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Ryan Gosling, Shailene Woodley, and more A-listers who turned down starring in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ E.L. James’s steamy S&M adaptation.

Perhaps it’s because he’s taken a hiatus from Hollywood, or perhaps it’s because he’s not willing to expose his junk to millions of eager viewers, but in the latest Fifty Shades of Grey casting news, fans discovered that swoon-worthy Ryan Gosling turned down the chance to play S&M enthusiast Christian Grey. According to THR, Gosling simply “was not interested” in portraying the 27-year-old billionaire.

Ryan Gosling and Shailene Woodley

Actor Ryan Gosling and actress Shailene Woodley. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty for MTV; Jason Merritt/Getty )

It’s hard to imagine what Hollywood actor would turn down a chance to star in arguably the most anticipated book-to-film adaptation of recent years. But this isn’t a franchise that deals with teen lust, pale-skinned vampires, or surviving in a gladiatoresque arena. The film adaptation hasn’t sprung from YA fiction, and certainly isn’t SFW.

Fifty Shades follows college student Anastasia Steele as she falls into a (seemingly unhealthy) relationship with a rich, handsome, and older gentleman who has a dark secret: he gets off on feeling pain and inflicting pain on the women he sleeps with.

And in this day and age, perhaps the topic is still too taboo for Hollywood A-listers to agree to attach their name to the project. On The Road’s Garrett Hedlund was pursued heavily by Universal, but in the end decided he couldn’t “connect” with the character. Because the film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, is married to 23-year-old actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, it was speculated that the director might cast her much younger hubby, but Aaron’s publicist said simply, “Aaron is not doing Fifty Shades of Grey.” Armie Hammer, a fan favorite to play the lead, said to Playboy: “No one actually offered me the movie, but while I was working on Lone Ranger my agent brought it up, and I said ‘Nope.’ I mean, come on—it’s just mommy porn. I’m not going to sit on top of the laundry machine in spin cycle reading about putting a ball gag in someone’s mouth. That doesn’t do it for me.”

In terms of casting Ana Steele, the young and naive victim of the “Red Room of Pain,” there were a handful of stars speculated to take the part. The Perks of Being a Wallflowers Emma Watson took to Twitter to deny casting rumors: “Who here actually thinks I would do 50 Shades of Grey as a movie? Like really. For real. In real life,” she wrote. And Fifty Shades author E.L. James loved the idea of Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now) as Ana, but Woodley, who admitted she had no qualms with the nudity or explicit sex that would be tied to the project, was already committed to another book-to-screen adaptation, Divergent.

Ultimately lesser-known actors Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Dakota Johnson (Ben and Kate) were cast in the coveted roles. Fan reactions have been somewhat negative, with a petition on Change.org to recast the film with Alexis Bledel and Matt Bomer as the leads. Producer Dana Brunetti responded to the petition, saying: "There is a lot that goes into casting that isn't just looks. Talent, availability, their desire to do it, chemistry with other actor, etc. So if your favorite wasn't cast, then it is most likely due to something on that list. Keep that in mind while hating and keep perspective."

 

50 Shades of Sex

Charlie Hunnam’s Best Sex Scenes

As the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ star gears up to strip down for his ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ role, here’s a tour through his best on-screen sex scenes. Warning: NSFW!

He’s the person women across the globe have been fantasizing about for two years. Now he finally has a face.

charliehunnam-tease

FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

Charlie Hunnam, the swashbuckling Brit best known for his role on the gritty FX drama Sons of Anarchy, will play the man of your mother’s dirty dreams in the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation. He’s been cast as Christian Grey, wealthy entrepreneur and sexual sensei to young Anastasia Steele, who will be played by Dakota Johnson

This is all to say that we will soon be seeing Charlie Hunnam have sex. Lots of sex. Lots of kinky sex. He will say things like, “Show me how you pleasure yourself … keep still … let’s see if we can make you come like this … you’re so deliciously wet.” We will blush. Also, we will love it.

Typically, when an actor is cast in the film adaption of a hit novel, the book’s fans are stuck with only the whims of their imaginations to picture what he will look like acting out his role. But thanks to Hunnam’s sex-heavy filmography, Fifty Shades enthusiasts get to preview the actor in all his bare-naked glory. From Queer as Folk to Sons of Anarchy, it’s almost as if Hunnam’s been preparing to play Christian Grey his entire career.

What’s in store when Hunnam stars in Fifty Shades of Grey? Here’s a tour through some of his finest sex work. 

(It should go without saying, but these clips are aggressively NSFW.)

Queer as Folk (1999)

Erotic

50 Shades of… Writing Advice?

'50 Shades of Grey' scribe E.L. James to publish ‘Inner Goddess’ Journal, complete with excerpts, writing tips, and playlists to help aspiring writers pen their own erotic stories.

Want to spice up your writing but don’t know how? 50 Shades of Grey writer E.L. James wants to help.

The author will be publishing 50 Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess, a part writing advice book, part journal, on May 1 through Vintage Books. The “bonded leather” journal will offer “readers and aspiring writers a place where they can record their innermost thoughts.” In addition to journaling pages and prompts, the book will also feature an introduction by James, excerpts from her 50 Shades trilogy, inspirational playlists, as well as James’s best writing tips.

2012 Comic Con - EL James

Author E.L. James poses with her book "Fifty Shades of Grey" at a book signing during the first day of Comic-Con convention held at the San Diego Convention Center on Thursday July 12, 2012, in San Diego. (Denis Poroy/Invision/AP)

But does anybody actually want writing advice from the author whose best selling work was originally written as Twilight fan fiction?

Perhaps only if you want to emulate James’s titillating NSFW prose, which includes the passages like: “'Why don’t you like to be touched?’ I whisper, staring up into soft gray eyes. ‘Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia’” and “He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. I suck harder and harder … Hmm … My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.” Scratch that: these are actually more cringe-worthy than arousing.

For better or for worse, the mommy porn trend is here to stay, thanks to 50 Shades of Grey: Inner Goddess. Hopefully, this erotic how-to guide will inspire aspiring authors to compose steamy stories that are actually well-written


SEXY SPOOF

‘50 Shades!’ the Musical?!

Fifty Shades of Grey

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is now a musical! (Will Oliver/AFP/Getty)

Just when it seemed ‘Fifty Shades’ fever had subsided, a sold-out, off-Broadway spoof of the bestselling behemoth heated up the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan this weekend. Lizzie Crocker checks it out.

It’s safe to say that E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey has permeated every niche of our culture, not to mention put women everywhere in touch with their inner goddesses. Perhaps we should have seen it coming, then, that the self-published “mommy porn” trilogy turned global literary sensation would make its way to the stage.

After earning rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in Chicago, 50 Shades! The Musical, a spoof of the erotica novel, played to sold-out audiences in New York and New Jersey this weekend. Created by the Chicago-based improv ensemble Baby Wants Candy, the show centers on a book club of middle-aged housewives giggling over the sweaty saga of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.

The whole thing comes to life in the form of a very sweaty, potbellied Mr. Grey, a hilariously daft Miss Steele, a few scantily clad dancers, and three horny housewives belting out original slapstick show tunes (“There’s a Hole Inside of Me,” “I Don’t Make Love, I F#*!, and nine others) that celebrate the book’s raunchiness while lampooning its main characters.

The audience is treated to a little role play when Christian, moonlighting as the Phantom of the Opera, escorts Anastasia into his underground Red Room of Pain. Thankfully (or perhaps not, for some expectant theatergoers), the play steers clear of nudity and anything too explicit. But there’s still plenty of BDSM simulation and props galore, including white streamers that explode all over the stage in the—ahem—climax of a scene. The dialogue and song lyrics are equally bawdy (when Christian brings up his love of fisting, Anastasia’s inner goddess “almost lost her shit!”) But the best moments of the show are a tad smarter and subtler, like when Anastasia outgrows her Mr. Darcy obsession and embraces her kinky new existence as Christian’s submissive. “This is real life, not a book!” She exclaims. “If it were a book it would be terrible!”

The line wasn’t received with quite as many hysterical shrieks as some of the cheaper laughs, like the site of a portly Christian in a spandex leotard. But the appeal of the show was pure, unadulterated humor—and it had the packed audience at Manhattan’s Gramercy Theater guffawing and sputtering for an entire 90 minutes. Not surprisingly, it seemed to have attracted the same predominantly female demographic that has gotten off on James’s smut. Jen Reichart, 29, read about the musical in the New York Post and decided to make a night of it with her friend, who admitted the book was “the first erotica novel I ever read.”

So for those who thought the world had Fifty Shades fatigue, clearly there are still plenty of bright young minds embracing feather ticklers, gag balls, and fisting jokes. And they haven’t even seen the movie yet.

Required Reading

‘50 Shades of Grey’ Goes to College

Having conquered every bestseller list in sight, E.L. James’s erotic trilogy is now the subject of academic study, writes Rachel Kramer Bussel.

Sex educator and American University adjunct professor Stef Woods didn't see "mommy porn" when she first heard buzz about the E.L. James erotic romance bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey at a doctor's office, where the receptionists, nurse, and doctor were all reading the book. She saw a potential class topic. Having taught college classes on activism and social media and sexuality and social media, Woods found the combination of number of books sold, media hype, and issues related to female sexuality, fan fiction, and social media compelling enough to successfully propose “Contemporary American Culture: The 50 Shades Trilogy,” which she will teach to 25 students starting in January.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Will Oliver/AFP, via Getty

“It never crossed my mind to use another book for a case study,” she wrote on her blog, City Girl. The class already has a waiting list, and is filled mostly with senior honors students (22 or 23 of whom, according to Woods, are female). “No other contemporary text on sexuality has transformed American culture the way that this series has,” Woods told student newspaper The Eagle, where, in the comments, she offered an anonymous student commenter the opportunity to sit in on the class.

In her blog post, Woods outlined several key areas the curriculum will cover, with students answering questions such as “Evaluate the relationship in the book in light of our readings on domestic violence. Are the leads in the trilogy in a healthy or abusive relationship? Why or why not?” and “What was the role of social media in perpetuating the trilogy's success? If you were in charge of marketing the upcoming movies, how would you utilize social media?” Students will be forced to read, write, and analyze critically.

Contrary to a USA Today claim that they’ll be rewriting the first 150 pages, students will instead be asked to rewrite one of the introductory chapters, before Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey consummate their relationship, with an aim to improving it. "That's a useful skill in almost any job. Someone who has just graduated will be tasked with editing and proofreading and reviewing over and over again for their superiors in the office," claimed Woods, who said most of the class's students are enrolled in the school or communications or are studying sexuality.

This is not AU's first foray into teaching about pop culture, and Woods said she has received support from colleagues and no opposition from within the university. "They teach a class on The Wire, they teach a class looking at vampires in history and literature incorporating the Twilight series. American Studies recognizes what's driving American culture and how to study that critically."

This is backed up by other universities’ curricula. Brown University sociology professor Carrie Spearin included Fifty Shades of Grey, along with Foucault’s The History of Sexuality and Mary Roach's science journalism tome Bonk, in her required reading for fall 2012 course “Human Sexuality in a Social Context.” Macalester College’s American Studies department offers “Hunger Games: Map and Mirror for the 21st Century,” while the University of Delaware’s English department features “Fighting the Future From The Hunger Games to The Matrix: The Dystopian Tradition in the 21st Century.” Even reality-TV shows such as The Apprentice and Survivor are fodder for the modern college student. I fondly recall taking classes like “How to Read The New York Times” and one on female detectives while attending the University of California at Berkeley. “I love when people incorporate social media and pop culture,” said Woods, “because that’s how the field is ever evolving. It makes academia more relevant; you want something that resonates with students and inspires them to think in different ways.”

With Fifty Shades being cited as a corollary to real-life news stories related to BDSM, such as one in The Telegraph about an Italian woman suing her husband for physical abuse and stalking, despite signing a “slave” contract, while the husband “argues that she signed the pact entirely of her own volition and that their activities were always consensual,” the book’s themes seem especially relevant.

Bondage & Mommy Porn

50 Ways ‘Fifty Shades” Changed Us

E.L. James’s 2011 erotic novel became a bestselling behemoth and global cultural phenom this year, with the sweaty saga of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, plus bondage, dominance, and S&M, enrapturing readers everywhere. See 50 changes the potboiler wrought.

1. Stimulated the economy … in all the right ways.

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A picture shows copies of the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" on display at a bookshop in central London on July 19, 2012. It's a literary phenomenon: with nearly 40 million copies sold, "Fifty Shades of Grey", an erotic romance spiced up with sadomasochism is well on its way to breaking all the records. (Will Oliver/AFP/Getty)

2. Made reading erotica on the subway acceptable (commuting has never been so titillating).

3. Made “Mommy Porn” an acceptable phrase in the English lexicon.

4. Introduced youths to a brave, new, bondage-loving world.

5. In protest of spanking bottoms, members of a British Domestic Abuse charity used the book to wipe their own bums.

6. Created a cooking class, complete with playroom pretzel ropes and bondage wrapped shrimp. Julia Child would be so proud.

7. Gave White House staffers something to read other than memos on the fiscal cliff.

Inner Goddess

E.L. James On Her Next Book

At an event celebrating the release of a 50 Shades classical music album, author E.L. James spoke about Raymond Tallis, Pachelbel’s Canon, and what’s next for the erotic blockbuster. By Lizzie Crocker.

The profits keep piling up for Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James, who celebrated Monday’s release of 50 Shades of Grey: The Classical Album—“the perfect accompaniment to the Fifty Shades reading experience,” according to the CD pamphlet— with a Q&A at New York’s Soho House last night. Upon arrival, guests were handcuffed (naturally) and ushered upstairs to the club’s Drawing Room, which had been slightly sexed up for the occasion. Masked waiters served wine and hors d’oeuvres under dim lights and a quartet played mood music from the new album in a dark corner. Club members, reporters, Fifty Shades enthusiasts, and Christian Grey wannabes meandered awkwardly around the room with varying agendas until James took the stage.

“I had a huge playlist when I was writing these novels,” James told the host about her inspiration for the album, which includes classical music from the 16th century through the modern period. Pachalbel’s “Canon in D,” “Bailero” from Cantaloube’s Chants D’Auverne, Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Dressing” and Tallis’s “Spem in Alium” are among the highlights. Tallis’s version of the devotional choral work was getting play long before the album was even announced, thanks to the role-playing of its “astral, seraphic voices” in one particularly raucous sex scene between Miss Steele and Mr. Grey.

While James admits the expressive nature of classical music makes it particularly well-suited to erotica, the Black Eyed Peas and Bruce Springsteen top her current sex-writing playlists.

“It’s an erotic tale, that’s all I’m going to tell you,” James said coyly when asked whether her next book will fit the Fifty Shades niche. She’s determined to finish it and work on a few other projects before she considers revisiting Anastasia and Christian in the Red Room of Pain. But Fifty Shades fans are eager for an addition to the series.

Author E. L. James

Author E. L. James speaks at the "Fifty Shades Of Grey" album launch in New York City on Sept. 17, 2012. (Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images)

“Lots of people are clamoring for the fourth book in the trilogy,” she quipped. But James remained tight-lipped on the subject of the forthcoming film adaptation, politely refusing to answer the host’s relentless questions about her casting preferences, not to mention how the book’s x-rated content translate in ratings on the silver screen. “We haven’t discussed that yet,” James said nonchalantly. She remains completely overwhelmed by the meteoric success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, and admits that speaking in front of large crowds at press gatherings and other fancy occasions is still a bit nerve-wracking.

For all the critical hand-wringing over her trilogy, James couldn’t be more thrilled with the success of her books and the fact that they're getting many women who don’t usually read to pick up not one book, but three. “[These books] are really my fantasy. And the wonderful thing about this is that they seem to be other people’s fantasies as well. So I’m not such a pervert after all.”

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Shameless ‘Fifty Shades’ Ripoffs

Whipped

Thanks a Million, Fifty Shades!

Although Barnes & Noble continues to struggle against online giant Amazon, retail sales of the erotic trilogy are bolstering its bottom line. Matthew Zeitlin examines the company’s latest earnings report.

“That wasn’t so bad. I’m more stoic than I thought.” That’s what Ana, the protagonist of the erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, thinks to herself after being spanked by her sadomasochistic lover, Christian. Shareholders of Barnes & Noble may be thinking the same thing after the company reported its results on Tuesday.

Barnes & Noble reported a net loss of $41 million in the first quarter. But the results were an improvement over last year. Total revenues were $1.5 billion, up 2.5 percent from the year before. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (a form of operating profit) were an almost-respectable $24 million, compared with a $4 million loss in the first quarter of 2011.

The demise of one of its main bricks-and-mortar competitors, Border’s, certainly helped. People who prefer to purchase books in person, and in paper, now have fewer places to go. Bookstore sales were up 4.6 percent from the year before, and so-called core comparable bookstore sales, which does not include Nooks or Nook accessories, were up 7.6 percent. The company cited “strong sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey series” as one of the reasons for the sales gain.

In addition to selling books, Barnes & Noble sells electronics (i.e., the Nook e-reader), and electronic content (e-books that can be read on the Nook). Overall, revenues from sales of e-readers, e-reader accessories, and digital content were $192 million, which the company described as “essentially flat as compared to last year.” But sales of digital content—books, magazines, newspapers, and apps—jumped 46 percent in the quarter. Translation: electronic devices are a low-margin business in which prices continually fall while electronic content is a growth area.

Indeed, revenues from the sale of the Nook declined. The company pointed out that its new backlit edition of the Nook, the GlowLight, had “production scaling issues ... resulting in unmet demand.” Which is to say that Barnes & Noble wasn’t ready to produce as many of the e-readers as its customers wanted. Losses in the Nook division increased by $6 million from last year’s quarter for two reasons: Barnes & Noble simultaneously cut the price of Nooks while pouring more money into what it hopes will be a profit center in the future.

Fifty Shades of Grey

In their Barnes & Noble's earnings release, the company attributed the increase in bookstore sales to not just liquidation of their rival Borders in 2011, but also to “strong sales of the Fifty Shades of Grey series.” (Saul Loeb, AFP / Getty Images)

The earnings report contained one other piece of good news for shareholders. To date, e-books and readers have mostly been an American phenomenon. Of course, the vast majority of people around the world interested in reading reside outside our borders. The company announced that sales of the Nook and e-books will commence in Britain in October. In a few months millions of London commuters will be able to read about the Red Room of Pain on a Barnes & Noble device without their Tube-bound companions noticing.

Eros

Sexier Than ‘50 Shades of Grey’

sleeping beauty trilogy

‘Beauty's Punishment’ (Sleeping Beauty Trilogy) by A. N. Roquelaure. 256 p. Plume. $10.88

News of the reissue of Anne Rice’s classic Sleeping Beauty erotica trilogy got us to go searching for more books that will sate your appetite once you’re done with the E.L. James novels.

1. The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy
By Anne Rice

Anne Rice did it before Fifty Shades of Grey, when she published her underground hit Sleeping Beauty trilogy in the 1980s under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure. Some 30 years later, it’s being rereleased with the message: “If you liked 50 Shades of Grey, you’ll love the Sleeping Beauty trilogy.” Rice told the New York Times, “Women have just as much right to pornography as men do, and I’m talking about literary porn, erotica. If a woman wants to read about being overwhelmed by a pirate, that’s her right.” And, boy, is it overwhelming. This is no Disney movie.  Here’s how the Prince (not exactly Charming) wakes Sleeping Beauty up.

Naughty Bit:
He mounted her, parting her legs, giving the white inner flesh of her thighs a soft, deep pinch, and, clasping her right breast in his left hand, he thrust his sex into her.

He was holding her up as he did this, to gather her mouth to him, and as he broke through her innocence, he opened her mouth with his tongue and pinched her breast sharply.

He sucked on her lips, he drew the life out of her into himself, and feeling his seed explode within her, heard her cry out.

And then her blue eyes opened.   

lace

‘Lace’ by Shirley Conran. 752 p. Touchstone. $29.92.

2. Lace
By Shirley Conran

A huge novel that was turned into a Warner Brothers mini-series. Lili went from porno princess to Hollywood star, and now she has mommy-issues: she wants to know which of four women she’s summoned to her New York hotel is her mother, because she’d like to destroy her. Let the over-the-top theatrics begin.

Naughty Bit:

Kate, who never knew whether to swallow, spit or dribble, tasted the oddly pungent, acrid almond odor. “What do men like?” she timidly asked Tom later.

Silence, then he said, “Naturally, I can’t speak for the rest of my sex, but when borne on summits of delights such as I have just experienced, I neither know nor care.”

my secret garden

‘My Secret Garden’ by Nancy Friday. 464 p. Pocket Books. $10.88.

WATCH THIS!

Top ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Parodies

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ will sell 20 million copies this week. Watch the best parodies of the bestseller.

Fifty Shades of Grey: The Musical!

So just who are those near-twenty million people who have kept Fifty Shades of Grey on the New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks and counting? This viral musical parody illuminates the three types of book buyers that have shelled out ten bucks a pop for a peek at the sexual escapades of Anastasia Steele: lusty housewives reading it in earnest, snarky twenty-somethings reading it ironically (or so they claim), and men who sneakily read it on their e-readers while telling everyone they’re reading Jonathan Franzen.

SNL Gives Us the Best Mother’s Day Gift of All

Finally, a book for the mother who wants something a little more adventurous in bed than breakfast. Watch a very special Saturday Night Live Mother’s Day moment, brought to you by your friend E.L. James.

Jimmy Fallon’s Love Songs Will Tie You Up Inside

Readers of Fifty Shades of Grey, have shame no more! Come out from behind your Kindles, and sing your love of Christian Grey from the rooftops. In fact, sing it in the form of these Jimmy Fallon-commissioned karaoke slow-jams, which, with names like ‘Hot Chocolate Brownie Sex’ and ‘I Found the Baby Oil,’ are sure to get you all hot and bothered (or at the very least laughing).

Shelved

Fifty Shades of Joyce

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has been banned in some libraries, but so was James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ By Danielle Sigler.

Eighty years ago, before Fifty Shades of Grey was even a twinkle in E.L. James’s eye, librarians across the country were asked how they might respond to another controversial book if it became available in a reasonably priced edition. The book in question? James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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Undated photo of Sylvia Beach and James Joyce. (Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center)

No one would argue that, from a literary perspective, Fifty Shades of Grey is the next Ulysses. And yet the terms of the debate surrounding the acceptability of James’s novel on library shelves are not that far from those recorded in a series of questionnaires sent to public and university libraries by Random House in preparation for a federal Ulysses obscenity trial. (Random House is also the publisher for Fifty Shades of Grey and is fighting bans in Georgia and Wisconsin.) At issue: whether the book had any literary merit and if a library had any business with such a controversial book on its shelf. Sound familiar? (The American Library Association recently issued a statement encouraging librarians to keep in mind their “core values of intellectual freedom and providing access to information.”)

The Ulysses library questionnaires are preserved at the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center (where I work as a curator), in the archive of famed anti-censorship attorney Morris L. Ernst, who successfully led the defense of Joyce’s novel. Today they provide a fascinating look at public and professional opinion of Ulysses before it was an established classic.

The surveyed librarians weighed in with a wide range of opinions of the novel: a “psychological extravaganza rather than a work of fictional art,” “literary ‘jazz,’ intriguing for sophisticated half-morons,” “well-nigh unreadable in its entirety,” and “decidedly overrated.” Though he had not read Ulysses, Gilbert H. Doane of the University of Nebraska Library questioned its “value as literature” on the basis that he had “never been convinced that Mr. Joyce knows how to write in English.” Louis Shores at Fisk University was among the relatively few librarians who offered an unequivocal statement of Ulysses’s importance to literary history as “an essential text we feel handicapped at not being able to supply.” Edward Bergin, librarian at the University of Detroit, did not complete the survey but wrote in at the bottom, “I, for one, wish to raise a voice in the name of decency to deprecate the marketing of filth,” making his counter-assessment of Ulysses quite clear.

At Ernst’s behest, Random House mailed questionnaires across the country, in major cities and small towns. Ernst even sought to find out how Ulysses might play in Peoria (not well, if the returned survey is any indication). There are some predictable responses from smaller communities, including one from a librarian in Clarksburg, W.V., clearly unfamiliar with Joyce’s work, who explained, “Homer is not much read except by students as ‘required reading.’” Collectively, though, the responses challenge geographical assumptions about the Midwest, the South, small towns, and small-mindedness. Alberta Caille, the librarian at Carnegie Free Public Library in Sioux Falls, S.D., believed that the novel had literary value and was “rather outstanding in its psychological contribution.” Her peers in Omaha, Neb., and Amarillo, Texas, concurred. Ethel McNeely of the North Dakota Agricultural College argued that the “[b]ook deserves unrestricted circulation as a contribution to literature.” Others agreed with Bella Steuernagel of the Belleville (Illinois) Public Library who felt “very emphatically, that [Ulysses] has no place in a public library.”

Many librarians, both public and university, believed that only readers of a certain type could extract the appropriate meaning from it and that most interest in Ulysses was prurient. The librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library turned to its copy of the book to prove her point, it “is practically in tact except the last hundred pages which are very badly worn.” Given this concern about “proper” reading, many librarians advocated restricting circulation. Duke University’s librarian believed that his library “ought to have a copy, but that the copy should be kept on locked shelves and its circulation supervised.” The librarian in Pottsville, Pa., lamented her role as “gate-keeper,” noting “that I get mortally weary of keeping the clever from being rude to the good and I wish that booksellers would continue to be the fellows that have to chaperone Ulysses.” Theodore W. Koch at Northwestern University kept his copy locked in his desk, noting he doubted “whether [the] administration would approve of its being made available.”

Librarians in 1932 were just as aware of their constituencies and boards as those attempting to address the Fifty Shades of Grey controversy today. The librarian at the Riverside Public Library (California), who reported interest from “army officers and men of leisure,” believed that “our book committee would refuse to purchase because of the reputation of the book.” And at the State Teachers College in Warrensburg, Mo., the librarian noted, “We have many old women of both sexes in our town who are always ready to find fault with our books.” In a statement that sounds as if it might have been written yesterday, the chief librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library summarized his plight this way, “You are aware, of course, of the difficulties encountered by public libraries which attempt to stock something out of the ordinary. The readers who are often best able to judge have a habit of saying nothing, while others may be very much more outspoken in condemnation both of the book and of the library.”

The Millions

‘Fifty Shades’ Shakes Up Romance

The publishing house Harlequin enjoys a near monopoly in the romance genre. But will the self-published ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ destroy it once and for all? Chris Berube reports.

To call the Canadian publisher Harlequin a monopoly in the romance genre might be an overstatement, but not by much. It purchased rival Silhouette from Simon and Schuster in 1984, and has been largely uncontested since. Its association with the genre is so strong that in 1999, the company sued an upstart publisher to prevent them from using the word “Romance” in their name. A few years ago it was estimated that more than 75 million Americans had read at least one of their titles. They have sold more than 6 billion books globally, and they produce 110 different paperback titles every month. They are one of the few publishers in the world that enjoy genuine loyalty from readers.

50-shades-grey-romance-pulishers-berube

Rob Kim / Getty Images

Then came E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. In just six weeks, the trilogy of BDSM erotica has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.

While James’s books share DNA with the titillating paperbacks released by Harlequin, she is one of the few successful romance authors not released by the hegemonic publisher. James self-published the Grey books through a small Australian press before revised versions were put out by Vintage in March. 

The success of James’s books presents a challenge for Harlequin. Now, talented amateurs—raised on Harlequin paperbacks—are able to put out their own content without the need of a middleman, whether online or through new services that offer tools and advice for aspirant writers. While more than 1,200 authors have been published under the Harlequin imprint, the company has received submissions from thousands more. If those would-be authors see James as a model for success, one can imagine them spurning the submission process altogether.

Courtney Milan did exactly that. In 2011, after publishing four historical romance books and a novella with Harlequin, she decided not to renew her contract with the company. “I ran the math, and it didn’t really make sense for me to keep working with them,” says Milan. “If you put your stuff online, you get 70 percent of the proceeds, and Harlequin was only offering me 8 percent of the digital price.” (Harlequin has denied the figure of 8 percent, but refused to reveal their number. According to a number of writers, Harlequin has since increased this percentage.) Milan says that with fewer places carrying mass-market paperbacks—Walmart has cut down on its orders, and Borders went out of business—the digital revenue was crucial. Milan is now taking time off from her day job to focus on writing, something that she says wasn’t an option while she was on contract with a publisher.

While this type of situation is common throughout the industry, it is particularly noticeable in romance. “Self-publishing lends itself really well to genre fiction,” says Amanda Hocking, who became the first superstar of the self-publishing movement when her paranormal young adult novels became bestsellers on Amazon. “People read romance books quickly, so it’s appealing to have these books available cheaper. And it gives the writer more opportunities to push the envelope.”

The amount of sexuality in a Harlequin ranges from the chaste Christian fables in their “Love Inspired” line, to the much more explicit “Harlequin Temptation” books, which have more of the shirtless-pool-boy-in-lust plots that have become fodder for parody. But the appeal of Harlequins is more than just vicarious sex. The protagonist of every book Harlequin puts out has to pass an editorial smell test as being “realistic.” “The reader needs to feel like she would have made the same decisions as the character, no matter how far out the scenario is,” says Susan Litman, who edits novels for the publisher. Litman believes it’s that aspect of the novels that has brought readers back to Harlequin for more than six decades.

Handcuffs, sex in a car, and more pornographic passages—Lizzie Crocker speed reads the final installment of the 'Grey' trilogy.

Holy Moses! I’ve read all 1,664 pages from E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and I’m ashamed to admit that a few of the overused words and phrases in the series have crept into my vocabulary. 

Anastasia’s “inner goddess,” Christian’s dirty talk, and “Mrs. Elena Bitch Troll Robinson” return in Fifty Shades Freed, the third and final installment of the series. But Anastasia is now significantly more “dominant,” and Christian is significantly less mysterious.

There are several page-turning side plots and, thankfully, enough “kinky f--kery” to keep readers entertained between long passages of prosaic, recycled dialogue (“I want to make your dreams come true, Anastasia.” “You are my dreams come true, Christian.” “You. Make. Me. So. Happy. I. Love. You.”)

Frankly, all the spanking and whipping and thrusting has left me exhausted, but no less intrigued to see how it plays out on the big screen. Until then, the most-X-rated scenes from book three.

Christian handcuffs Anastasia, warns “I’m going to f--k you till you scream” (and she does—“loudly”).
“Without taking his eyes off me, he gets up from the bed and gathers both sets of handcuffs. He grasps my left leg and snaps one cuff around my ankle. Oh! … ‘Now hug your knees.’ My left hand is tied to my left ankle, my right hand to my right leg. ‘Now, I’m going to f--k you till you scream.’

He groans loudly and thrusts deep, again and again, over and over, and I am lost, trying to absorb the pleasure. I detonate around him, again and again, round and round, screaming loudly as my orgasm rips me apart, scorching through me like a wildfire, consuming everything.” (Pages 30, 36)

Anastasia shaves ... down there! Then Christian touches her up.
“‘Well, what have we here?’ Christian plants a kiss where, until this morning, I had pubic hair ... ’I think you missed a bit,’ he mutters and tugs gently, right underneath ... With a gentleness that surprises me, he runs the razor over my sensitive flesh ... ‘There—that’s more like it ...’ He grins wickedly and slowly eases a finger inside me.” (49, 50, 51)

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E.L. James discusses her book “Fifty Shades of Grey” in April at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. (Aaron Davidson / Getty Images)

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