A Response to William Giraldi’s Article in The New Republic

Book 50 Shades of GreySometimes, the sound and fury of an uninformed pseudo-critic should be ignored, because that lessens their impact. When someone attempts to condemn an entire genre on the basis of one book, it is too familiar, an ill-informed position we've seen too often in the last few weeks.

Sometimes, however, the sound and fury of said pseudo-critic has reached enough people, raised enough eyebrows and caused sufficient teeth-clenching fury that, though it still signifies nothing, responses may be required.

I believe this is one of those times.

Before we continue, I ask that you pour yourself a very large beverage, and remove all sharp objects from your immediate vicinity.


Book Hard Core Romance We've reached a new low in Men Writing About Romance Novels: 2014 Edition.

Well, not us exactly. William Giraldi wrote some words collected beneath the title Finally, an Academic Text Devoted to 50 Shades of Grey, which were published in The New Republic. 

His article purports to be about an academic analysis of 50 Shades of Grey titled Hard-Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Best-Sellers, and Society. The book is by Eva Illouz, a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, I can't tell much about the book because Giraldi's opinion is obscured behind his own incredible, thunderous disdain for not only 50 Shades of Grey, but also the author, and the readers who enjoyed that book, and any other romance besides.

The degree to which Mr. Giraldi decorates this reading community with his disdain can be met with outrage (yup) or equal disdain (yup yup). As I re-read some choice moments in William Giraldi's bloviating asshattery, I felt that, in this case, the most fierce and cunning weapon we have in our arsenal is needed.

Many have assisted me in the assembly and loading of this weapon. It is ferocious in its simplicity and says everything we need to say. We've got American English, British English, and Spanish language variations assembled like Avengers.


Lock and load.

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.

Drooling, dreamy hearted women!


Dreck of this stupendous caliber has a particular advantage over literature in that one doesn't have to read all of it to surmise, accurately and eternally, that it is all uniformly awful and awfully uniform—romance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn.


Wow. That's a canon-ball right there, isn't it? Let's look at that again: 

“…romance novels, like racists, tend to be the same wherever you turn.”


Linda Holmes from NPR has brought our ancillary weapon, the ankle-holster of sarcasm: 




And again we deploy our response: 



It's pointless to spend much time impugning these books as writing because they really aren't meant to be considered as actual writing, the same way a Twinkie wasn't meant to be considered as actual food. Books ejaculated this easily have the inverse effect of being extremely difficult to read.




Eva Illouz is an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who’s authored a book titled Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, so she’s accustomed to writing intelligently about the bathetic and bromidic and brain dead.


Oprah putting on sunglasses captioned DEAL WITH IT.



Illouz contends that Hard-Core Romance “was written with respect and suspicion for popular cultural forms,” and although her grammar means to say respect for and suspicion of, you might yourself begin to suspect that she harbors too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter.


Giraldi to Illou: You took this book, the genre and its readership far too seriously for my comfort. 




Women everywhere, I hope, will be irked to learn that Fifty Shades “represents the ultimate triumph” of their point of view, and yet we’d have trouble contending that the white middle-class women who made Fifty Shades a commercial godsend were not “preoccupied with love and sexuality.”


Thank goodness Mr. Giraldi is here to speak on behalf of women everywhere! 




Romance novels are a billion-dollar-a-year industry and make up 46 percent of all mass-market paperbacks sold in America; the publishing company Harlequin claims that half of its customers buys 30 of its novels every month; it also claims to sell more than four books per second. How did the pabulum of Fifty Shades manage to rise above such a mind-stinging preponderance of crap?




What the commercial coup of Fifty Shades reveals about us is this: We’re an infirm, ineffectual tribe still stuck in some sort of larval stage. Do I really expect Americans to sit down with Adam Bede or Clarissa after all the professional and domestic hurly-burly of their day? Do I expect them to appreciate the sexually terroristic satires of Sade, or the erogenous verse of Sappho and Catullus, or Nicholson Baker’s comical romp Vox? Pardon me, but yes I do.




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. Anyway, we can expect a resurgence of the Fifty Shades evangelism when the film version is released next year, when middle-class ladies everywhere tug their porcine beaus off the sofa and put them through another 90 minutes of torture.




The sad thing is, bloviating aside, it is absolutely worthwhile to consider WHY 50 Shades of Grey became such a phenomenon, why books like Bared to You followed it to worldwide bestsellerdom, what the sexist coverage revealed culturally, and how it changed the way erotic contemporary romance narratives are discussed, marketed, and published, even if you don't know all the answers (I certainly don't). 

It's absolutely valid to wonder why that book captured imagination and sold all over the bloody place, and possibly how it did so – though if we knew the answer, we'd have a lot more money and probably an infomercial, too: SELL TIES AND TRILOGIES WORLDWIDE – WE TELL YOU HOW!

After Twilight was published (Mmmmm, irony!), I learned a very embarrassing lesson about how unacceptable my own douchey attitude about some books was — an attitude that I adjusted immediately.

To wit:  Just because you didn't like something, doesn't mean there's something wrong with the people who do.

In other words, Mr. Giraldi, here is a ladder; please get over yourself.

As Alyssa Rosenberg says in her Most Excellent response in the Washington Post:

Here is a proposal Giraldi does not seem to have considered: Romance novels are attractive not just because they are a gratifying escape but also because they sometimes feel like a respite from from the significant hostility that a lot of literature shows women.


Not to mention the hostility in this article as well.

Giraldi's biggest problems seem to be that Eva Illouz, in her book, took 50 Shades of Grey seriously, and attempted to examine critically why and how that book grabbed the attention of so many millions of readers. Moreover, from the rage and insult inherent in every word he published, it seems 50 Shades of Grey sold far too many copies for Giraldi's liking, and was too popular besides. He's mad that people read it, he's mad that people liked it, he's mad it became such a huge bestseller that more books are being written ABOUT it, and he's mad because, like so many other pieces of popular entertainment before it, 50 Shades apparently signals the death throes of American intellect and high culture.

Oh, dear. What a pity.

This article is so many shades of wrong (sorry) I can't even find an analogy.

I know some terrific people who work for various media organizations, both mainstream and … whatever streams are adjacent to the main stream. They are smart and clever and gifted writers. They ask questions. When faced with a topic involving romance, they don't do this.

This, by which I mean discussing romance, is the difficult stuff to write about. Writing about romance as a genre or about individual books that have unparalleled appeal means you write about intimacy, sexuality, women, imagination, economics, privacy and emotions (and a bunch of other stuff). But because it's so much easier and so familiar to make dick jokes, make sex jokes, or come down like a thundering hippo of condescension and sphincter-clenching, that's what we get every time.

But every time a writer in mainstream media fails to do the difficult stuff well, every time they write a sex scene instead of business news, every time they condemn women and readers instead of attempting fair or even neutral analysis, they make bloggers more relevant.

Readers have learned that, too often and with a few important exceptions, writers within mainstream venues can't be trusted to look at anything involving the romance genre with fairness and decency. They judge, like Mr. Giraldi, based on one book. They condemn based on the content without understanding the context. They cry giant tears of sadness when readers choose to read romance, because it's not good for them.

Writers like Giraldi have demonstrated again and again that they can't do it. They can't handle any aspect of the romance genre, from the industry to the books themselves, without demonstrating ignorance and discomfort in worn metaphors, through condescension, condemnation, or lascivious comparison.

So go ahead. Keep on going. You're just making all of us who write and discuss the genre critically in many, many online venues far more relevant, and you do so at your expense. So thanks.

And also,



Many thanks to Sarah Anderson, Glynis Irwin, Rhoda Baxter, Ana Canino Fluit, Keri Ford, and Beth Yarnall for their assistance with tactical weaponry. 


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1



  2. 2
    E. Jamie says:

    What a grade A certified douchetard!

  3. 3
    Author Nicole Castro says:

    It’s funny when men talk about stuff they know NOTHING about… like romance novels that women like to read.

  4. 4
    Aly says:

    Well, there’s no mystery why 50 Shades of Grey became so popular in my small European country: you just couldn’t escape the ads.

    The trilogy was released here MONTHS after it became a phenomenon in the US. And weeks before being released they started promoting it everywhere. Every bookstore had giant posters about it (with taglines like ‘the #1 bestseller in the world’ and such). People were bound to be curious and buy it!

  5. 5
    Kelly Maher says:

    I really want to ask the people who write these articles why they care so much about something they obviously hate. In my day job, I pay attention to genres that are so not my thing, but outside of the context of the job, I really don’t care about why people are reading it. They’re obviously getting something out of it that I’m not, the same way that I get stuff out of romance and other genres that I like that they’re not. Is it for props from their fellow lit snob friends? Is he going for tenure at an academic institution where the more condescending his tone the more whuffie he gets from his review board? Why? At the end of the day, I just don’t understand people who prefer to aggressively knock others down (especially if this is the same dude who was saying “let’s call EL James by her real name so I can attempt to make her feel tawdry and whorey for daring to ‘hide’ from me.”).

  6. 6
    Lulu says:

    Y’all just made my day.

  7. 7
    arresi says:

    Ugh, well that was unpleasant – the article, not the response. Reminds me of things I hear about romance novels from some sf fans (which I find incredibly irritating, given that I happen to like both, and I don’t see why I should have to put up with kink-shaming or misogyny with my superhero movie reviews).

  8. 8
    Lee says:

    My response to Mr. G is a resounding “How nice.” Said in the thickest Southern drawl I a muster.

  9. 9
    Chris says:

    I think Mr. Giraldi needs a ball gag…

  10. 10
    Jim Cangany says:

    Bravo, Sarah! After reading this twerp’s words, I feel pity for him. By not taking the time to learn about and read romance, he demonstrates in no uncertain terms how judgmental he is. I’m proud to be both a writer AND reader of romance. And as for Mr. Giraldi (assuming that’s his real name)? As we in the Midwest like to say – whatever!

  11. 11
    Betty Fokker says:

    What Sarah said plus an invitation to Mr. “My God I am So Smart” Giraldi to check out the academic credentials and analysis in the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance (http://jprstudies.org/). I also cordially invite him to suck my metaphorical dick.

  12. 12
    MissB2U says:

    Sarah, I believe the word to accompany “mainstream” is tributary.  I also believe that Linda Holmes nailed it in one try.  I love the quote from Ms. Rosenberg, and your last three paragraphs made my day.  If I had a pitchfork and a torch I’d be waving them in Mr. Giraldi’s direction.  Asshatery indeed.

  13. 13
    kkw says:

    Ok, I know the point is that we shouldn’t judge people based on their taste, but I still totally do, and…he disdains Shades of Grey in favor of Adam Bede and Clarissa?! And then sneers about plebeian appeal, and the asinine values of the bloated middle class? I can’t even…is it possible his whole diatribe is *meant* to be an exercise in hypocrisy?

  14. 14
    R says:

    Bless his heart.

  15. 15

    You’ve got to love the reading list he offers instead.  I mean, sure, “Vox” was fun, and Sappho is glorious, and Catullus is a hoot (though hardly “erogenous”).  But Sade?  Clarissa?  Adam Bede?  Spare me. 

    I used to have a lot of respect for AGNI, the journal he edits.  Even published in it, when I was a boy.  Sad to see things come to this.

    Thanks for suggesting JPRS, Betty!

  16. 16
    Lulu says:

    Did anyone else, when they read this:

    “Do I expect them to appreciate the sexually terroristic satires of Sade”

    think of the singer? for a split second my brain went, “HUH? She’s singing terror-laden satires?”

    Seriously, dude. Check your AP Stylebook. Particles in names are still names. Do we call the late Osama ‘Laden’? No, we don’t. Journalism 101.

    Also really questioning his characterizing de Sade’s work as ‘satires’. Sexual violence? Pedophilia? Not remotely funny or ironic. Personally, his writings aren’t something I choose to relax with in the evening. But I don’t condemn Giraldi for being a fan of the genre.

  17. 17
    Shayera says:

    Your response is perfect.
    I’m not as nice as you, my response would be this on repeat:

  18. 18
    jenniferk says:

    I get the feeling that William Giraldi is just lashing out, since he can’t comprehend that an academic wrote about romance OR that there is a market for romance—-but mainly that *his* novel did not sell as well as 50 Shades of Grey.

  19. 19
    RevMelinda says:

    I feel sorry for Mr. Giraldi. What an unhappy man. So much hatred and spite and arrogance. He doesn’t just dislike the romance genre—he has real disgust and antipathy towards his fellow human beings. Strange that he would fling that word “racism” out there, since I find his eagerness to label and ridicule people—“painfully white-bread couple,” “the diabetically obese,” “middle-class ladies” and their “porcine beaus”—exactly the kind of objectification and vilification that racists employ to dehumanize the objects of their hatred and justify their ignorance and fear. Sarah, I am going to take “bless your heart” up a notch. I am going to PRAY for him.

  20. 20

    I guess all I can add to this is the reminder that there’s a LOAD of money to be made in criticizing others while offering no real substantive alternative. Faux News and other outlets are loaded with self-proclaimed, self-congratulating pundits who earn comfortable livings doing nothing else. Their underlying attitude, which unfortunately rubs off on disciples with low-wattage brains, is “I said it, so I’m right.” The low-wattage followers transcribe that into “He said it, so it’s right.” And the train is off the rails.

    I didn’t read 50 Shades of Grey because it didn’t appeal to me. Does that make the book bad? No. Does that make others who did read/enjoy it idiots? No. Should anyone throw out the baby with the bathwater because of that? NO!

  21. 21

    A few minutes after reading this post (and getting pissy, but then so happy to see Beth Yarnall in your videos, since I got to spend some quality time in DFW airport with her on the way to RT!) … I ran across this article about a GOOD GUY, and what he did when someone wanted the servers at his restaurant to show more skin.

    Good Response to Idiot

    And thankfully, Alexis Harrington – I don’t think this particular Giraldi guy makes much money from his criticism- who would care? I think that’s part of why he has such a huge and ill-informed chip on his shoulder (b/c he can’t make the money he believes he deserves from what he does; he’s so smart, why is someone like EL James making so much money and no one respects his writing, blah blah). His writing was so dense and poisonous I can’t see many people wading past the first few paragraphs, and he certainly isn’t going to get any sticky eyeballs to go buy or read anything else of his, so I suspect the guy is just an epic fail. Doesn’t explain why hot air guys make money in the first place, but at least HE probablyl isn’t making much off this article.

  22. 22
    Rosa E. says:

    I admit I can’t stand Fifty Shades of Grey, but I love romance novels, and the condescension dripping from this guy has me seeing red. Especially that bit about Sappho and [de] Sade—been there, done that, and yet somehow I like to read romance too. What is this witchcraft?

    I’m reminded of a quote from Florence King: “The academic male is a warthog with the personality traits of a harem eunuch.”

  23. 23
    Sarah says:

    There’s just so much of this that makes my head explode.  First off, who’s to say I don’t read “Adam Bede” and “Lord of Scoundrels” maybe both in the same fucking night?  I absolutely believe you cannot be well-read without trying out different genre fiction.  Anything else is base snobbery, and guess what, books are democratic.  You want to read it?  You check it out, you buy it, and you make your own damn opinion about it.  If you want to wipe your ass on it because it is SO TERRIBLE, you can.  (Which is what I want to do with his sexist drivel.  And “Lolita.”  God, I hated that book.)  Second off, Jane Austen knew her shit, she’s gonna outlast this guy, and what did she write about?  Romance.  (And society and money and hypocrisy and everything else worth reading about.)  Thirdly, in my heart of hearts, I am a bookseller.  I worked for Waldenbooks and Borders for almost a decade, and I LOVED my romance customers.  They paid my damn salary and I paid them back by ignoring the plan-o-gram and I put all the best stuff up front instead of yet another rip-off of the “Da Vinci Code.”  E.L. James is not my favorite, I sorta hated “Fifty Shades” but that woman, and Stephanie Meyer before her, put money in hard-working booklovers pockets, so, in essence, fuck that guy for marginalizing romance readers and women in general.  The name of the game is books in hands and then into heads and anyone who doesn’t get that is an idiot and an asshat and should be pelted with remaindered copies of Ken Follett novels.

  24. 24
    Samanda says:

    “….sexually terroristic….”

    This pretentious twit has the nerve to criticize other people’s writing and gets away with juvenile made-up terms like “terroristic” ?  In fact, how did the editors of a respectable publication leave that one alone?

    If you’re going to go all holier-than-everybody about literary taste and writing, you really should make sure that your own screed is above criticism at least on basic literacy.

  25. 25
    Rebecca says:

    I think Mr. Giraldi first needs to go have a nice long poop. He seems to be very constapated, wich is causeing crappage to spew out unacceptable orfices. Then he needs to go get a life. I do not understand people who go all foaming at the mouth because people like books/clothes/movies/ect that they do not like.

  26. 26
    Jenns says:

    William Giraldi – bitter and incredibly desperate for attention, table for one. And would you like some cheese with all that whine, sir?

  27. 27

    I read serious literary fiction. I’ve even read Agni. I teach writing and serious literary fiction at a university. I also read and write romance. It’s not an either-or situation. I can like more than one kind of fiction without my head exploding. Yes, there are poorly-written romance books just as there are poorly written books in every genre.

    Mr. Giraldi has published one novel, Busy Monsters. Here are some excerpts from the NY Times review of the book:

    “Thus “Busy Monsters,” in which a guy who talks funny gives chase to his gal, who has, herself, run off to chase a giant squid. … Charles hunts Bigfoot with a lunatic named Romp, who wears a dried ear around his neck and cannot think unless he’s naked in the tub. (“Good heavens,” Charles says, “cover that river monster with a towel. Please. My manhood is threatened.”) Charles tries to sight a U.F.O. landing, along with an ex-girlfriend and her dwarfish Filipino lover. Charles hangs out with a bodybuilder and his twin Asian hookers, who suffuse poor Charles with a “sudden dread of vagina.” Charles turns for help to his best friend, Groot, who’s a member of the Navy Seals versed in the canon. Charles visits his parents, who just don’t understand.”

    I’m sure this is all written in sparkling prose and is probably way deeper than a romance reader like me can fathom, but why is no one belittling men for wanting to read about Bigfoot, twin Asian hookers and sudden dread of vagina?

  28. 28
    Necromommycon says:

    Clarissa, seriously? It was a hoot when I was a grad student, but come on: it’s just an old school “virtuous women don’t, and that wins them marriage!” category-romance in need of a good brutal editor and several hundred fewer pages.

    And [de] Sade was less satire than a blast of rage and impotence from an aristocrat watching the old order fade away while he sat a jail cell. Sort of like an angry monkey flinging poo from its cage at the zoo, or a male academic noticing some female novelists make a tonne more money than he does and ranting…oh wait.

  29. 29
    Rose says:

    You know what pissed me off? I mean, obviously the entire article is a total loss, but it was the snide comment about Eva Illouz’s grammar that did it. Hey, William, Prof. Illouz is multilingual and has interesting things to say about a variety of topics. You can’t even make a convincing argument in English. Think about that for a while.

  30. 30
    Lostshadows says:

    The thing that gets me about articles like this, is they generally just say “romance is trash” and just expect the reader to accept this as Truth.

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