Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey (Or, Why We Wanted to Publish a Book About Fifty Shades)

By November 19th, 2012

Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of GreyI admit to a few moments of trepidation when we first announced we were publishing a book about Fifty Shades of Grey.

Dexter, or the Hunger Games, or James Bond–sure, okay,” I imagined you guys saying, seeing the tweet or Facebook post or monthly newsletter. “Plenty to talk about there. Lots of deep and interesting thoughts. But really, Smart Pop, seriously–Fifty Shades of Grey?”

But here’s the thing about Fifty Shades of Grey: It’s more than just a book, at this point. Fifty Shades became a lightning rod for issues like feminism, sexuality (BDSM/alternative and otherwise), domestic violence–even, given the book’s fanfiction roots, issues of authorship and ownership.

Plus, you could practically taste the confusion and conflicted feelings of the publishing community, made up as it is largely of us former literature majors: It’s making so much money! But it’s so badly written! (At least per Literature standards.)

The book, but even more the book’s sheer popularity, has been greeted with passionate expressions of both outrage and devotion–and the way we’ve responded to it as a culture reveals a lot, I think, about us.

And all of that is what Lori Perkins’ Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey is really about. There are essays on the book itself–the writing, bad and good (yes, good!); the literary function of the inner goddess; Christian Grey as the latest in a long line of dangerous Byronic heroes–but there are also essays on the rest of the thoughts and feelings that bubbled up around Fifty Shades’ success.

Fifty Writers on Fifty Shades of Grey is separated into seven sections:

Fifty Shades of Erotic Fiction
Including a lovely exploration by romance writer M.J. Rose on the experience of reading erotic fiction and a thoughtful piece by Sylvia Day (whose Bared to You, already a success, skyrocketed after Fifty Shades hit) on what the Fifty Shades series’  popularity means for the erotic fiction genre as a whole

Fifty Shades of Romance
Including psychologist and romance author Hope Tarr’s survey of the ways in which Christian Grey is the post-modern Prince Charming and a serious criticism of the series’ abuse tropes from bestselling fantasy and romance writer Jennifer Armintrout

Fifty Shades of Sex
Including Dr. Hilda Hutcherson on the fabulous pros and troubling cons of Fifty Shades depiction of sex and romance great Heather Graham on the way Fifty Shades seems to be encouraging women to embrace their own fifty shades of fantasies

Fifty Shades of BDSM
Including Master R of BDSM training chateau La Domaine Esemar, who critiques Christian Grey’s approach as Dominant; many mixed feelings about the increased attention Fifty Shades is bringing to the lifestyle and the misconceptions those readers are bringing with them; and a real-life BDSM couple on how their sex life compares to Ana and Christian’s

Fifty Shades of Writing
Including author (and PhD in English) Catherine Hiller’s claim that, per most measures, Fifty Shades is in fact well-written, at least where it counts– in the effective sex scenes– and erotic romance author Joy Daniels’ about the subtlety with which the those sex scenes show the evolution in Ana’s feelings

Fifty Shades of Fanfiction
Including a piece from the editor who worked with E.L. James to turn the original fanfic into the book we know as Fifty Shades of Grey; and a piece from Anne Jamison, the author of our just-acquired book about fanfiction, Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World

Fifty Shades of Pop Culture
Including thoughts from a book editor who lost Christian Grey at auction and a film professional who consulted on the film bidding, and Fifty Shames of Earl Grey author Andrew Shaffer on E.L. James’ sister in literary scandal Grace Metallious, author of Peyton Place


I don’t think it matters whether you love or hate Fifty Shades–if you have Feelings about the book, and about the conversations that have been going on around it, there’s something here to change the way you look at and think about it, for the better or for worse.*

If you haven’t yet, you can download a free excerpt of the book by entering your email below, or on our Fifty Writers book page (also where you’ll find our buy links). You can take a look at quotes from all fifty essays on the Smart Pop Tumblr, or on the Fifty Writers Facebook.

Finally, you can also check out our just-posted Fifty Shades gift guides, for fans and for haters, which we had a blast putting together. We hope you’ll enjoy it–and Fifty Writers–as much as we did.

*Reviewers, so far, have tended to agree. Publisher’s Weekly (which gave the book a starred review!) said “Love Fifty Shades or hate it, this engaging and eclectic read has a little bit of something for everyone.”

Want to read a free excerpt from the book? Sign up for our mailing list here and we’ll send you the introduction and two full essays!

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