Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed are erotic fiction originally published in June 2011 by a small, virtual publisher in Australia. The trio of books was re-released in the U.S. by Vintage Books in April 2012 and since that time they have been on the N.Y. Times Bestseller List and are one of the most frequently uploaded books on e-readers.
The author, E.L. James, lives in London and is a woman who has been married for over 20 years with two teenaged sons. I wonder what their reaction is to their mother writing about sex and sexuality? I imagine it’s along the lines of “ew” just like I would expect to hear from my own children.
My friend, Laura, recommended these to me and to her book club. In fact, while these books are most frequently uploaded to e-readers, hard copy booksellers are having trouble keeping them in stock as women buy armloads of them for their book clubs. The reserve list at our county library is around 300 people long.
I not only debated whether or not I was going to read these books, but also whether or not, once I read them, whether or not I should write about them on my blog.
There is much criticism about them. The reviews are nearly unanimous with regard to these books not being the best written literature. I read a review that was concerned that the depiction of BDSM (yes, I had to look this acronym up, too) in the books is misleading and inaccurate. There are suggestions that the story demeans women.
After considering all of these things then, I wondered, why is reading these books so compelling? I read the nearly 1,200 pages in just about 3 days. Yeah, that’s compelling.
These books have been referred to as “mommy porn.” For the record, I am totally anti-pornography. I consider pornography to definitely be demeaning to women and a very bad addiction for many people. So the question is whether or not these books are pornographic or erotic. I do think that there is a difference, and you can see that not only in literature, but in art (some of which is also religious) and photography. I also think that the line between the two is different for different people.
In many ways, I believe that we have unhealthy attitudes toward sex and sexuality in this country. We tend to glorify violence and demonize sexuality.
All of this is my way of providing context (or am I just rationalizing?) for my review. I am an avid reader. I read just about anything and everything – fiction, non-fiction, biographies, encyclopedias, etc. My parents never put limits on what I could and could not read, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote when I was 9. I read The Scarlet Letter and Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I was very young because I had heard how scandalous they were for their time. I had free reign to borrow and read the novels, mostly in the romance genre, that the woman who lived across the street from us had in her bookcase. I think I read nearly every book that I could possibly check out from the bookmobile that visited our grade school. My favorites were biographies of women like Cleopatra and Catherine the Great and Joan of Arc.
I am totally opposed to banning books and to preventing children from reading whatever they are able to understand and absorb. When my kids were in the single digits and older and reading the Goose Bumps and Lemony Snicket and Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games books – all with dark themes – and parents were preventing their kids from reading them, it was hard for me to understand.
I never felt that by reading these books my children would become child abusers or resort to witchcraft or try to turn into vampires. I don’t think that by me reading the Fifty Shades books that I am going to become a sexual predator or turn to a lifestyle with which I would be uncomfortable. I understand, and my kids understand, that these books are fiction, folks, and that the real themes of most books that are popular usually include other things – family and friendship and courage and bravery and making difficult choices with regard to complex moral issues.
More context. More rationalization.
So here I go with my review.
I enjoyed reading these books. There you go. I learned stuff that I never knew existed, and I could have gone to my grave not knowing about. I don’t care if they are not literature of the highest order. I don’t care if they don’t accurately represent the BDSM lifestyle. I don’t think they are demeaning to women.
In fact, I think they empower women, and I think that is part of their appeal. They empower women to embrace their sexuality and go for it. I am a firm believer that there isn’t much off limits, sexually, between two consenting adults in a loving relationship. Again, I am not talking about hurting someone physically or emotionally for personal gratification. There must be a balance of power in any healthy relationship.
I also think that if you are going to read these then you must read all three of them. They are more than erotic fiction. They also include elements from the mystery and romance fiction genres. I was a little disconcerted, after reading the first book, about the fact that the woman was an inexperienced virgin (of course), and the man was not only well experienced sexually but obscenely wealthy and almost god-like in appearance (of course). And, both characters were very young (well, okay, very young to me) in their 20s.
But, after reading all three books, it all fit together nicely. The main characters are monogamous. They are young and make a lot of mistakes with each other as their relationship develops. The nearly fatal flaw of the main male character, Christian Grey, is resolved with the help of the main female character, Anastasia Steele. Yes, the theme of a woman who can save her man from his demons by standing by him and giving him what he wants (well, she ends up wanting it, too) is played out in these books. (We just have to remember, again, that this is fiction ladies! Not real life.).
These books, then, are pure fantasy. Titillating. Sexual. Fantasy. With wealth and romance and mystery and excitement thrown in for good measure.
That is the point, after all, because all’s well that end’s well in these books. They are feel good on so many levels.
So, if you are looking for something to read that is pure fantasy, that includes some erotica, that will be compelling, and fun, then I say go for it. I have two recommendations, though. Have fun with it – talk to your husband or significant other about what you are reading or maybe even read some passages to him. You may both be rewarded for it. My other recommendation is to download them to your e-reader if you have one. That way, when your kid asks you what you are reading, you can respond like my friend, Laura, did and say Jane Eyre.