E. L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey is the most in-demand title we've had since The Help came out in 2009. It's the title everyone is talking about. James has made her way through the morning news circuit and Fifty Shades is currently riding the #1 spot on the New York Times trade paperback bestseller list. I first heard about this title a few months ago when I got a request from a patron. Then I got another request. And another. I started asking whether any of my colleagues had heard of this book. No one had, so I did a little research. It turned out that James is a British writer and had published the title through a very small Australian publisher. The book hadn't been reviewed by any of the typical sources librarians use when selecting materials to purchase, so I decided to pass on purchasing it. But the requests kept coming and finally it got onto the Times list, and I knew we had to purchase a copy. One copy. Then three copies. Now eleven copies! For a first-time author from a small press that hadn't been reviewed by any major source, this doesn't happen often. So why does everyone want this book?
I have heard numerous times the whispered remark from patrons: "I've heard it's practically porn." Yes, Fifty Shades is an erotic romance novel. When I read descriptions of the novel, I frequently saw the term "BDSM" (bondage, dominance, submission, masochism) linked to it. Really? This many people want to read BDSM fiction? I was perplexed. As put off as I was by that description, I decided that I needed to see for myself why so many women wanted to read this book. Maybe we have a demand for erotic fiction that the library isn't meeting?
Fifty Shades of Grey features Anastasia Steele, a college senior who is still a virgin. When she interviews the wealthy 27-year-old businessman Christian Grey for the school's newspaper, the chemistry between them is palpable. After a few encounters, they can no longer deny that there is something between them. Ana believes this could be the beginning of a romance, but Christian admits that he is not interested in a typical relationship. Christian is a dominant and wants Ana to engage in a relationship as his submissive. Ana is shocked and scared by the idea of this, but her desire for Christian is so strong that she is willing to give it a try.
I found myself torn over this book. On the one hand, the writing is extremely flawed, the dialogue is awkward, and I felt Christian's character wasn't believable. On the other hand, I get why the book is appealing to readers. The story is a typical romance story at its core: sexy, yet troubled boy meets innocent girl; sparks fly; girl hopes she can "save" boy and they will live happily ever after. Add to that a fast pace and super-steamy sex, and you have a hot page-turner. I was concerned about the BDSM aspect, but it wasn't as horrifying as I imagined, just not my cup of tea. I was also concerned that the story would support the idea that causing pain to women is acceptable, but it doesn't. In fact, I was surprised that Ana actually stood up for herself in the end, which I found satisfying. I am curious to find out more about Christian Grey and how he became the way he is, so I'll join the building waiting list for Fifty Shades Darker. This book raises so many questions, that I think it would make an interesting discussion. Have you read it? If so, what did you think?