A Couple Shades of Gray

My wife enjoys reading popular novels of the day, so it was no surprise when I saw a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James lying around the house. The paper cover was bent, however, revealing to my casually roving eye the author bio on the first page. I was only looking at it absentmindedly, but I guess a couple of problems drew my full attention toward it.

The first sentence reads:

E L James is a former TV executive, wife, and mother of two based in West London.

  1. Whoops—you forgot a couple of periods!

I don’t care if you spell “gray” with an “e” and write “Mr” and “Dr” without “full stops” because you use British English—but that doesn’t give you “licence” to leave the periods off your initials. Whether you’re Bell Hooks or E. E. Cummings, you should distinguish yourself by your writing, not the stylistic treatment of your name. Proper names should be capitalized, and an initial should take a period. Period. As far as I’m concerned, capitalization and punctuation are not areas open to experimentation for a writer. Only a typesetter or graphic artist can fiddle with these, and only for display elements.

  1. Should I feel sorry for this former wife and former mother of two? Was it a tragedy, or merely a rift in the family?

You could solve the problem of reading “former” as applying to all three elements in the series by rearranging: “a wife, mother of two, and former TV executive” or simply adding articles: “a former TV executive, a wife, and a mother of two.”

  1. Tell me, who is (or was; see no. 2) based in West London? It could be the kids just as well as her.

A comma could help here (“mother of two, based in West London”), but really, is the city the author lives in so important as to warrant calling it out in the first sentence? This belongs at the end of the bio and by itself: “She is based in West London.” Ugh, I don’t even like using “based”—novels, films, businesses, and other things may be “based in” cities, but folks just plain live places. So she doesn’t live there all the time—is that what you’re getting at? “Lives mostly in West London,” then.

Here’s the rest of it:

Since early childhood, she dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. She is also the author of Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.

Well, who dreams of writing stories that readers would hate? And how lucky for her that the first time she put pen to paper a bestseller blossomed (I don’t believe it). But other than that, it’s all right. So, three problems in the first sentence. Out of curiosity I looked at the bio in the second book in the series, Fifty Shades Darker. If I caught these problems without even meaning to, certainly the publisher would have corrected them by the time the next book saw print, right?

Nope. The only difference is in the last sentence: “also the author of” has been inexplicably shortened to “also author of.” Oh, and there’s also a comma before “but.”

But wait—every good series has at least a third installment. Cracking the cover of Fifty Shades Freed, I see…the triumphant return of the “the.” Oh, and there’s now a “she” after the “but” (“but she put those dreams on hold”), which is stellar grammatical form, but there was almost zero chance of anyone misreading that particular sentence. What, are you all blind?! (Or erotically blindfolded?!)


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