The New Yorker
Over at Babeland, a New York sex shop, the best-selling trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” has shifted from erotic fiction to how-to guide. On a recent Friday, a hundred or so women, four men, and one Chihuahua crowded into the SoHo store for a class inspired by the books. “I found out about the books because people kept coming into the store and asking about specific products—floggers, restraints, paddles,” said Claire Cavanah, Babeland’s co-founder.
The series, which is light on plot, centers on the lives of Christian Grey, a young businessman, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, as they enter a dominant-submissive relationship. (The conflict comes when “Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity.”) Cavanah says that she’s seen a twenty-per-cent increase in sales of B.D.S.M. gear since the books’ début. The only analogous moment she can recall during her twenty years at Babeland was when the characters on “Sex and the City” discussed a rabbit vibrator: “There was a run on the store!”
The “Fifty Shades” guests, as they waited for the class to start, tooled around the displays while sipping cocktails (cranberry juice and vodka) and avoiding eye contact. On display were such items as a “pinwheel” the size of a cooking thermometer (twenty dollars, no explanation), sienna patent-leather handcuffs with a matching paddle, and various chains that recalled a rappelling device. “My kids would love these,” one woman from New Jersey said, picking up a bag of phallic-shaped sour-patch candies. “What is this?” A woman wearing black loafers and a blazer asked her friend. They both tapped inquisitively at a gray cannister with a pink, rubbery filling, their lips curled. “Now that’s gross,” the friend concluded.
E. L. James, the author of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, is a mother and television executive in her forties. The series started as “Twilight” fan fiction; James has said that she modelled her two main characters after Bella and Edward. Yet, even though her characters are college-aged, the books have resonated most strongly with James’s contemporaries—mothers, wives, “The View” enthusiasts—women who, if they owned riding crops, would store them in the garage between the skis and mountain bikes. The promise of erotic reading may be the initial draw, but, for many readers, there’s the added fantasy of E. L. James herself—the working mother and fan-fiction writer turned overnight success. ...
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