Encounters in a Bookstore #402: So Many Shades

You might have heard of a little book called Fifty Shades of Grey. And, if you’ve heard of that, you’ve maybe also heard of Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. If you are a woman in the United States of America, you might have read the trilogy already. If you are a man, you might also be considering reading these books, if only to understand what’s got the ladies so hot and bothered at the moment. Or maybe to make your lady a little bothered, too.

At the bookstore where I work, Fifty Shades of Grey, or the other two in the trilogy, plays a role in every other transaction that passes through any given cash register. At the information desk, if someone has failed to see the trilogy on one of numerous displays throughout the store, its whereabouts is one of the most popular customer questions. By the time you read this article, we will have sold at least 1500 copies of Grey.

The women who buy this title and the follow-ups come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Some have friends who’ve read it and recommended it. Some just want to be in on the hype. Some think it will change their lives, their marriages, their relationships with their boyfriends. One woman remarked: “I’m a Park Slope housewife. It’s required reading.” Almost every woman requests a bag, upon purchasing it. In their eyes is a mix of excitement and shame.

The men who invest in E L James are becoming larger in number. Nearly all insist they are making the purchase for the women in their lives. Only one man has admitted to wanting to read it himself, with the intent to improve the relationship he’s currently in. “I’m trying to understand women,” he said. “Can’t beat ‘em, might as well try to figure them out.” All the men ask for a bag.

None of the employees of the bookstore where I work have read any of the Shades. Some of us have scanned the first page, or the first couple. None of us will recommend it to you, though some of us will refrain from telling you our thoughts on the quality of the writing. We are trying to figure out who among us would read it for money. And we are trying to figure out how much such a book report would be worth.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.