Last week I got this email from a friend, "I'm reading Fifty Shades of Grey at the moment... you would love it!" That was it, that was all it said, no hello, no how are you, not even any reasoning behind it. This would be odd enough, but what was even more unusual is that she's never recommended a book to me before! When I questioned her about it, her response was, "it's essentially soft-porn." I wasn't sure whether to be appalled, ashamed...or excited.
It's not surprising then that it is now the book EVERYONE is talking about, or should I say, whispering about? It's one of those books that people slip inside another's sleeve so no-one can see what they're reading. You can almost hear people collectively breathing sighs of relief that the kindle has been invented and they are free to download and read in privacy anything they want, from Harry Potter (the children's book that even produced its own adult friendly cover) to erotic fiction!
I don't have a Kindle (I don't believe in them, but that's another story) so I'll be reading it loud and proud on my commute every morning, even if that means receiving disapproving looks from elderly women. I'm ready to take them on.
But why should we be ashamed of what we are reading? It's a free world, and if I want to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar on my way to work, then I will. If I want to read Jilly Cooper then I bet the woman next to me is sneaking a peek over my shoulder!
We can thank D.H. Lawrence and Penguin for not only the having the confidence to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover but for fighting the battle to prevent this book from being banned. Despite the prosecution beginning their argument with the question, "Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?" the success of this trial was proven when Penguin sold 3million copies in the three months preceding it. So why, even in the 21st Century are we still embarrassed to be seen reading novels that are, shall we say, risqué?! And why, are we defining such novels as 'risqué' when in fact sex is perfectly natural?
I think Lucy Mangan hit the nail on the head when she questioned whether Fifty Shades of Grey's popularity amongst women is 'a sign of our continued sexual repression or of liberation." Is it of significance that E.L. James initially wrote this as an e-book? I can't help but question whether she was too embarrassed to take this to a publisher? Or is the fact that it was published as an actual (real-live, old fashioned, made out of paper) book due to popularity and demand what is relevant here? We're too, shall we say uptight, to be openly seen reading what some would actual define as smutty literature, but we're happy to sign petitions to support it?
It seems that the yummy mummies of our society are desperate for more erotic novels, and yet Brevard County Public Libraries pulled the book because Cathy Schweinsberg, the library services director considered it 'porn'. Are we really still stuck in 1960?
Due to the main audience of Fifty Shades of Grey being women in their 30s and 40s it has gone on to produce a whole new term for this type of literature, 'mommy porn' (I would highly recommend NOT googling that, whoops!) which suggests that we are actually accepting that women want to read sexual novels. But, we are still ashamed to do this in public; hundreds of thousands of us are reading it in on buses or in cafes, doing our best to hide it from the world so nobody knows why we are going a slightly darker of shade of pink.
So, what do you think? Should we feel humiliated or disgraced for reading novels of a sexual nature in public? Will you be downloading it to a kindle or like me, happy to read this on the tube in front of the whole world? (I won't really, I'm going to take it on holiday and hope the Corsicans haven't heard of it yet!).
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