Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James is next up on our Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Considering that our last novel was categorized as Christian/Domestic Fiction and this one is Erotic Romance, we’re obviously covering a wide variety of genres with this reading challenge.

If you haven’t read Roberta’s Writer’s Review yet, please do.  It seems that we are yet again in agreement about this novel, but I will try to come up with something “novel” to say.

This post does not contain spoilers.


Fifty Shades of Grey* by E. L. James


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Warning:  This is an Erotic Romance, for mature audiences only.

Mass Appeal

 I remember feeling quite skeptical of the hoopla around Fifty Shades of Grey when it was first released.  It seemed like everyone was reading it, which to me was as good a reason as any NOT to read it.  If anything, this reading challenge has reinforced my belief that being on a bestseller list doesn’t necessarily mean a book is worth my time to read, and Fifty Shades of Grey is the perfect example of just such a book.  So why did it become a bestseller?

The authors of The Bestseller Code spend the major portion of Chapter 3 examining Fifty Shades of Grey to decipher exactly why it was a bestseller.  And even more than that, to understand why their computer algorithm placed it so high on its 100 Bestseller book list when so many other books in the erotica romance genre did not make the list.  As Roberta stated in her review:

When they examined the novel in more depth in Chapter 3, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers discovered that this novel is more about relationships than purely about sex.

I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed this novel more if James had downplayed the sex scenes a bit – I found myself skimming through them to get to the meat of the relationship stories. But then Christian wouldn’t have had quite the “bad boy” attraction and Ana wouldn’t have had all those conflicting emotions about Christian, so perhaps they really are an integral part of the novel.

Emotional Experience

The authors of The Bestseller Code also discovered that reader reviews left on the Goodreads website showed a definite trend of referencing the body.  They (the reader reviews) mentioned “shedding tears and overheating,” feeling “the bodily sensations of anticipation and nervousness,” and “ignoring the call to eat and sleep.”  The appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey was physical and emotional stimulation, rather than mental stimulation. This wasn’t a novel to dissect and analyze from a lofty, literary vantage point. This was a “let’s sneak a chocolate bar” guilty pleasure book!

A quote in Chapter 3 by Janice Radway, an American literary and cultural studies scholar, relates the emotional experience she occasionally has when reading:

There are moments for me now when books become something other than mere objects, when they transport me elsewhere, to a trancelike state I find difficult to describe.  On these occasions reading … manages to override my rational, trained approach to books as crafted objects.  When this occurs, the book, the text, and even my reading self dissolve in a peculiar act of transubstantiation whereby “I” become something other than what I have been and inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before.  This tactile, sensuous, profoundly emotional experience of being captured by a book is what those reading memories summoned for me – and experience that for all its ethereality clearly is extraordinarily physical as well.

This must be what occurred with all those enthusiastic readers of Fifty Shades of Grey who so eagerly devoured this novel and the other two books in the Fifty Shades trilogy. It didn’t happen for me – maybe I didn’t feel the need to “inhabit thoughts other than those I have been able to conceive before” in quite the way Christian’s BSDM desires inhabited Ana’s thoughts.

I’d be curious to see the age demographics of the enthusiastic readers compared to those who disliked the novel. I would likely have been a more eager reader of Fifty Shades of Grey in my younger years, say my twenties to forties; a time when reading romance novels and daydreaming of some rich handsome irresistible man swooping down and “rescuing” me from my mundane life was appealing.  Fortunately, those days are long gone, which means I won’t be picking up the remainder of the Fifty Shades trilogy to read any time soon.


Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  2. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective
  3. (We aren’t doing a book beginning this time)

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What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 56. American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld (2008) – Discussion begins July 9, 2018