As far as anybody can tell, the women of Long Island found it first, around Thanksgiving.
During their Christmas vacations, they carried it by Kindle to Boca and possibly Aruba, and from there, it ripped its way through Jersey and then the nation's e-readers before landing last week at the very top of the New York Times best-seller list for combined print and e-book sales.
It's Fifty Shades of Grey, the sexual-bondage romance novel from first-time author E.L. James, a married British TV executive and mother of two, that's been steaming up e-book readers since its digital publication in May and is about to be released as a trilogy in paperback form, with a first run of 750,000 copies.
As Anastasia Steele, the young, innocent college-student heroine of the megahit might say - and does say when pondering the imminent loss of her virginity early on in the story: "Holy Cow!"
So, holy cow. What's the big deal if women dig a highly charged and breathlessly trashy read? Haven't romance-novel enthusiasts debated the merits of the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) subgenre since time immemorial? Has no man (or woman) ever blushed at passages of Sabbath's Theater, or any other Philip Roth book? Or Mary Gaitskill's bondage tale "Secretary"? Does no one remember The Story of O? Madame Bovary? The biblical Song of Songs?
Maybe it's the book's origin as a fan-fiction riff on Bella and Edward of the Twilight series. Maybe it's the commercial success of a novel (more than 250,000 copies sold so far, most in e-book form) that Vintage, a Random House division, spent a seven-figure sum to acquire from a small Australian publishing house. Or maybe it's just a good, lusty read. ...
The story is about a virgin college student, Anastasia Steele, who meets the handsome and wealthy Christian Grey. The two engage in a complicated relationship that involves some pretty graphic carnal knowledge (think bondage, dominance, etc.).
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Romance genre experts are somewhat bemused to see "Fifty Shades of Grey" cause such a stir, as this type of story -- BDSM moments included -- has been done before.
Audrey Goodson, an associate editor at RT Book Reviews, read and reviewed the first book in James' trilogy. She said she "really enjoyed" it and gave it a thumbs-up.
That being said, she described the book as "pretty standard" for its type and pointed out that the plot (ie, young virgin meets really hot and rich dude) isn't exactly exclusive to the story, as readers can find variations of that same plot in many a romance novel.
"In a lot of ways it's a standard romance story with a lot of erotic elements," Goodson said. "It's kind of funny that it's caught on to the degree it has." ...
Ok, I didn’t read the entire book, but I did do a hopscotch through the sex scenes and, on the basis of the naughty parts alone, I can understand why folks are getting hot and bothered.
The book I’m referring to, of course, is “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the first in an erotic trilogy by E.L. James that melds kinky sex with romance. The novel has been selling like hot cakes and is causing quite a stir due to the explicit scenes of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has put the words "bondage erotica” into the mainstream, according to Rachel Kramer Bussel, a writer and editor of more than 40 anthologies of erotica, including “Best Bondage Erotica 2012.”
“It has shown that you don’t have to be a certain type of person to enjoy erotic fiction, and you certainly don’t have to be a BDSM practitioner to enjoy reading about it,” she says.
“That’s the biggest misconception about erotica in general. Some people may read a book of spanking erotica and be intrigued and want to try it. Or maybe they’re curious and seek out erotica as a way to test the waters. But there’s nothing wrong with enjoying and appreciating fantasy as fantasy.”
Some readers and cultural critics have opined that BDSM themes may be particularly relevant to today’s women, many of whom may have power in the workplace but would like to potentially relinquish some in the bedroom. Conversely the book could also appeal to stay-at-home moms who are so busy taking care of the kids – and everything else for that matter – that they long for more TLC for themselves (even of the not-so tender kind).
But does the success of “Fifty Shades” lie in its contemporary relevance, or its timeless universality? In 1958, “Story of O” caused a firestorm of controversy with similar erotic themes, and in 1994, Anne Rice published a trilogy based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which also explored BDSM themes. ...
Hey, have you heard about that book Fifty Shades of Grey?
I'm kidding … of course you've heard of it. And, boy, is it causing some discussion. I'm sure most everyone reading this knows the history of Fifty Shades of Grey. Started out as Twilight fan fiction, struck a chord with readers, author changed the names and other aspects, published it as a trilogy and, wham, we're looking at massive sales followed by a seven-figure book deal. Lucky E.L. James. (And good for her!) Oh, and BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) themes play a big role. Can't forget that.
I held back on weighing in until I'd had a chance to read it, because I don't like it when people condemn, say, romance novels, when they've never even read one. And, frankly, romance readers, the beloved audience of HEA, are not shocked by this book. Many romance readers have been enjoying erotica for a looooong time. Romance readers also are not surprised that real women have healthy fantasy lives and that some of those fantasies might even include some BDSM. That really shouldn't be a huge shock. I mean, what century are we living in? (Other than one in which women's reproductive issues are a hot political issue. But that's not a discussion for HEA.) ...
The hugely popular erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey” is quickly becoming universal water cooler conversation for women from all walks of life.
Everyone from so-called “mommy bloggers” to hardcore feminists is hailing the tome as a triumph for women, in spite of the book’s strong themes of female submission at the hands of a high-powered man.
They also say that men who feel differently should butt out.
Jill Filipovic, a blogger with Feministe.com and a contributor to the feminist anthology “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” told Fox411.com that because the book depicts a consensual relationship (Steele does sign that contract), she is unconcerned.
“I would say that there's nothing wrong with BDSM when it's fully consensual on both ends, both partners have relatively equal bargaining power, both partners feel comfortable setting boundaries, and boundaries are communicated and respected,” Filipovic wrote in an email. “I suspect it's getting extra press because of the BDSM angle (which freaks a lot of people out).”
While women are applauding the book, some men are expressing concern over whether women should be insulted by a plot dominated by a man who tells a woman when to sleep, eat, work out and even how to groom herself. Television host Dr. Drew Pinsky recently called the book a “rape fantasy” on his HLN show. Women writers laughed off Pinsky’s remarks, saying there is absolutely no reason for men to weigh in on this issue at all, and certainly no reason for them to use the term rape.
“Why is Dr. Drew speaking on behalf of the fantasies and desires of women, let alone women he hasn't even met?” Jessica Wakeman of the women’s blog The Frisky told Fox411.
“He and every other man should not be telling women what arousal is acceptable and what is not. That's pretty irresponsible. No one should be concerned about a consensual relationship between a submissive and a dominant. The realm of fantasy is just that — fantasy.
“In this book,” Wakeman continued, “the protagonist may be naive and young, but those qualities alone don't mean she isn't following her sexual desires in the bedroom. BDSM relationships could not be farther from domestic and sexual abuse: people who practice it follow the rules that everything they do will be safe, sane and consensual."
Journalist and author Paul LaRosa blogged that he thinks the success of the book proves that women want to be dominated by men.
“Is it possible that so many women dream of becoming the submissive partner of a dominant male partner which, after all, is the central plot of the book?” LaRosa posited.
Rachel Kramer Bussel, a former sex columnist and the editor of the Best Bondage Erotica 2012, explained to us that enjoying the fantasy of a dominant sexual relationship does not mean that a woman wants to be dominated by men in all aspects of her life.
“There's nothing wrong with a man being dominant and it doesn’t mean he's misogynist, any more than a woman wanting to be submissive in the bedroom means she wants to be submissive outside the bedroom. It's about consensually playing with power and eroticizing it in a safe environment,” Kramer Bussel told Fox411. “The success of ‘50 Shades’ shows that women are becoming more comfortable reading erotica and openly claiming that reading.”
Women across the country are quietly turning the independently-published, novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" into the next publishing sensation - with a little help from social media.
The novel by E.L. James is the first installment of an erotic trilogy about a woman named Anastasia Steele and her exploration of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM) with billionaire Christian Grey.
What's remarkable about the book's popularity is its absence of a major publisher and marketing machine, not to mention a shortage of physical copies. The novel is published by Australian publishing house, The Writers Coffee Shop, and has mainly been consumed in digital form on e-book readers like the Kindle or Nook. "Fifty Shades of Grey" is currently No. 1 on the New York Times best-sellers list and No. 4 in the Kindle Store. According to the Toronto Star, the e-book sold 250,000 copies.
The Star also noted that Vintage Books, which is part of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group and a subsidiary of Random House, won the publishing rights in a bidding war.
Vintage will run 750,000 paperback copies of the novel in coming weeks, according to the New York Times. If the buzz surrounding this book continues to swell, they may have to run additional copies.
"Initial buzz about 'Fifty Shades of Grey' started building on Goodreads as early as last summer and its phenomenally high average rating earned it a nomination for the Best Romance award in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards," Jessica Donaghy, features editor at Goodreads told CBS News via email. "The nomination in early November caused a spike in interest from members and the buzz kept growing as more people read the book and shared their reviews with their friends on Goodreads."
The author also helped kindle interest in the relatively unknown novel. ...
Do you have a dog-eared copy of Fifty Shades of Grey by your bedside?
If you are like thousands of other American women, you do. Fifty Shades of Grey is the first installment of a romantic trilogy penned by British author E.L. James. However, the book probably is unlike any other romantic novel you have ever read. Sure, there are sidelong glances, big muscles and tender kisses, but the book doesn’t only feature pleasure. It also features pain — that is, pain in the form of BDSM.
BDSM is short for sexual activities that include the combination of pain and pleasure. The acronym includes behavior such as bondage, discipline, domination, submission, and sadism and masochism. It has long been practiced in millions of bedrooms across the globe and the Kama Sutra even makes mention of erotic hitting, biting and pinching.
Despite this history, BDSM never has been a popular part of mainstream culture. So why has
Fifty Shades of Grey become a must-read for women everywhere? Consider the following:Women like being able to let go. The modern woman has a million things on her plate, and it can be incredibly hard for her to find time for sexual energy and sexual thoughts. Even when she is having sex, she might be thinking of work or errands. Enter
Fifty Shades of Grey. The heroine of the story is quite sexually inexperienced and even clumsy, but with her dominant lover, she has no choice but to lay back and submit to the ecstasy of pain. For most women, the idea of being swept away by a caring, dominant lover who knows exactly where to touch her can be very appealing. Essentially, he does all the work and she has all the fun!
Women still like being the “nice girl.” Even though it’s 2012 and we know that women have sexual needs and desires just like men do, we still live in a society that marginalizes women who enjoy sex. We shame women for being “whores” and “sluts” when they are open with their sexuality. Again, BDSM can help take away that shame and fear. If he is in charge and “making” her do all those taboo things, then she just gets swept away without having to take any responsibility. She still is a nice girl — just a nice girl with a very naughty lover. ...
A development in the ongoing story about PayPal and requirements it made on e-book distributors to remove certain kinds of erotica from their catalogs: there are signs the eBay-owned company could be preparing to reverse its position as early as this week, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The digital rights group has been among those meeting with the payments company in recent weeks, as part of a process to get PayPal to reconsider its decision. The last meeting between the EFF and PayPal was on Friday, and its activism director, Rainey Reitman, told TechCrunch that she left with a “good feeling,” with PayPal’s general counsel indicating that they would be “discussing it internally and might even be able to make a public statement in the next week.”
The EFF, she notes, specifically has requested that PayPal “update their policy so that this type of legal fiction would not be affected.”
The news — or potential news — caps off a tumultuous few weeks for the payments company over its role in deciding what content is appropriate or not to sell via its payment system.
The story started in February, when PayPal issued a mandate to e-book distributors requiring them to remove from their catalogs erotica that contained references to bestiality, rape and incest — or else face a ban on doing business with PayPal. (I wrote about it early on here.)
Mark Coker, owner of one of the sites affected, Smashwords, disagreed with the mandate but also noted that his hands were tied with complying:
“It is with some reluctance that I have made the decision to prohibit incest-themed erotica at Smashwords,” he wrote at the time in an open letter to Smashwords’ partners.
That’s because PayPal plays such a big role in how the company is run: it’s used not only for book purchases, but it’s also how he pays authors, Coker told me today.
Coker also told me that in fact less than one percent, 1,000 books, of his company’s catalog were affected, but that such mandates on what is essentially legal fiction (even it’s not your own cup of tea) is a “slippery slope.”
And it turned out that the issue became a slippery slope in itself, with the news then getting picked up by Reuters, Forbes and a number of other blogs. The EFF, meanwhile, launched a letter-writing service to protest what it described as “holding free speech hostage by clamping down on sales of certain types of erotica.” ...