My first encounter with 50 Shades of Grey was about a year ago; I was in Target, passing by the book section and I saw a copy sitting in a rack. I picked it up and skimmed through it. As I read, various sensations came over me: the first was amusement at the writing, but I kept reading, hoping it would get better. Next came disbelief because I couldn’t believe that someone had actually written this, said to themselves that it was good, and found a publisher to put it out. Finally, anger, as I began to lose faith in the American book buying public as I thought of all the talented writers toiling in obscurity while this thing was flying out of stores like free meth in a trailer park. At no time during my ordeal was arousal one of the sensations I felt.
Obviously, I’m not a fan. I pride myself on being able to get through difficult books to find something enlightening but I have to be honest and say that this was literally the worst book I have ever read in my life. I couldn’t get through more than 3 consecutive pages without cringing. However, the 50 Shades series has sold about 100 million copies and the film of the book is currently the #1 movie in America. What that says about the American moviegoing public I will not speculate on, but obviously it’s working for E. L. James so I can’t knock her hustle.
Erotica has of course always been around, but in America it’s always been a shadowy associate of so-called legitimate literature, flimsy paperbacks with cheap covers stocked in bookstore romance sections purchased rapidly and discarded just as fast. But 50 Shades has changed that. People are reading it in the open, discussing it in book clubs. The covers are so well known that there is no mistaking what you are reading. I just hope it doesn’t stop there.
There are excellent writers of erotic lit who have found success like French art critic Catherine Millet, who wrote a memoir that described her sexual adventures as a young woman in Paris in graphic, but elegant detail. There’s Zane, who has been writing erotica for almost 15 years now with much more believable scenarios and better skill, and the majority of her characters are men and women of color. E.L. James’ popularity may help readers to seek out different authors working in the same genre.
I guess that’s the redeeming quality 50 Shades has for me. Not in the book itself, but for what it represents. It opens the door for writers inspired by the sexual to have a chance for their voices to be heard. I look forward to reading them. All the way through, without cringing.