I attended an event a couple of weeks ago. 35 women writers and a crowd of readers got together for an afternoon of talking about books. There was a book sale and also a series of workshops. We had a lot of fun and some good discussions.
When I received the agenda a week before the event, I saw that in addition to a workshop on getting published, I was participating in one on Fifty Shades of Grey. I had not read it yet, but I had intended to. I knew it might not be my cup of tea, but I try to read the books and see the movies that the whole world seems to be reading and seeing. I figure it keeps me in touch with what is going on outside of my writing cave. As with most things, however, I tend to be a late adopter.
Anyway, I read the book in time for my panel. And I formed some strong opinions about it. Oh, not the kind that say “civilization is going to hell in a hand basket if this is what ten million women are reading.” I was not shocked at all. Which was part of the problem. I have read erotica before, and the erotic in this book was about as vanilla as erotica can get without losing rights to the label. My experience with erotica, which I will admit is limited, is that it is edgier and more explicit. Not only were the activities in this book pretty tame, but the language describing them was too.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. I can hardly criticize the author for writing about sex pretty much as I do. Only I hope the readers of this book did not think they were being really daring. Ms. James let them dip a toe into the erotic fiction lake without really having to take a plunge later. First the author used a written contract between the two characters that allowed readers to see what can really go on in a dominant/submissive relationship, but the heroine’s ability to veto any given activity on the list ensured that nothing would happen that would have a potentially widespread “ewww” reaction among mainstream readers. Then she handled the doings that were done in a way that would not upset the readers who felt bold to be reading about sex in the first place.
Which brings me to a really interesting discovery that I made at the event that day. I learned that this book has been chosen by a lot of reading groups and clubs. Not the groups that read romance all the time. The other kind, that never EVER read romance novels. I was stunned to learn how common it had been for them to choose to read Fifty Shades of Grey as a monthly meeting pick. Romance writers can knock on the doors of many women’s book clubs for years to no avail, but those same clubs lined up to read this book.
Let me make something clear for anyone who has stumbled on this blog due to a web search for the title of this novel (the regulars here do not need me to explain this): This book is a romance novel. It may have kinkier sex than many(but not all) romance novels, it may have a somewhat artsy cover, but the story—the only story— in it is a romance such as one finds in those much scorned romance novels that maybe you thought you would never touch. Furthermore, it is a very traditional, somewhat retro romance at that. The same kind of story is featured in Harlequin’s Presents line — innocent meets worldly, powerful, somewhat controlling, experienced man and is both bedazzled and initiated by him, and in the process teaches him how to love. It is one of the oldest romance novel story lines there is.
So I want to say to all the women who read this book/trilogy and enjoyed the story — whether it was the love story or the redemption story or just experiencing the first blush of attraction vicariously again —you should look into reading some other romance novels. To all the women who read this book and enjoyed the erotic sex scenes, I want to say this— you will find more of what you want if you read erotic romance novels.
We have an embarrassment of riches waiting for all of the readers of this book.
So, did you read Fifty Shades of Grey? What did you think?
Are you a member of a reading group? Does your group read romances at all? Did your group read Fifty Shades of Grey?
Did you connect with the characters in this book?