I was late for a sushi date with my sister-in-law a few weeks ago. I found her sitting on a bench near the entrance to our favorite Glendale sushi bar, Ichiban. She was looking down at her iPad, obviously reading something intense. I thought it was probably a message from her boss. When I patted her shoulder, she jumped, surprisingly startled to see me standing there. “Oh, hi, I’m reading a new book I just downloaded,” she said as she stood up and gave me a hug. We went inside and, lost in our happy greeting, I didn’t think to ask what the book title was. And of course, the sushi was divine.
When we got up to leave, I said I wanted to visit the restroom before my long drive back to South Orange County. I said good-bye, but she said she’d wait and walk with me to the car.
As I exited the restroom, I saw her sitting on the bench again with her iPad open. “What’s the name of that book?” I asked. “You may have heard of it,” she said, raising her eyebrows and fanning her face with the e-tablet. “It’s called Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s really something. I won’t tell you any more except to say it’s called ‘mommy porn’ for a reason.” We laughed, but from the bright red color of her face, I knew I would have to download the book as soon as I got home.
A few days later, I finished an enjoyable book I had downloaded to my Kindle called The Mill River Recluse. I was ready to start Bossypants by Tina Fey when I remembered my conversation with my sis. I went to the Kindle menu and looked up Fifty Shades. I bought it without looking at a sample. And so began what I call my “Fifty Shades of Fun” experience.
After a couple of chapters learning about Anastasia and Christian and all the weirdness they both embody in the author’s not-so-perfect prose (to which I can relate), I decided to buy the other two books in the trilogy. Yes, it’s very graphic, but really it’s not that much different from a couple of romance novels I’ve read. It’s just different because the sex is, well, unique and pretty gross at times. And yes, it is also hot.
I loved all the millionaire stuff, the ultra security, the gorgeous homes and especially the Seattle setting. For me, the Pacific Northwest is one of the prettiest places on the planet. I hated the stilted dialog, the endless stupid thoughts expressed by the supposedly virginal but ultra-hot heroine, and the weeny way she behaves on the job (yes, she works when she’s not having weird sex). And I get a kick out of hearing about the three novels on TV morning shows and in the news. My husband and I both got a kick out of a recent weekend episode of TMZ during which one of the girl reporters read a particularly raunchy chapter to some of the guys in the big city-room environment that is TMZ – absolutely hilarious watching those grown men blush and sputter.
By far the best experience I have had with Fifty Shades of Grey – and I’m only just starting book three – was on a recent flight from Dallas to Los Angeles. Crammed into a middle seat on a full plane, I pulled out my Kindle once the flight attendants told us we could use our computers. I noticed the woman on my left by the window, a lovely blonde in her 50′s, opened a Kindle Fire. And the gentleman on the other side of me, probably in his early 60′s, fetched his laptop from his bag in the overhead compartment. As I started reading Fifty Shades on my own Kindle, it occurred to me that I really didn’t want these people on either side of me – or ANYONE for that matter – to see what I was reading. In other words, I didn’t want to be caught with a gazillion-copy-best-selling novel about sadomasochistic sex. So I switched to Bossypants instead.
A few minutes later, the flight attendants came down the aisle offering beverages. The blonde by the window put her Kindle down on her tray and ordered two glasses of chardonnay. She was conservatively dressed and I admit being surprised by her order. I glanced fleetingly at her kindle and saw familiar names on the screen – Anastasia and Christian and Taylor and Leila and…well, you can imagine I simply couldn’t contain myself and laughed out loud. Certainly explained the two glasses of wine.
Still giggling, I said softly to the blonde, “I see you and I are reading the same book.” Instantly, she grabbed her Kindle and turned it over, screen-side down. Mine was in my lap so she couldn’t see it, but she looked for it, and then she said, “Really? Do you know what I’m reading?” Fanning myself with my right hand, I enquired, “Is it Fifty Shades of Grey?” Busted, she rolled her eyes, took a deep breath and said sheepishly, “I’m on book two and it’s really getting a little boring.” We both giggled. The guy on the aisle laughed too. Leaning forward and turning t0 look at us both, he said, “What is it with all you women and that book?” We laughed again. I told him to google it and find out. And then of course, the flight attendant chimed in that she had just finished the trilogy. About thirty minutes later, a woman directly in front of me stood up and turned around in her seat to face me and my seatmates. “Look what I’m reading,” she said, pointing at the screen of her Nook. Then she proudly announced, “I didn’t have the nerve to buy the actual book and carry it around with me so I bought an e-reader and downloaded it!” Same book, same guilty grin. Within seconds, about six rows of flyers were talking animatedly and laughing about Fifty Shades of Grey.
More than the sex, the metal balls, the S&M, the anti-feminism, the self-published author and the less than stellar reviews, I think a key aspect of “the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon,” as Dr. Oz refers to it, is it’s just an unusual controversial, sometimes LOL conversation-starter. It’s unrelated to the economy, the election, unemployment, foreclosures, Facebook, the current lack of school funding, caregiving for aging parents, and so much other news, and it is connecting people everywhere, especially women. That connection, now happening on planes, in hospital waiting rooms, at sushi bars, gyms and even at work, might even be making life a little more fun in the privacy of bedrooms everywhere. That works for me, woot woot!
And now, I’m on to Bossypants.