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“fifty times better!”

June 26, 2012

yeah, it happened finally. i was waiting for it, since i ride the subway almost every day and i read books so i keep my peepers open to see what other people are reading. i love watching people nose-deep in a book, especially if they don’t have ear buds in. (disclaimer: i DO wear ear buds on the subway, but it’s a mechanism that i think lots of young women can use if they’re too tired/weary/warm to give a walloping shit – if a creepy man talks to you, you can pretend not to hear him. even if your ear buds aren’t on.) anyway, i sat beside a woman who was reading Fifty. Shades. Of Grey!!

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i put that in capitals because it seems to deserve its own capitals right now. just recently, FSOG became amazon.co.uk’s best selling kindle book of all time. and now it’s the best-selling paper back in the UK, topping harry potter. (!) i also put it in capitals because it tends to stoke a weird, fierce bunch of feelings in people. (also, i tried to peek over her shoulder but i didn’t want to impinge on her personal space.)

i haven’t read 50. (it’s easier to just call it 50 i can’t type all of those words tonight). i saw it in a chapters when i was browsing a kink section – it was hovering nearby on a shelf. i picked it up, but when i skimmed through to get to the dirty bits (of course!) i read my first euphemism for penis and promptly put it back down again. if you’re going to write about explicit sex acts, use proper terminology – at least that’s my weird maxim. i haven’t read 50, but not because it’s about sex – but because it seems to be written in a way that isn’t appealing to me. (read: poorly, with lots of weird details about juice and stuff). but clearly people ARE reading it.

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i was with a group of writers the other, and somehow – of course – talk turned to FSOG. it’s funny – hasn’t this book been out for AGES? since before christmas? i swear i saw ads for it on the subway back when it was snowing. but all of a sudden recently it’s been pushed into the bookstore dashboards again – because it seems to be having another paperback run, because people aren’t so mortified to buy it in person anymore. wasn’t it creeping around on kindles like lichen? people pressing their e-readers to their chests, covertly, in the subway, so as to prevent prying eyes? something clearly changed in the brain chemistry of the readership, but that’s neither here nor there.

people are incredibly disparaging about other people reading FSOG. the pervasive comment seems to ughhhh it’s not even a real book, it started as a fanfiction. whatever. i can make that joke all i want, too, because i’m a writer and i’m part-pissed that nothing i ever write will be optioned by bret easton ellis. nothing i ever write will be turned into a movie in which the tall hot skarsgard hunk wants to star in. (boy howdy. i just said hunk.) um… i lost my train of thought. oh yes. i can joke all i want, and be pretend-disparaging too, but secretly i think it’s kind of great and sexy that people are reading. okay, yes, i’ve heard what the prose in 50 sounds like. if you need to hear it, watch this:

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by the time i was 3/4 of the way through, the computer was shaking i was laughing so hard. he’s adorable. anyway. fine. it’s clunky and it’s not very well-written (in my opinion). it’s written in a kind of coquettish, blushing, hand-over-the-face way, with a lot of referrals to “down there” instead of “vagina”. but come on. it’s kind of great that people are reading this, for a few reasons. one – people are READING. and not only that, they’re reading PHYSICAL BOOKS. paper books. books – the papery things with spines that have had a bad few years with the heyday of those awful little e-readers. and two – people are reading about SEX. toronto, i love you, but you’re uptight. you are. i really do love you – i missed you terribly when i was in vancouver – but sex makes you skittish, colt-legged and blushy. you need a little something to unlock your spine and get your moral fires all fanned and ragin’.

can i also add – i’m sick of people being judgmental about what other people (read: women) read and what they don’t. someone declaring “why are women reading this? women don’t have sex like THAT” betrays unawareness and a strange and cruel sense of virtue that isn’t (necessarily) welcome. people (read: women) can read what they want. that’s what reading IS: it’s a safe world to experience things that maybe you wouldn’t experience in your day to day like (or maybe you do – whatever) – i’m pretty sure that women don’t (always) go out to fight a whale, but they read moby dick. women don’t have sex with their brothers, but they read the sound and the fury. women don’t (always) work as buckaroos, but they read all the pretty horses. women aren’t WIZARDS, but they read harry potter. blaaarf. for a person – man, woman, young, old, i don’t care – to sit and read a book deemed as “porn” on a subway is very interesting and kind of brave and totally fascinating and gives us an interesting insight into where readership is going. or how our society works. or the powerful and life-long sway that sex – and power games, and the darker aspects of sex and the ideas of ownership and loss of control and subspace and endorphins – holds over us. to take a little of the dirty out of sex by reading a dirty book in public is a total mind-warp. isn’t there some adage about learning something new every day? well, if someone is learning about kinbaku, or how to choose a safe word, isn’t that something new?

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finally – for those of us who don’t read erotica (for whatever reason. maybe we read more nuanced erotica. or dirtier erotica. or maybe we read action books. i don’t know.) – we better get used to it: this is the direction in which people’s predilections are going. just the other day i noticed a new ad on the subway. “fifty times better!” it said. for a book called “bound to you.” three guesses for what that one’s about, and the first two don’t count.

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