Headlines about the steamy three-book series that begins with Fifty Shades of Grey are so ubiquitous that even women who’d never dream of reading it know all about it. The lovely secret of today is that e-readers like Kindle, Nook and tablet computers offer a level of privacy that allow even supposedly disapproving ladies to catch every OMG with no one ever the wiser.
Even Saturday Night Live winked at the role e-readers have played in the book’s mega-sales. (To date, 15 consecutive weeks topping the NY Times bestseller lists and film rights reportedly sold for $5 million.)
Though most readers might agree with The Washington Post‘s assessment that E.L. James’ trilogy is “atrociously written”, Fifty Shades is a true publishing phenom. Who would write quasi-pornography so rich with details about BDSM (Bondage/Dominance/Sadomasochism)? A British wife and mother of two. E.L. James = Erika Leonard. Perhaps that’s why so many reviewers credit it for creating a new literary sub genre: “mommy porn.”
Pish. Ain’t nothing new about turning women on with the written word, and Moms sure ain’t the only ones sizzling now. Fifty Shades wasn’t in the stores when Warner Brothers decided to produce a movie about male strippers. Surprise! Magic Mike also encourages women to be open about their sexual fantasies, and it, too, is a runaway hit.
Am I the only one who remembers when Elizabeth McNeill’s sex-filled book and movie Nine and a Half Weeks taught women in the 1980s new uses for honey-drenched strawberries and ice cubes? Or Cosmopolitan‘s 1972 nude centerfold of actor Burt Reynolds that was passed hand-to-hand in dormitory hallways and across secretaries’ desks? The so-called “queen of literary erotica” Anais Ain wrote Delta of Venus in 1969!
Of course, women like sex, but that’s not what took Grey to #1. The same men (and male journalists) who seem so utterly confused by the book’s success ignore the oh-so-obvious truth: It’s not about the sex.
The allure of protagonist Christian Grey is his addictive relationship with the previously virginal Anastasia. It’s his attentiveness. The man never forgets her preference of tea from the moment he meets her, for heaven’s sake.
Christian never lets Ana forget that her pleasure, sexual and otherwise, is always as important as his. He flirts. He’s jealous. He never tires of her. When he says he wants her, he means fully, deeply and forever. Delete the detailed copulating and the dialogue can sound like an old-school romance novel with Fabio on the cover.
As SiriusXM host Jenny Hutt says,
“[The lovers in Fifty Shades] allegedly have this S&M relationship–but he doesn’t ever hurt her! It’s about women wanting to be adored, ravaged and respected. The book serves as a reminder to women that it’s OK to like sex, to want it. But, at its base, it’s romantic.”
As for me, I’ve just finished the first book and haven’t decided whether to move on to Books 2 and 3. But, because I’ve read some of the steamiest chapters while sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, I now give a squinty eye and questioning smile to every woman with an iPad, no matter where she may be.
UPDATE: 7/16/12: I’ve moved on to the second novel, Fifty Shades Darker. As if there were ever a real doubt.