has broken all kinds of best seller records, including surpassing Dan Brown’s record for sales of the Da Vinci Code
. It took only 11 weeks for it to sell a million paperbacks, then went on to top Amazon’s list for best selling ebooks. A lot of people are still sitting around scratching their heads and wondering why.
One blogger’s response
can almost sum up the feelings of a lot of people who just can’t figure it out. “I downloaded EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey, anticipating an entertaining page-turner, a modern-day love affair (I pictured my grandma’s collection of old romance novels, taking place in the now, equipped with texting and instant messages). Having no further background than the porno reference, I was stunned – shocked – at what waited in the pages before me. Not because of the explicit sex scenes, but rather the terribly underdeveloped protagonist, the unrealistic storyline – and above all else, the bitterly disappointing message this novel sends to all women about the value of love within a relationship.”
It’s possible that this is the most divisive novel that’s ever reached the best seller lists. On Amazon, ratings are overwhelmingly split between the one and two star basement and the four and five star peak of approval. On Goodreads
also, the mild approval of three stars is pretty scarce. On both sites, the reviews may well outstrip the book in sheer entertainment value.
If you read enough reviews, there’s no avoiding the basic facts: Christian Grey is a thoroughly obnoxious abuser, and Anastasia Steele is his mindlessly willing victim. Contrary to what some critics would have us believe, it’s unlikely that the majority of women who read this book see this naive (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) young woman as a model to emulate (or envy), or Grey as someone with whom they’d love to have an affair.
The poor quality of the writing, weak characters, unbelievable plot, and disturbing portrait of a confused young woman have all been criticized to a fare thee well, so it’s clear that something else is going on to make Fifty Shades
the ultimate runaway success story.
Every best seller owes its success to well-known human qualities, curiosity being one of the most prominent. After all, who can resist taking a peek at something that everyone’s talking about? Then there’s the tendency to follow the leader, whether it’s your favorite media maven telling you that you just have to buy this or read that, or your best friend pushing you to share her delight. But those influences are at work with every best seller. And they can’t fully explain Fifty Shades
’ house-on-fire domination of the media and the attention of the masses who might ordinarily have passed it by with a shrug of the shoulders.
The timing was right. Erotica is out of the closet, from high-fashion ads to television shows. What was once considered porn is becoming very close to mainstream. “The most potent (and obvious) factor is that sex sells, and kinky romances like "Fifty Shades" are sating women's lust for erotica-lite, said Jaclyn Friedman
, author of ‘What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl's Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety.’”
Erotic fiction is a popular genre, but until recently, it’s been a dirty secret kept under plain brown wrappers. Ereaders like the Kindle and the Nook can now serve the same function, allowing the easily embarrassed to indulge themselves in public. But, judging from the number of writers talking about seeing print copies being read right out in the open, on buses and trains, and in various public venues, it seems that blushing cheeks may be on the way out, to join fainting as an endearing but unmourned feature of womanhood.
Permission has been given, tacitly or not, to delve into the forbidden. And since “everybody’s doing it, it must be okay. When it comes right down to it, the divide between Fifty Shades
’ haters and lovers seems to be primarily between readers who expect quality writing, whatever the subject, and those who are happy to find a socially approved way of getting turned on. But even if you plan to rip the book apart, shredding its cliches and satirizing its one-dimensional characters, if you want to do a good job, you have to read the darned thing.
Have I read it? Nope. Will I? Nope. Am I even the least bit curious? Not at all. Aren’t I afraid that I might be missing out on an enjoyable experience? Badly written vanilla erotica that tries to pass itself off as romance, and insults women? I don’t think so.