50 Shades of Grey Is the New Black

50 Shades of Grey, E L James

For the past couple of years, I’ve made many (many, MANY) choices about the books I read (and the TV shows I watch) (and the kind of lipstick I wear) based on recommendations I get from Google searches, Facebook friends, Twitter conversations, and blog posts.

Not that I can’t make decisions for myself, just why waste time wading through all the options out there? Someone, somewhere has already tried everything, and posted online about it.

After gorging myself on novel after novel during the holidays last year—most of them recommended by The Internet—I finally burned myself out. I hadn’t picked up my Nook in months.

Last week, my internet friends changed all that.

Early in the week, I started seeing mentions of the book 50 Shades of Grey on Facebook. Just a few comments at first, sprinkled here and there in my News Feed. But by the end of the week, chatter about the book had reached fever pitch in my social network. I had to find out what all the fuss was about.

So on Saturday, I downloaded the book and started reading it, nestled into my spot on the chaise section of our sofa, my two youngest daughters on the floor next to me, playing Barbie Monopoly.

By page 60 (and 75) (and 85) , I realized I must not have paid enough attention to exactly what everyone was saying about the book, because what I read would have me putting it away until the girls were safely and soundly asleep in their beds later that night.

I had assumed 50 Shades of Grey was another young-adult fiction selection turned grown-adult obsession, à la Harry Potter or the Twilight series.

Expecting ABC Family, I got HBO After Hours. Times a thousand.

This is what has Facebook abuzz? I wondered. Page after page of graphic, hot, rough, steamy, bubbly, naked, sexy sex? I blushed a little at the thought. (But kept reading.)

Recent sales figures are proof positive that the book is definitely hot in more ways than one. By the week ending March 3, it had rocketed to No. 1 on the New York Times e-book fiction best-seller list and No. 3 on Amazon’s best-seller list.

But 50 Shades is not without its critics.

Frank Santo of the NY Daily News wrote,

I can’t believe anyone would argue otherwise, 50 Shades of Grey is pornography, plain and simple. [It is] not a good book in the same sense that a monster truck is not a good car: in both cases the art is in the deviation, and the audience’s collective roar in response.

(Another columnist suggested that a much better option for steamy fiction is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.)

So, why the viral popularity of a book that’s been simplified as “Mommy Porn”? I think Brittany Gibbons, the Barefoot Foodie, perfectly sums up the book’s appeal:

50 Shades of Grey gave me what Twilight and Hunger Games didn’t. Hot sex. Not vague or obtuse vampire honeymoon sex. The dirty kind of sex real people have.

What do you think about this so-called “Mommy Porn” genre of fiction? Is it a new twist on modern erotica, or just the usual romance novel, re-labeled to amp-up its image?

Will you be reading?

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