I spent a few hours yesterday reading writing magazine for women called Mlexia, and it mentioned that having your books mentioned on a popular blog was a very good thing for sales. I think this is quite true; most of my American and all of my British and Irish opportunities to discuss Single life in person were provided by readers of this blog. I am thus both very grateful to readers of my blog and aware of the advertising power of a blog.
That is, by the way, why this blog does not have ads. And it is also why I am a bit reluctant to mention a work of pornographic fiction that is flying off the bookshelves. However, I suspect it is going to keep flying off the bookshelves whether or not I write about it, so I will say what I think and just not mention the title.
This book has been haunting me a bit since the Postcard from Hell alluded to it. The writer of the Postcard from Hell has made the classic, if rather immature, male error of assuming that pornography is true and "that's what women want."
The plot of the bestselling pornographic book is, as I understand it, about a college-educated woman who agrees to become a sex-slave for money, and is generally treated badly and loves it, or something. Other women have already suggested that the real draw to such a novel is the promise that one will be able to live in luxury and not have to work at a really boring job or with a really rhymes-with-itchy boss just to pay the rent. As my mother did not say, it's as easy to fantasize about a rich man as a poor one.
I don't think that sexual fantasy is a good idea for women trying to remain chaste in a sex-obsessed world. But apparently 10 million people in the sex-obsessed world have already bought the book under discussion. I know this because there is an advert across various Edinburgh city busses proclaiming this. "Get on board," it invited.
"No, thanks," I said.
I had just been in a bookshop and seen that although parts two and three of the three novel series were still around, part one was no longer to be seen on the shelf. Sold out. So perhaps the women also waiting for the bus had this dirty book squirreled away in their handbags for a sexy read later. Heavens, I wonder if women are talking about it in book groups. Heavens.
Actually, though, the more I think about it, the more tempted I am to read it, just to see what all the fuss is about. And this is an impulse to be squashed because in the battle for civilization, a woman has to start with herself. It's harder to demand that men treat women well, and that women avoid men who treat them badly, and that people not use pornography, if one lolls on the coach thrilling to pornographic stories in which men treat women badly. One rather gives up the moral high ground.
This sort of novel may be more "literary" than the tripe that fills shelf after shelf in big box bookstores, but it is not new. Both Anais Nin and Anne Rice wrote erotic fiction, as I know because a non-Christian feminist friend, horrified that I had never read any, gave me their works as an exercise in feminist consciousness raising. Nin's relatively human creations were one thing, but all I can say about Rice is "Golly." I had to force myself to finish reading Volume 2, and it made me so ill I just never got around to Volume 3. I never believed in Rice's brief return to Catholicism because if she really had become a good Catholic, she would have yanked her poison from circulation.
Bestselling fiction spawns whole industries. I think it is safe to say that the brilliance and popularity of Georgette Heyer's novels created the enormous Regency Romance market. And I hear cadences from the much superior Bridget Jones novels in the wildly successful Shopoholic books. Harry Potter made the children's fiction industry more than safe for wizards and witchcraft. So I hate to think what will happen in the wake of F*fty Sh*des of Sh*meless P*rn*gr*phy.
Catholic writers like me wail about trying to write Catholic fiction in a sex-obsessed world, and both Catholic writers and Catholic publishers know that our only hope lies in Catholics actually buying Catholic fiction. But as not all pious Catholics are actually good at writing fiction, we rely not only on Catholics buying Catholic books but on writers of good books being faithful Catholics.* Finding faithful Catholics who are also good writers can be freaking difficult.
In Toronto, girls on the literary scene I recognized as having gone to my convent school visibly shrank with embarrassment when I mentioned it. If you really, really, really want to be accepted by the artistic community, and you already have a few Doubts, thanks to lousy catechesis and bad church art, and you have a crush on Jewish-Wiccan Poetry Boy, it can be easy to shelve all that Catholic stuff or just be as quiet as a little mouse about it. Islam can be cool, but Catholicism? Ha, ha, ha.
Well, I am not sure how we can go about getting great-lapsed-Catholic-writers back into the fold, other than stubbornly identifying as Catholics ourselves and hoping something good happens after they slink away from us in embarrassed loathing.** But I know how we can help those writers who are Catholics, and it is by darn well buying their/our books. Catholic bloggers should mention Catholic literature on their blogs. Catholics should start organizing book groups. I am sure most ladies in the Catholic Women's League read books. Well, why not read a few Catholic books and have a Book Night?
Here are a few living Catholic literary writers to get you started:
John McNicholl (children's/teens' fiction) The Young Chesterton Chronicles.
Fiorella di Maria Nash (fiction) Poor Banished Children
Michael O'Brien (fiction) The Father's Tale (and many others)
Piers Paul Read (fiction) The Death of a Pope (and many others)
David Adam Richards (fiction) The Lost Highway (and many others)
Of these, the ones most likely to have been heard of by non-Catholics are Piers Paul Read and David Adam Richards, so if you already belong to a book group, you might like to suggest one of their books. In so doing, you might create a safe opportunity to talk about the role of faith in life and literature.
Yesterday I came across a children's book called We are British. The Sikh, Muslim and Jewish children in this book mentioned their religious practises. The other children--the daughters of a Central European couple, the Scottish boys, the Welsh boy--did not. The girls focussed on their family's vegan practises. The Scottish boys mentioned Rangers football. There was not a single mention of Christianity and Christian practises in this book, even though the state religion of Britain, its history and 70% of England (more for Northern Ireland) is Christian. It is time Christian Britons stopped pretending Christianity is something embarrassing and secret, like an ingrown toenail.
*By faithful, I do not mean saintly. Many of the best Catholic writers of the 20th century had terribly irregular personal lives, with which they struggled as Catholics. Hypocrisy is a particular burden for writers who, although they so often write fiction, desire nothing more than to capture and express something true. And it is true that many people who loath sexual sin, and know sexual sin is sexual sin, nevertheless commit sexual sins.
**Nobody hates a happy Catholic more than a lapsed Catholic. Nobody. I'd rather chat with a drunk and bigoted Rangers fan than with a lapsed Catholic intellectual/artist. However, you never know what the Holy Spirit might do through you, so don't be afraid of cheerfully proclaiming that there's nothing in Catholicism to recover from, etc.