Speaking as a literature scholar, a writer, and reader of adult fiction, 50 Shades of Grey is a rather poorly-written fictional account of an erotic minority love story. Journalist Colette Bennett describes it,”...like the 'Twilight' craze all over again, but with less supernatural creatures and more bondage gear."
As a genre, erotica has been alive and throbbing since the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, when someone scrawled those first steamy, toga-ripping words on a piece of papyrus.
D.H. Lawrence published "Lady Chatterley's Lover" in 1928, and the United States Post Office regularly confiscated copies. On July 2, 1959 a court told the prudes at the Post Office to mind their own business, and by the following year, the book had sold 6 million copies.
The Adult Media Market Today
The latest estimates are that Americans now spend somewhere around $10 billion a year on adult entertainment, which is as much as they spend attending professional sporting events, buying music or going out to the movies. Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, Sheraton and Holiday Inn all offer adult films on in-room pay-per-view television systems. And they are purchased by a whopping 50 percent of their guests, accounting for nearly 70 percent of their in-room profits. One hotel owner said, "We have to have it. Our guests demand it.”
50 Shades may have been a hit with a lot of women, but previous to it, "Interview With A Vampire" sold over 8 million copies and spawned 10 sequels. So, except for the leather and whips, 50 Shades wasn’t the first popular “dark” erotic novel. Romance fiction in general became the largest share of the consumer book market by 2007 with $1.375 billion in estimated revenue, overtaking the religion/inspirational category.
If 50 Shades deserves any of the criticism leveled at it from book reviews, the most significant thing is that it misrepresents the BDSM lifestyle/community. Bondage per se is not about pain. It’s all about role playing with a reversal of power, and the subject (or sub) always has a “safe word” that will end the play session immediately. Also, responsible adults engaging in bondage do not use dangerous restraint items like zip ties.
Strictly as a piece of adult fiction, I wasn’t that impressed by it. If others are, fine. Sexuality and arousal/attraction can be a very specific thing. One person’s “turn-on” can be someone else’s “turn-off.” But if I’m going to commit to reading a 500 page novel, the author had better grab me by the ears and pull me into the story within the first few pages. And that just didn’t happen for me.
I’m actually more a fan of the short story, which - if you know anything about it - is usually way more challenging, more demanding for the writer, because now he has less time and space to muck about. He has to quickly develop a setting, at least one main character, a plot or “conflict,” and then “resolve” that conflict in anywhere from 10 to 30 pages.
That is why, for fans of adult fiction, I recommend any of the anthologies from the “Best American Erotica” series (15 books from 1993 - 2008). I’ve read most of them, and they provide one of the most varied sexual buffets I’ve ever seen. There’s literally something for everyone, from the mundane to the downright weird. It’s called creativity, folks.
I just didn’t find 50 Shades that “creative.”
As clinical sexologist Dr. Hernando Chaves said,”If it (50 Shades) opens doors to new arousal templates for you, great. Just know that BDSM is not rooted in abuse.”
To that, I would add that 50 Shades is not what I would recommend for teenage readers, at least not without a brief discussion of BDSM and the areas of the book that are simply not representative of the lifestyle. I firmly disagree with any who suggest that 50 Shades “promotes” or “leads one” toward abusive relationships.
50 Shades is to the romantic novel what James Bond movies are to great cinema. They're light entertainment; nothing more.
If BDSM or leather isn’t your cup of tea, don’t waste $9 on the paperback or the movie, but don’t make it out to be something it isn’t - a great story, arousing, or dangerous.