Nothing like a female protagonist who likes being slapped, stalked, and whipped by a ruthless tycoon. But Anastasia Steele is such a sensation with women readers that Vintage Books, part of Knopf Doubleday, is setting its highbrow literary reputation aside to run off 750,000 copies of a runaway pulp novel from Australia. The title: Fifty Shades of Gray. The author: EL James. The question: Are women readers indulging in dangerous trash in order to satisfy their love for erotica?
“Women just feel like it’s OK to read it,” a Long Island woman tells the New York Times. “It’s taboo for women to admit that they watch pornography, but for some reason it’s OK to admit that they’re reading this book.” Others, however, complain of a plodding story, poor writing, and a submissive woman who belongs more in The Story of O than a modern novel. Either way, a new e-book version is coming out Monday before the print run a few weeks later. One blogger may have uncovered its appeal: “It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” she says. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”