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'50 Shades of Grey': We're All Reading it, But Why?

It’s the question women everywhere are quietly whispering behind their hands to one another. “Are you reading THE book?”

Discreetly downloaded to the e-readers of over 250,000 people to date, the book has climbed to the top of both the New York Times best-sellers list for e-book fiction, as well as topped the charts of Amazon. Universal Pictures has reportedly purchased the movie rights for $5 million dollars and Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, released the books in paperback this month after paying a seven figure sum for the right to do so.

What is this literary sensation that has women clinging to their e-readers, pausing only to cast a cursory glance behind them to ensure no one is peeking over their shoulder? The book, which began as fan fiction inspired by the Twilight series, is 50 Shades of Grey written by British author E. L. James.

Touted by many as “mommy porn,” the book’s demographic transcends the regular readers of bodice-ripper novels whose covers often prominently feature a muscled man reminiscent of Fabio and has managed to successfully pull  the suburban housewife into the deliciously and disturbingly addictive world of erotic fiction.

Without giving too much away, the trilogy is written from the point of view of Anastasia Steele, a recent college graduate and virgin, who becomes involved with the breathtakingly handsome, billionaire Christian Grey who pulls her into the sexual underworld of sadomasochism. Anastasia becomes the submissive to his dominant, participating in wild sexual acts I dare say are not typical of the sex lives of the predominance of the novel’s readers.

On the recommendation of multiple girlfriends, I recently purchased the first of these books. Twenty-four hours later I found myself anxiously downloading part two to my Kindle and I have to admit, it’s not for the love of the writing, which is amateur at best, or due to a personal investment in the mind-numbingly flat characters. It’s because I can’t get enough of the steamy scenes between the protagonists, a fact I am not alone in.

This leads one to question why so many women who, as a general rule, would shudder at the thought of being spotted in public with a Harlequin romance novel in hand, have turned this particular work into a cultural phenomenon. Few women would admit to watching adult films, but they are essentially reading its equivalent in massive numbers.

In a world where women have taken on more responsibility than ever, often maintaining predominant control of ‘traditional’ roles like child-rearing and household duties, as well as entering the work force where the trend of women as the family breadwinner is on the rise, does it come as a surprise that they would enjoy indulging in a risqué tale in which a man assumes complete control?

In posing that question, I realize I risk single-handedly undermining the entire feminist movement. Still, I can’t help but wonder if reading a story like James’ 50 Shades of Grey appeals to an innate desire in all women to feel taken care of by a man.

Lyss Stern, founder of Divamoms.com, has another insight into the book’s success. “It’s relighting a fire in a lot of marriages,” she tells The New York Times. “I think it makes you feel sexy again reading the books.”

I agree. It’s almost impossible to spend an evening consuming a novel chock full of erotica and then simply turn off the bedside lamp, roll over, and go to sleep.

Are you reading 50 Shades of Grey? What do you think is the driving force behind it’s viral success among women?

 

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