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People like reading about sex. The earliest stories put down on papyrus had their naughty bits. We still read works by Sappho and other writers from thousands of years ago. Every generation has a scandalous book they can call their own.

What modern media, including the New York Times, has figured is that people especially like reading about people reading about sex.

So this morning they write about the newest bodice ripper to cause a bit of a stir, Fifty Shades Of Grey. Within hours of this story’s publication, the small library my girlfriend works at was overflowing with grandmothers, soccer moms, and sketchy old guys trying to find a copy. This book, which neither had been on a slow burn, had over 200 holds throughout the county system by mid day.

This is pretty run of the mill stuff. Middle America has always loved a bit of titillation. In fact, I think they buried the lede with this paragraph.

“I think it can only get bigger in terms of its success,” Ms. Hoskins said. “One of the things about this is that in the 21st century, women have the ability to read this kind of material without anybody knowing what they’re reading, because they can read them on their iPads and Kindles.”

Books have always been props as much as they were means of entertainment or enlightenment. Many people’s book buying habits had been at least partially formed by being wary of spending too much time in certain sections of the book store. You might want to avoid the looks you would get by reading The Story Of O on the subway. In a society where women are taught that they shouldn’t have a sexuality, especially once they settle down, I imagine it takes a sort of courage to walk up to a checkout counter with a book known primarily for being soft core pornography.

But the world full of e-books changes this. The sordid tome of the week is only a click away. You can read it in the cafeteria next to your schoolmates or coworkers and no one will be the wiser. For some folks, it probably ruins the thrill, but for others it might be freeing. It’ll be interesting to see how anonymous reading changes the best seller lists over the next couple years.

Categories: Pop Culture
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