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Cannon: Different shades of Fifty Shades of Grey

Published April 11, 2013 2:36 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last Christmas I gave one of our daughters-in-law the novel Between Shades of Gray.

OK. I know exactly what you're thinking.

But you're wrong.

Between Shades of Gray, a beautifully written young adult novel by Ruta Sepetys, tells the story of a 15-year-old girl named Lina who is deported with her family from Lithuania to a work camp in Siberia during the Stalinist regime.

It is most assuredly NOT the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey — the main characters of the best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, which (incidentally) was published after Sepetys' novel.

By now almost everyone has heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as online fan fiction about the further highly (!) erotic (!) adventures of the sparkly vampire Edward Cullen and the human Bella Swan, who eventually were rebooted and rebranded as Anastasia and Christian.

Don't worry. You're probably not the first person who's gotten the two books mixed up. In fact, it would be interesting to see if Between Shades of Gray has experienced a bump in sales since (not Between) Fifty Shades of Grey hit the bookshelves. I truly hope the answer is "yes." It's just so much fun to imagine the increasing frustration of readers, storming through heart-wrenching descriptions of Siberia, looking for all the sex parts.

Sex in Siberia between characters who used to be vampires in another book! What could be more thrilling?

Meanwhile, I truly hope the royalties resulting from all this confusion would give Sepetys even more time and space to write her worthy novels, which totally gives me an idea. Maybe textbooks would be more popular with students if authors somehow incorporated the phrase "shades of grey" into their titles. Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey Paint (art textbook), Fifty Shades of Grey Gym Socks (P.E. textbook), Fifty Shades of Grey Whey (home economics textbook) and The Square Root of Fifty Shades of Grey is 7.07106781187 (math textbook).

Memo to textbook authors: You're welcome.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that our son recently confessed he thought I'd given his wife Fifty Shades of Grey for Christmas, as opposed to Between Shades of Gray.

"I thought you'd finally gone around the bend," he said.

You can see why he'd think this. Of all the things a mother-in-law might not want to give a daughter-in-law, Fifty Shades of Grey would be near the top of the list.

What I thought was the most interesting thing about his confession, however, was its underlying assumption, i.e. that I am poised to go around the bend at any moment, so batten down the hatches, folks, because you never know WHEN I'M GONNA BRING THE CRAZY!

And why is that, exactly? Is the potential for going around the bend specific to me per se? Or is it that I'm a parent? And no matter how old everybody gets, kids still worry at some level that their parents are going to embarrass them. You know. Like that time when you were in the sixth grade and your mother (not to name names) sat on the back row in the library, giggling all the way through the dreaded "maturation talk" because (perversely) she found the extreme discomfort of 12-year-old boys to be amusing somehow.

I suspect it's the latter — that parents pose a clear and present (as well as lifelong) threat to their children on the embarrassment front, which is awesome news.

Come on. Wouldn't it be boring if parents couldn't keep their adult kids just a little bit off-balance?

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.