March 10, 2012

A soft-porn, pulpy romance novel hits #1 on the NYT ebook list...

... and the NYT writes a lifestyle-trends-type article about it.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” and the two other titles in the series were written by a British author named E L James, a former television executive who began the trilogy by posting fan fiction online. The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship....
Steele. Always Steele. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jim Steele."

Recognize that quote? It's on page 123 of "The Catcher in the Rye." Holden Caulfield is introducing himself to a prostitute. He also claims to be 22, which he's not, causing her to say "Like fun you are" and him to observe "It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You'd think a prostitute and all would say 'Like hell you are' or 'Cut the crap' instead of 'Like fun you are.'" So the prostitute is too young and so is he and he felt peculiar. "Sexy was about the last thing I was feeling. I felt much more depressed than sexy."

But lots of women today are feeling really sexy and not depressed when they read about the handsome tycoon whipping the innocent girl who has the manly name of Steele. She's Steele, he's Grey. Who really has the power in this S&M relationship? (← Thoroughly conventional intriguing/boring question.)
“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern, the founder of DivaMoms.com and one of the early fans of the series. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”...

“Women just feel like it’s O.K. to read it,” [said a Long Island woman who didn't want her name printed]. “It’s taboo for women to admit that they watch pornography, but for some reason it’s O.K. to admit that they’re reading this book.”...

“What I found fascinating is that there are all these supermotivated, smart, educated women saying this was like the greatest thing they’ve ever read,” said Meg Lazarus, a 38-year-old former lawyer in Scarsdale, whose friends and acquaintances have been buzzing about the book. “I don’t get it. There’s a lot of violence, and this guy is abhorrent sometimes.”
Buzzing. The vibrator reference also appears in the headline: "Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz."

Anyone remember when the Anais Nin book "Delta of Venus" was a best seller, back in the 1970s? It was the erotic book that all the ladies who thought they were above reading pornography were suddenly able to read. But "Delta of Venus" was considered high-quality literature, and that was a big part of why women — the NYT-reading-type woman — felt okay about reading it. Look at it — very classy literary vibe.

No one is saying "Shades of Grey" is quality literature. They're just saying it's effective as pornography. It's sexually arousing. But isn't that true of endless romance novels with handsome tycoons in them? What made it okay to read? There's a quote in the article: "in the 21st century, women have the ability to read this kind of material without anybody knowing what they’re reading, because they can read them on their iPads and Kindles." But that still doesn't say what made everyone converge on the same porn novel at the same time, making it #1? According to the NYT, it seems to be extremely strong internet word-of-mouth. A Barnes & Noble VP says: "I think this shows very clearly what the blog network can do."

Blogs! They can do everything. They can make ladies in Scarsdale plow through a plodding, stupid novel about a rich man with a riding crop and the innocent little lamb who loves him.

32 comments:

traditionalguy said...

So what women really want is a dominant male whip hand over their lives, and they are liberated enough to say so now. Hmmm.

Writ Small said...

Althouse said. . .

There is absolutely no reason that the spouse in the job-free position needs to be the wife.

Later, Althouse said . . .

It's sexually arousing. But isn't that true of endless romance novels with handsome tycoons in them?

Absolutely no reason.

EDH said...

Against expectation and hope, enlarging the picture to see the author reading from her "soft porn novel" reminded me of this.

The books, which were released in the last year, center on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs)...

Isn't that that the subject of tomorrow's "One year ago today at the Wisconsin Protests..." post?

Or at least my take on it.

edutcher said...

As Sir Noel once observed, "Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs".

And I thought it was Remington Steele.

No, he's 007.

You think guy porn is lame until you read "womyn's" porn.

Ann Althouse said...

So the prostitute is too young and so is he and he felt peculiar.

I thought we were done talking about Ms Fluck and Rush.

WV "anmewd" (no kidding) anmewd as Meade approached, switch in hand, "Oh, please, sir, I promise I'll be a good little girl".

madAsHell said...

The New Republic is saying that female masturbation is the last taboo. Why is masturbation taboo?

It must be tough to sell magazines these days.

ya' know....the word verification doesn't seem so prescient these days.

The Crack Emcee said...

When I was young, and totally into the whole pimp mentality, i could get women to do anything - or let me do anything to them. It was fascinating to me how much they wanted to be controlled.

I remember talking to a young male friend, many years later, about one of his first conquests - featuring a neighbor of ours - and he marveled at how she put her own hands behind her back as though tied to service him. I merely nodded knowingly.

Now I read Reynolds and all this juvenile talk of "game" at a distance, wondering what it must be like to only discover how real male/female sexual behavior and attitudes work when you're an adult. They have to have been lousy in bed. They probably still are and don't know it. Everybody knows - unless someone's an Adonis or the female equivalent - arousal starts in the mind. And if money - or even good looks - are all you got going for you, well, you're standing on a pretty weak limb, seduction-wise.

I find it all kind of funny (and a little disturbing) now, in my get-away-from-me-kid-you-bother-me days. All these supposedly composed "smart" people who really want nothing more than to run behind a garage and hump, as I did, when I like 10. We are all missing out on so much - because they missed out on so much - and we'll never get it back, simply because they're wasting their time trying to.

People are a mystery to me. Stupid people even more so. Stupid "smart" people even more. I prefer the company of older guys, without college degrees, but with wisdom beyond their years.

I'm pretty sure - if they thought about it - most women would, too,...

YoungHegelian said...

Oh geez, if this is in the NYT are we going to have to have Congressional hearings again! (NSFW)

Phil 3:14 said...

What has gotten into the Professor?

Meade said...

edutcher said...
WV "anmewd" (no kidding) anmewd as Meade approached, switch in hand, "Oh, please, sir, I promise I'll be a good little girl".

Well finally. After receiving all those countless emails complaining about the new Blogger word verification system, I take it everyone is quite happy now.

Here you go: "aytri smatomen". Knock yourselves out, kids. Just remember me when you become a big shot NYT #1 bestseller softcore fan-fiction celebrity. Come to think of it - please don't remember me.

Maguro said...

But that still doesn't say what made everyone converge on the same porn novel at the same time, making it #1?

My guess: The bold, unconventional decision to not put Fabio on the cover made this particular porn novel stand out.

cubanbob said...

In short, woman want it all. So what else is new?

phx said...

In short, woman want it all. So what else is new?

I say give it to 'em.

Peter Hoh said...

Is this Grey fellow a "severely conservative" tycoon?

I've heard that such a character makes women swoon.

Richard Dolan said...

"Steele. Always Steele."

In order to know, you have to put in the time and effort to read this stuff. Hardly seems worth it.

Mark O said...

I hope Greta doesn't hear about this and impose an embargo.

Mark O said...

"In short, woman want it all. So what else is new?"

True, but they want it from rich guys.

David R. Graham said...

Forty years ago my then-editor told me that [some very large percent, as I recall, over 50] of the #1 NYT best seller audience was Jewish matrons in Westchester County. I do not know if that is still the case and I left commercial publishing forty years ago. What is talked and written about is ever a fraction of what is happening.

John Lynch said...

Sex is certainly the greatest source of cognitive dissonance.

And middle aged women driving fiction sales is nothing new.

It's almost as if the author wrote a book for the audience. Shocking.

Chip S. said...

Among Steeles, Barbara is the gold standard.

She digs bondage, too.

cubanbob said...

Mark O said...
"In short, woman want it all. So what else is new?"

True, but they want it from rich guys.

3/10/12 11:40 AM

As the great Sophie Tucker once said "its just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor man." She also said " I have been rich and I have been poor. And rich is better".

phx said...
In short, woman want it all. So what else is new?

I say give it to 'em.

3/10/12 11:33 AM

Sir as a man of character who knows his Duty to God, King and Country you are absolutely correct sir!

Now lets cue in Shakespeare's "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.."

rhhardin said...

There's a lost Lileks essay on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue the mentions the difference between male and female porn, the latter involving an unfurled manhood only after about 250 pages.

Michael K said...

"very classy literary vibe. "

Is that a double entendre ?

William said...

A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent
But love his pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent

Everyone thinks Crazy Jane got the better of the Bishop in their argument. I don't know. There's a reason why so many intelligent people used to join monasteries and convents. I suppose abstinence is just as foolish as riding crops and such, but of all human activities, sexuality ssems the most difficult to make sense of.

autothreads said...

Women can read this book at their desk or on the subway. They can read Cosmopolitan in similar circumstances. That's because pornography that appeals to women isn't considered pornography.

Now try to imagine a man reading a Beeline book or a Penthouse at work.

YoungHegelian said...

The world of feminine erotica has some entries which rival male smut in weirdness. To wit, "Slash" erotic fiction. See here for details. Note the line on "Demographics":

most of slash fandom is made up of heterosexual women with college degrees.

Seeing Red said...

Men and women are different. I think Oprah had a show on this a couple of years ago, I watched her interview w/Palin and that was the tag.

Are women free to acknowledge or do this now, or is it part of metrosexualizing men? Or both?

kcom said...

This post reminded so much of this documentary:

Soft Sell: Emmanuelle in America

about the wild popularity of the first Emmanuelle movie in 1974 and how it became a big hit even among "respectable", middle-class audiences. It's actually interesting but emphatically not safe for work.

edutcher said...

Meade said...

Well finally. After receiving all those countless emails complaining about the new Blogger word verification system, I take it everyone is quite happy now.

Meade, just kidding.

Actually, I don't mind the new WVs (as long as they're in the Greco-Roman alphabet). They kept the trolls at bay for a couple of weeks.

Michael Haz said...

Me: Honey, Althouse has a topic started about romance novels.

Mrs. Haz: Which book??

Me: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Mrs. Haz: Read it; it's on my Kindle. And I've downloaded one of the others in the trilogy. What does Althouse say?

Me: Here, yo can read it for yourself.

Mrs. Haz: Okay, but you'll have to untie me first so I can take the blindfold off.

Greg Hlatky said...

Odd (or not so odd) that romance novels always have titles like "The Sicilian Millionaire's Virgin Mistress" and never ones like "The Lusty Dutchess's Kept Stable Boy".

wyo sis said...

Is this the same audience that created the "buzz" around "Bridges of Madison County" and the Twilight series? If it is, the conclusion might be that women and sex novels are a profitable combination.

Alan said...

Ever wonder how much Catcher of the Rye would have sold if public education did not exist?

Or how many students cite "the twerp deserves to be beaten up" and/or "I'm trying too keep away from these jerks in school - don't make them my reading assignment" as their only impression of the novel? (The latter was mine.)