Shhh! Don’t tell my husband!
That might be what the thousands of women who are reading Fifty Shades of Grey are saying right now. Actually, it’s what one friend who’s reading it really did tell me.
What that, guys? You haven’t heard of Fifty Shades of Grey? I’ll bet your wife has. It’s the buzz of Facebook, the talk of every Girls Night Out, and next-on-the-list for many suburban book clubs. Shucks, even the “Today” show ran a segment about it.
Fifty Shades of Grey is the first in a trilogy of erotic novels by British author E.L. James. They’re about a mysterious billionaire named Christian Grey who is very into bondage and S&M, with explicit sex scenes and a hero that is charismatic and powerful. Women have been swooning and having a hard time putting it down. It’s been referred to as soft porn for the suburbs, and booksellers can’t keep it in stock.
“I went into Barnes & Noble to get a copy, and walked up and down the aisles looking for it,” one friend told me. “After about an hour of not finding it, I finally got up the courage to ask the sales girl. ‘Excuse me, do you have [mumbles] fftyshdogreat?’”
“’What?’ the salesperson asked me.”
“[Mumbling again] Fftyshdogreat.”
“[Loudly] Fifty Shades of Grey!”
“’Well, you’re about the tenth person in the last hour to ask for it. We don’t stock it, but we can special order it for you.’”
Special order, Amazon, Kindle, whichever, it’s moving like hotcakes. At press time, the first book in the trilogy is currently ranked as number three on Amazon’s best-seller list.
Perhaps the “Grey” series is what the “Twilight” books want to be when they grow up and understand what a woman really thinks about once she’s no longer a teenager. Or perhaps, more precisely, it understands what a woman who is married-with-kids wants to fantasize about when she knows vampires truly don’t make for a realistic enough fantasy-that-might-come-true.
I mentioned the book to another friend, to see what she’d heard of the phenomenon. “Oh, that’s the soft porn book everyone is reading. They talked about it during this lecture I went to in Westport on intimacy. I don’t see how reading a soft core novel about S&M leads to much intimacy.”
Which is a curious observation: There is a lot of conversation these days about what’s going on in the privacy of people’s bedrooms. Whether it’s political debate about contraception, boycotting Rush Limbaugh advertisers because of his misogynistic comments, or marriage equality, the topic of sexuality and intimacy has taken on a tone and context of conflict in the public arena.
Curiously, women are buying the book and keeping it private for themselves—or at least it’s not a thing they’re readily sharing with their husbands or partners.
Another woman I know, who has shared iTunes and Amazon accounts with her husband, created her own new, separate account so that her husband wouldn’t see that she purchased and downloaded the “Fifty Shades” trilogy.
Other readers of the actual paper and print books are taking to swapping book covers to mask which book they’re actually reading.
So much subterfuge, all for a little titillation.
Maybe it’s a way for women to take back a little of their own sexuality, without Limbaugh or anyone else telling us what we should do or calling us ‘sluts’ and ‘prostitutes’ simply because we might have sex, married or not.
And while Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t really even close to feminist literature, either in the S&M subject matter or the quality of the read, if it gets more women to be comfortable talking about sex, it’s something of note.
A bit of full disclosure: I have not read any of the “Grey” books—yet. But in the interest of my ongoing studies as an observer of all things pop-culture, I’m placing my e-book order for it as soon as I finish the column. It’s the least I can do for readers and for myself as a commentator of public behavior and trends.
Just please, don’t tell my husband.