Friday High Five: Mean Critics and 50 Shades of Spanking

We share five of our favourite links to news, reviews or articles that we’ve discovered on the web over the past week.

Fifty shades of spanking and Katie Roiphe

It’s a bit weird to think that one of the hottest topics of conversation in the literary world, from London to New York, is a book that began as a self-published fan fiction e-book, and is now an international erotic bestseller backed by a multi-million dollar deal.

Katie Roiphe’s Newsweek article, ‘Spanking Goes Mainstream’ on what she diagnoses as a ‘current vogue for domination’ (or, ‘the stylised theatre of female powerlessness’), epitomised by Fifty Shades and explored on HBO’s new zeitgeisty series, Girls. Roiphe says it’s a reaction to feminism, by women who find ‘free will a burden’. The internet has exploded in angry response.


For those wondering what all the fuss is about, The Vulture has produced ‘The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey, including reasons why it’s just not sexy:

‘There are ways to write sex well. This is not that. This is like Tom Wolfe–bad sex scenes but punctuated by non-sex scenes that are gut-wrenchingly awful. A passage where we find out what Anastasia Steele looks like via girl-frowning-at-her-appearance-in-a-mirror exposition should be punishment for vehicular manslaughter in some states.’

Mean guys: Chris Flynn on critics

Novelist, critic and Big Issue books editor Chris Flynn has been blogging a lot for Meanjin recently. This week, he writes about the influence of the Hatchet Job of the Year Award on the kinds of reviews that are being published; wondering if the rewarding of snark promoted by the award might be encouraging reviewers to be gratuitously mean, making it more about them than the work under consideration. ‘As a casual reviewer myself I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just not mean enough to be cut out for the task,’ he writes.


Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones. ‘If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up,’ wrote one unimpressed reviewer.

He singles out the infamous New York Times take-down of Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper (‘a textbook on how not to write fiction’) and Neil Genzlinger’s evisceration of television’s Game of Thrones – and its viewers (‘Dungeons and Dragons types [with a] fairly low reward threshold’).

Blurb Your Enthusiasm

Adam Mansbach (of Go the F**k to Sleep fame) has a very nice little satire in the New Yorker on the art of asking authors to ‘blurb’ (ie. endorse) your book. Here’s an excerpt from his pricing chart:

This is your first book. (+$100)

This is your first book in a decade. (+$150)

You’re still using the author photo from your ‘promising début’. (+$75)

I know you. (–$50)

I met you once. (–$20)

We made out at a party. (+$25)

We got drunk together at a literary festival once, but I could tell you were thinking the whole time about how now you could ask me for a blurb. (+$75)


Adam Mansbach with the book that made him famous.

Less sexist Lego?

One of the most popular articles we’ve published this year was our look at the pink-and-pastel hued ‘Lego for girls’, officially branded Lego Friends. This week, Salon reports that Lego executives have agreed to sit down to talk with SPARK, a group who hopes to get the company to include more characters in its standard Lego lines, and improve the Lego Friends line, which Time magazine compared to Disney Princess, ‘with its emphasis on physical appearance and limited career choices’.


Of course, Disney Princess – and Lego Friends – are fantastically successful with consumers, if not commentators. Salon is sceptical, thought its reporter says ‘it would be wise for a company founded nearly 50 years ago with the imperative to create toys for “girls and for boys” to remember that goal doesn’t mean “girl toys and boy toys.”’

David Sedaris: ‘I like non-fiction books about people with wretched lives’

The New York Times has launched a new regular series, ‘By the Book’, in which they interview writers about what they’re reading and recommending. They kick off with David Sedaris, who is characteristically entertaining and enlightening.


David Sedaris: ‘Whenever I read a passage that moves me, I transcribe it in my diary, hoping my fingers might learn what excellence feels like’.

Among his confessions? ‘I like nonfiction books about people with wretched lives. The worse off the subjects, the more inclined I am to read about them. When it comes to fictional characters, I’m much less picky. Happy, confused, bitter: if I like the writing I’ll take all comers.’

The book that made him want to write? Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. ‘His short, simple sentences and familiar-seeming characters made writing look, if not exactly easy, then at least possible.’

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