Feature

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

“Mommy porn” is sweeping the country.

(Vintage, $16)

So this is what the future of book publishing looks like, said Julie Bosman in The New York Times. It’s been called “mommy porn” and “Twilight for grown-ups.” Whatever it’s labeled, Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels have “electrified women across the country.” With more than 250,000 e-book copies sold, this erotic trilogy has been scorching Nooks and Kindles nationwide and is set to arrive in print on April 3 with a 750,000-copy print run from the “highbrow” U.S. publisher Vintage Books. Its author, a British television executive, created the story by fantasizing about the sex lives of the lovers in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight vampire series. She wasn’t done with her “fan fiction” tribute until she’d renamed the couple and turned Meyer’s tame canoodlings into “graphic, heavy-breathing erotica,” complete with bondage and whips.

Call James’s series a “one-click wonder,” said Lizzie Skurnick in TheDailyBeast.com. Grey’s success is testament to how electronic sharing has changed the way audiences find material to read. Grey isn’t a book so much as it’s “the ne plus ultra of emails,” a “woman-to-woman pass-along” of epic proportions. You can imagine how it caught fire when it was first released by an e-publishing site that doubles as a social-networking community. Twilight’s Bella Swan has become Anastasia Steele, a virginal college student who becomes the submissive of Christian Grey, who’s not a vampire but a corporate magnate with a taste for sadomasochism. This is something new in trash fiction—“bad literature that’s all bad, with no story to truck it along.”

Don’t knock the first book until you’ve read it, said Lisa Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly. James won’t be shortlisted for any literary prizes, but women aren’t reading her for her prose. Odds are, thousands of American women are at this moment “in a state of arousal, amusement, or, at the very least, amazement at the ingenuity and imagination with which James has made steamy female-centric erotica” out of a relationship story that they already loved.

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