By now you may have heard about "Fifty Shades of Grey," the erotic novel that's putting a blush on the faces of bookish moms everywhere. It's being called "mommy porn" and "Twilight for grown-ups," which should either make you really interested or really, really turned off.
At the risk of ruining it for those of you who have yet to slip between its sexy pages, here are 10 things about the book, its mysterious author, and why it's burning holes in pillowcases all over the nation.
It started out as a piece of Twilight fan fiction: Shocking? Not at all. Although little-known author E.L. James admits the concept grew out of a Twilight-themed story she posted on a fan-fiction website, die-hard fans of both books refuse to see a connection.
Let's map it out: An awkward college student embarks on an affair with an rich, older tycoon and is plunged into a dark world of bondage, sexuality and uncomfortable situations? "Fifty Shades of Grey." An awkward high school student embarks on a relationship with a rich, immortal vampire and is plunged into a dark world of supernatural creatures, sexuality and uncomfortable situations? "Twilight."
The male protagonist is a 28-year-old billionaire: When you think "rich, handsome tycoon," you of course think "guy who is at least a decade out of college." Not so, expectant readers! Rich, sophisticated and emotionally scarred men can come in all ages, even impossibly young. The object of his affection, however, is an inexperienced 22-year-old college lit major. Did we mention the characters are called Christian and Anastasia? Perfect names for steamy romance pulp -- or possibly a Disney movie.
The buzzword is bondage: The whole reason the tome has so many readers (and critics) hot under the collar is Christian Grey (our twentysomething billionaire) has some, um, interesting predilections that include a "playroom" and lots of rough activities not fit to print here. However, some critics have pointed out such themes in women's fiction have been around for quite some time and aren't deserving of the pearl-clutching conversations the book is dredging up.
The heroine is very concerned with her "inner goddess": Fans of the book insist reading spicy scenes about a woman submitting to her partner's dominant desires can be empowering. No one thinks so more than Anastasia's "inner goddess," whom she references time and time again in the narrative. This inner goddess does a lot of silly things like "jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year old" and "doing the merengue."
One man calls it "deeply unappealing to men:" Frankly there are a host of things each gender does that may be deeply unappealing to the other. Watching the Kardashians, waxing (men, you do NOT want to see how that sausage is made) and, oh yes, erotic fiction written about a woman by a woman for a woman. Granted, the man in question, who wrote an article for the New York Daily News, also appreciated the "by women, for women" thing, and posited (correctly) that lady readers would probably be skeeved out if it was written by a man.
The little-known author is getting seven-figure deal for publishing rights: The lusty firestorm of interest in the book has all but cleared it out of stores (though readers have the option of the oh-so-discreet e-book). The book was originally published by a small Australian firm, and 250,000 copies later, James is getting a seven-figure deal from Vintage books for 750,000 more copies.
This is why e-books were invented: Turns out, naughty novels sell better when no one can see the cover. So some of those ladies in Starbucks who look so studious with their Kindles? Now you know what they're up to! Don't judge.
Conversely, some readers say it opens up dialogues about sexuality: Some women who are indulging in "Fifty Shades of Grey" say it helps them normalize conversations about sexuality -- whether with friends or partners. One woman told the New York Times that reading erotica seems different than watching porn, and "Women just feel like it's OK to read it."
Furthermore, its searing popularity has people questioning whether the publishing world will embrace more mainstream female-driven erotic reads. "'Fifty Shades of Grey' has opened the box underneath Pandora's bed," muses NPR. "And we need to decide what to do with the sexy publishing trend hidden inside."
Thank the Inner Goddess! There's an official 50SG playlist: If you are looking for the perfect soundtrack for your clandestine reading of a sexytimes book, author E.L. James has got you covered. She posted an entire YouTube playlist on her website, with a fascinating array of sounds for your literary adventures. Our favorites? "I'm on Fire," by Bruce Springsteen, "Witchcraft" by Frank Sinatra, the prelude to "La Traviata," and, of course, Britney Spears' "Toxic." Here's the playlist. Go there.
Wait! There's more..: We totally forgot to tell you! This whole thing is a trilogy! "Fifty Shades of Grey" is followed by "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed." They all have Twilight-y covers and, yes, their own soundtracks.
Since this book is all the buzz now, we're dying to know, have you read it?