlocked while I run to my car to get something, or if I don't lock it the instant I'm inside when I get home, he's out. I also think he's onto the lock--I've seen him staring intently up at it--but hasn't figured out how to work it without thumbs yet. I was leaving for work one day recently and discovered that the deadbolt thingy was turned just a bit from vertical. Did I not lock it all the way, or did my cat figure out how to unlock it? You decide. (Fortunately, he wasn't able to unlock it all the way!)

Like all cats, Hide and Seek like to climb. They especially like to jump up onto the fridge and, from there, onto the kitchen cabinets. They particularly like chasing bugs up there. I'm worried that they'll knock over my liquor bottles one of these days! (Now that would be a real tragedy!)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Where does the time go?

Well, my goodness! It's already June! How did that happen? The year is slipping by.

My current exploits: I'm teaching an ESL class at NOVA. It's a low-level reading/writing course. Our first class was Thursday, 6/2. I'm excited to work with these students! I'm also publishing a new blog: Cat Lady Kate. It's for cat lovers, and it deals with all things cat-related. I've included ads & links to Amazon on that blog; I'm hoping to earn some money to donate to animal rescue organizations & other animal welfare causes. So when you stop by Cat Lady Kate, please click on the ads! There's also a Cat Lady Kate facebook group. Please join!

I'm still reading a lot. No surprise there! I recently posted a recommended reading list on The Book Junkie and the Book Junkie FB page. In addition to book reviews & book lists, I'm hosting two drawings on the FB page. Once we hit 100 "likes," I'm going to do a random drawing. One winner will get to choose a book for me to read & review. Another winner will get a Book Junkie bookmark. (The bookmarks are pretty cool! I have a lot of experience with bookmarks, and know what makes the just-about-perfect bookmark. Mine are designed to fit that criterion.) I also plan to (eventually) offer bookmarks & other book paraphernalia for sale. A portion of the sales will be donated to literacy projects. I'll let everyone know when that's up and running!

In addition to that stuff, I'm putting together a collection of stories & poems that I'll be publishing as an e-book available for Kindle & Kindle apps. That should happen pretty soon! Once that's done, I plan to get back to focusing on my novel. I may post excerpts of the book as I make progress; we'll see how that goes.

What's new in your life?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I’ve had an eventful life. But that doesn’t define me. When I was 11, I was told that I’m diabetic. A few months later, I had a stroke. I missed a lot of school. I was in a wheelchair, and I had lots of physical therapy. I’ve had surgery to correct problems with my leg. I’ve had car accidents. I’ve had horrible jobs. I’ve also had wonderful jobs, and I’ve had amazing opportunities. I have a wonderful family & awesome friends.

And none of those things define me. I am not “the girl who had a stroke.” I’m not “the girl in the wheelchair.” I’m not “a diabetic.” I’m not “that kid who went to Germany.” Nor am I “a woman with a degree” or “the lady who drives a PT Cruiser.” I’m not defined by those things; those events, those experiences, or those possessions.

What does define me? I am a teacher. I am a Christian. I'm a nature lover. I'm an animal lover. A book lover. A music lover. A writer. A singer. A cook. A moderate. A volunteer. I love thunder storms, coloring books, poems, stories, crosswords, taking naps, blowing bubbles, and chocolate. I love to give my cats catnip, then play laser tag with them. I laugh. I love my family, my friends, my students, my pets. I love to loll in bed and daydream. It makes me want to cry when I see how much time we spend hating each other rather than helping each other. I give money to beggars when I can. I smile at strangers I pass on the street.

I don’t bother with makeup or styling my hair. I say it’s because I’m lazy and I’d rather have the extra two minutes in bed than take the time to fuss. That’s part of it, of course. Really, though, it’s that I won’t let it define me. My appearance doesn’t identify me. I feel artificial if I spend too much time fussing. What I look like doesn’t define me; what I know defines me.

I might stay up until the wee hours reading. Or grading papers. Or planning lessons. Or finding activities to engage my students and make them enjoy learning. I might take a nap to make up for lost sleep. I might go to bed early. I am innately cheerful, even when I’m sad. This defines me.

I love Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, Nora Roberts, and Robert Frost. I am a rebel who wears mis-matching socks. I lived in England, and I loved it. I love flowers and trees and mountains. I seek opportunities to learn and experience. I am not the girl who had a stroke 19 years ago; I am the girl who was too stubborn and too defiant to let it defeat or define her. I am not, God damn it, defined by the events in my life.

What I choose defines me. How I spend my time. My thoughts. My loves. The time I spend playing with my cats, planning lessons, searching for answers, and praying. My sense of wonder when I look at the sky defines me. These things all define me.

I define me.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

For my students

Writing: It's not just for college

This one goes out to my College Writing 2 students. "I Love You Period" by Dan Baird:

I love the fact that he makes something nerdy (being a good writer) into something cool (which being a good writer already was, but how many of us really think like that?). Let's face it--if you can't punctuate your love letters, how far do you think you'll get in life? Okay, so the song is still full of geek, but it's a fun example of why we should care about punctuation ;)

Here's a song with an opposite take on punctuation: "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend

"Oxford Comma" points out the ridiculosity (it's a word. I may have just made it up, but it's a word) of how uptight we tend to be about language. (The English teacher in me needs to remind everyone that, while language changes and we need to be flexible, PUNCTUATION IS STILL IMPORTANT! Remember those love letters from the first song?)

Now, one we've all experienced: "Writer's Block" by Just Jack (a fun Brit-Hip Hop take on the curse we all know).

See? Even rappers know what it's like.

And here's the ultimate song for writers. From the Beatles:

Writing. It's hip. 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hands, Explanations, and Wile E. Coyote

Can you tell I've become obsessed with slam poetry?

Here's some Def Poetry. I really like the way this young woman presents herself. It's a cool topic, and she talks about it honestly, beautifully, ironically, and makes it cooler.

And here's part of why slam poetry is so awesome (warning: this one is almost 15 minutes. It's selections of poetry interspersed with commentary):

National Poetry Slam Director's Cut

And here's some nostalgic poetry for us Loony Toons fans:
Yeah, I know, it makes a point about addiction. But really, it's about Wile E.