Book Acquired Recently: Fifty Shades of Grey

James, E L. Fifty Shades of Grey. 2011. New York: Vintage, 2012.

I bought this book because a student of mine wants to write an essay about it and its popularity. I have heard that it is written horribly and would not read it on my own, but will do so for professional reasons. I feel a bit embarrassed about publicly admitting that I own it because of its alleged lack of quality (not because of its subject matter).

However, I do find the popularity of the novel in the U.S. quite a fascinating phenomenon. To have a piece of erotica, let alone one in which bondage apparently plays a major role, become a bestseller in our ridiculously prudish culture is noteworthy. For this reason, I am interested in seeing just how non-vanilla Fifty Shades of Grey actually is. Does its popularity portend a wave of people admitting that they have a kinky side instead of the usual horrified reaction to the idea that some people enjoy dominating or being dominated by others? Probably not, and if the book is as badly written as everyone says it is, it does not say much about the general reading public’s standards (if you want to read a well-written bondage novel by a woman from a female character’s perspective, Molly Weatherfield’s Carrie’s Story is an excellent place to start), but I would like to think that maybe Fifty Shades‘s popularity contains some morsel of a move toward more liberated sexual attitudes.

Bought on

Published by danielshankcruz

I grew up in New York City and lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Goshen, Indiana; DeKalb, Illinois; and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Utica, New York. My mother’s family is Swiss-German Mennonite (i.e., it’s an ethnicity, not necessarily a theological persuasion) and my father’s family is Puerto Rican. I have a Ph.D. in English and currently teach at Utica College. I have also taught at Northern Illinois University and Westminster College in Salt Lake City. My teaching and scholarship are motivated by a passion for social justice, which is why my research focuses on the literature of oppressed groups, especially LGBT persons and people of color. While I primarily read and write about fiction, I am also a devoted reader of poetry because, as William Carlos Williams writes, “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet [people] die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” Thinkers who influence me include Marina Abramovic, Kathy Acker, Di Brandt, Ana Castillo, Samuel R. Delany, Percival Everett, Essex Hemphill, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, and the New York School of poets. I am also fond of queer Mennonite writers such as Stephen Beachy, Jan Guenther Braun, Lynnette Dueck/D’anna, and Casey Plett. In my free time I’m either reading, writing the occasional poem, playing board games (especially Scrabble, backgammon, and chess), watching sports (Let’s Go, Mets!), or cooking (curries, stews, roasts…).

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