There’s much tongue flapping over the book trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey. Some libraries refuse to carry it because they see it as pornography. The books are about a dominant-submissive affair between a manipulative rich guy and a naive younger woman.
The trilogy began as a fan-fiction based on the Twilight vampire series. It was published as Master of the Universe on websites, and went through a couple of transformations before being published as Fifty Shades of Grey by Vintage Books, a part of Random House.
It is no literary gem but its popularity is phenomenal. Some libraries are reporting hold lists of more than 1,000 names. The trilogy has been tagged as “mommy porn” because of its popularity among married women over thirty.
There was a similar phenomenon in the early 1960s when D. H. Lawrence’s 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published openly. Back then women carried the book deep inside their purses, snatching glances through the pages when no one was looking. In coffee shops there were whispered but excited conversations about the sex scenes and forbidden words in the book.
Today, electronic tablet readers keep to yourself whatever you are reading. The conversations no longer are whispered, and of course what was once shocking now is simply titillating.
The criticisms of the trilogy’s sexually explicit scenes, and the decisions of some libraries not to carry the books, are bizarre. Bookshelves in stores and libraries carry plenty of erotic material. Why shouldn’t the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy be allowed to sit on those shelves just like Lady Chatterley or Tropic of Cancer?
Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James is no D. H. Lawrence, and her work certainly is not literature. The writing has been called clunky and amateurish, but the stories are wildly popular.
Ms. James has people reading, and that’s good news.