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Every month, Quirk and Quill bloggers share the books
on their nightstands. I’ve been a bit of a slacker lately. I just wasn’t ready to fess up to what I’d been reading.  But living on a boat is changing all of that. Nothing seems too sacred or quirky. Or maybe everything does.

Whatever, it has freed me to remove my mask and give it up. Fifty Shades of Grey,” says the Huffington Post, “has become the bestselling book of all time in the UK. It’s the news that will make literary snobs kick their bookshelves in disgust.” Like a rubber-necker, I had to take a look—me and (did I read that correctly?) nearly 40 million other people world-wide.

In fact, I looked all the way to the end of Book 2.

The media and reviewers have thoroughly exposed Book 1 issues—repetitive phrases, repetitive actions, not to mention repetitive phrases and repetitive actions as well as weak plotting, unrealistic dialogue and their list goes on and on. Susan Schoenberger of the Greenwich Patch offered an interesting simile. “If fine writing is like bittersweet truffles, this book is like a wad of Gummi Bears stuck to your back teeth.”

But I kept reading. So who was I to criticize?

Book 2 illustrated how editing can elevate a manuscript. The plot grew exponentially (one squared equals . . .) as did the characters. Still the writing was . . .

Oh who cares. I kept reading!  Why? Why? Why?
I had to investigate.

Was I drawn to 50 Shades’ exploration of BDSM?

Writers are by nature voyeurs, no?
My guess is that E. L. James details enough to catch a voyeur’s curiosity. But I’ve read more literary explorations and that wasn’t the draw. There had to be other reasons. [Photo: Shawn Rossi via Flickr]

Perhaps the Cinderella theme attracted me. Cinderella on crack, maybe, but Cinderella nonetheless.

This is a real possibility. When I was a little girl, I escaped through fairy tales. No matter how much I evolve, part of me will always find solace in that place.

I’m certain some readers keep reading because they possess a misguided hope we can change someone into the person we want them to be.  Surely not me. I let go of that fantasy in college.

Or did I?

Was I was drawn to what the Washington Post Opinion Board described as a possible “tectonic shift in post-feminist fantasies?”

In an op-ed piece on Shades of Grey, Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times makes a comparison of James’ work to television. She notes that network TV is too politically correct in how they portray career women. “They don’t indulge regressive fantasies (as Shades does) about rich, dashing tycoons who yearn to make the heroine’s life easier.” She adds that they “lose sight of old, hidden hankerings . . . when having it all so often means doing it all yourself, there is a special allure to the daydream of someone else taking control.”

I totally get that.

The particular lure that proved most magnetic for me turned out to be Christian (Prince Charming) Grey’s childhood. If I found James’ prose skeletal, I appreciated how she slowly sprinkled the developmental clues that created Grey’s unique ego. What drew Grey to the less interesting protagonist, Anastasia? What events led to Grey’s controlling personality and how did the BDSM satisfy the need those events created?

Besides my interest in how writers sculpt personality and ego, James surely tapped into my old childhood fantasies, adult curiosities and Stanley’s idea of hidden hankerings. But to my question of why James’ books have made history, Stanley nailed it. E-books allowed readers to immediately download her books privately, to sample or buy. And buy they did. James’ 50 Shades Series, Books 1-3 have earned the top 3 spots on the NY Times Best Seller List for both e- and trade-fiction print books for 24-27 weeks.

Further says Stanley, “Maybe Sex has to be transgressive to cause a stir, and nowadays the best step forward is to take a step back.” Hmmm.

I’ve moved on to Gillian Flynn’s simply amazing novel, Girl Gone. Will it sell like 50 Shades of Grey? I hope so. But ironically, it’s unlikely.

Both authors have taught me something, though. The good, the bad, and the quirkily magnetic. Nothing is too sacred or too quirky when you’re learning, right?