No, you didn’t read that title wrong. I didn’t believe it when I first saw my syllabus either, but alas. I speak the truth. Fifty Shades of Grey listed as my required reading in my college-level English class. The most shocking thing? That I felt shocked at all. This English class called itself Guilty Pleasures. No. Really.
Now, I realize that this sounds like a joke.
Surely, I make this up for the article, right? Oh no, my dear friends. No, no. See. You couldn’t make up a story like this. Perhaps you think I will exaggerate the assignments, or the class readings (yeah, I’ll get to that in a second), but again. No. That entire class can serve as witness to the hours of debating the feminism of E.L. James’s writing. The word choices. The focus on the fact that Anastasia never ate. If I never remember anything from that book, I’ll remember that because of how many times it came up in academic discussions.
Listen. My brain never fully processed all I learned in that class on that book, so this might come as my only chance. And I shall talk. For starters, let’s focus on the cover. In my Guilty Pleasures class—in which we read other works such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and studied some truly wild comics from the past—the professor gave us an assignment. She wanted us to read Fifty Shades of Grey in a public space. With the cover out and record what happened and how people around us reacted.
No. Really. I don’t think there can come any harm in me admitting now that I never did it. Which honestly felt like a waste, I really wish I did. Other students came back and swore they got funny looks and giggles from other people for reading something like that out in the open. And by the way, I should specify that the cover we got? Not the single tie against a black backdrop. We got the one with the movie Christian pinning the movie Anastasia against a wall. Needless to say, people knew what kind of book you carried.
Does that sound uncomfortable?
Oh don’t worry. It gets worse. If you thought we felt squirmy reading a very heated book in public where the cover jumped out at people, imagine how much worse it got when the professor read passages out loud. In class. Then asked us for our thoughts on the wording and analysis of the writing.
I swear, I cringed so much that as she read the passage, I told myself I would wait only another few seconds before I made some excuse about needing the restroom. Luckily, the torture stuff. I kid, I kid. No, I really don’t, I felt tortured. Anyway
The final thing I want to talk about; the presentation.
At the end of the quarter, the professor required us to pick a book and create a whole question and answer for it. Mine and my partner’s came down to Fifty Shades of Grey, just because we thought we would get a lot out of it. We wrote about whether or not it qualified as a “feminist” text. Our answer? Yes. No, I don’t actually want to discuss whether it qualifies as such, I just needed some argument for my grade, okay? I won’t get into how our presentation went (amazing, by the way), but I will say that it certainly got me to spend a lot more time with this book than I would otherwise.
I know this couldn’t count as the weirdest book anyone ever got on their syllabus, but it definitely qualifies as mine. Full disclosure, I didn’t even read most of it. All I know of it comes down to what the professor read or projected on the screen. I heard so much about it and ended up reading so many articles, papers and interviews on it for my presentation that I pretty much know what happens in the entire thing. Anastasia doesn’t eat, Christian carries some issues and rich guy stuff happens. Pretty much it, right?