Fifty Shades of Grey

My sister walked into a Barnes & Noble in Florida, her three children in tow, and asked the salesperson to point her to Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Uh, do you know what it’s about?” The saleswoman looked down her nose at my sister.

“Yes.” My sister can be indignant. Don’t mess with her.

“Well, uh, because many women have bought it and then brought it back because they didn’t realize what it was about.”

“I know what it’s about.”

“It’s erotic fiction. It’s, uh, risque.”

“Yes. Can you tell me where it is?”

My nephews and niece were standing there the whole time.

The other day, my long-time friend and mentor Barbara Jones told me that the editor of O Magazine grabbed a copy of Fifty Shades to read on the subway. The hard copy. Not hidden on a Kindle or Nook.

Once on the subway, she settled into a seat…and a man sat down beside her. She tweeted to the world, “What do I do? Read it in public next to this guy? Or keep it hidden in my bag?”

I’ve been reading Fifty Shades for the past week and I can’t put it down. I am fascinated by the effect it has on me (let’s just say it’s inspiring  more late-night antics than usual) and also on the idea that a book like this is sweeping the suburban mom set.

I think we can all agree it’s not great literature. It sure is hot, though. And why, exactly, is that? Are more people than I realize into S&M (I’m not!)? Or is it like Redbook magazine’s current issue says, busy moms want, at the end of a day, to put control of their frantic lives in someone else’s hands?

I’m a big fan of sexuality. I think sex is one of the best things in the world. It makes you realize you’re alive. It makes you aware of possibilities. It makes you realize there is more beauty and wonder in the world than a regular day would show.

But it’s pretty down and dirty too. And this book resurrects ideas of male dominance that I think we’ve all been trying for so long to escape. I’ve wondered for a while if things weren’t easier when male-female roles were spelled out and distinct.

Of course, life isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s not the easy that makes it great.

I wish a fine piece of literature would grab the nation the way this simple piece of erotica does. 

Wikipedia says Fifty Shades is an example of viral marketing and the rise of female erotica in the United States. I am more interested in seeing it as an example of viral marketing  – of putting your work out there for free and seeing what doors open. I guess they truly opened in this case. 

Yesterday, I offered my novel (on the advice of marketing guru Seth Godin) to 40 friends. I’ve encouraged them to read it and pass it along if they see fit. I wonder what doors will open because of it. (Let me know if you want to be added to the list.)

Thanks to E.L. James for sparking the discussion. (And by the way, did she use initials because studies show that male authors are more quickly whisked up than female? Is female dominance such a burden, truly?)

Maybe the ready metaphor here is one about the shackles to stereotypes and societal expectations that we women wear. Even in the 21st century.

Or maybe, it’s just a racy novel to get our hearts racing. 

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