[Or, “How I managed to squeeze some value from a book that many consider dreck”]
For the record, I actively avoid romance and I don’t generally read erotica. When Fifty Shades of Grey (and the rest of the trilogy) got popular, I firmly expected to dislike it, maybe even hate it. But I try to keep an open mind, and while I didn’t make a point of seeking it out, I also didn’t make a point of avoiding it. I was firmly ambivalent.
My partner had been away for a while; I was thinking about sex more (and differently) than usual, but hadn’t yet had my epiphany. As fate would have it, that’s when I ran across a free copy of the book. (The only way I could have expended any less effort to acquire it was if someone physically put a copy in my hands.) I mentally shrugged and thought, “Eh, why not?” There’s a cultural moment happening here, so I decided to check in. Love it or hate it, I would at least have an informed opinion.
So… I neither love it nor hate it, which I think is entirely due to the expectations I had going in. What I expected was uninteresting wank material with poor writing and little or no plot. What I got was moderately hot wank material with mediocre writing and a passable plot. The result: I was pleasantly surprised.
If you subject the book to any rigorous criticism, yes, it falls apart at the seams. I read it the way I’d read a fashion magazine: flip through quickly, look for things that interest me, and skim lightly over the stuff that bugs me. No, it’s not literature, but it’s a nice enough way to kill time in a waiting room. It’s fantasy. It’s erotic romance, which in this case amounts to a romance playing dress-up in leather.
On the basis of where my head was at, I also got a few good things out of the book that I wasn’t expecting. Nothing earth-shattering and nothing I couldn’t have found elsewhere, but it happens that I found them here when I was receptive:
- You’re allowed to talk about sex. I’ve always had the idea that you shouldn’t talk about sex and thus I expected my partner to essentially read my mind, but I’ve since realized that this was the sexual shame speaking.
- Talking about sex and negotiating the details can actually be really hot. While my partner was away, I managed to get myself quite hot and bothered when we emailed ideas back and forth.
- It presented spanking, toys, bondage, etc. and encouraged me to actively consider whether I might like to try them — by using the book not as a manual but as a source of inspiration to start exploring.
Would I read it again? I’m not sure. On an intellectual level, I’ve learned enough about BDSM (which, if not for the book, I probably wouldn’t have looked into) to see many ways in which it gets BDSM wrong, and this, in addition to the mediocre writing and romance-ness of it, irritates me. On a practical level, my partner and I have one more two-month stint apart and this is the only book-length wank material I have in the house. Yes, I’m an opportunist.
Would I recommend it to others? No.
Unless you’re going to review it, in which case yes, you should absolutely read it.