E.L. James, author of the erotic bestseller "50 Shades of Grey,"… (Kirk McKoy )
An expert panel met this week in New York to discuss E.L. James' "50 Shades of Grey": all literary sex writers, or maybe they should be called sexy literary writers, or perhaps writers of literature and sex. However they're described, they were convened to discuss the novel "50 Shades of Grey" and its impact on American sexual culture. The upshot? They were not impressed.
Although the literary merit of "50 Shades of Grey" was not, ostensibly, in question, it came up again and again. Many of the panelists referred to the novel disparagingly, and with strong language, which The Observer reflects (be warned) in the headline in its writeup of the event.
Held at McNally Jackson, the event featured "Fear of Flying" author Erica Jong; Melissa Febos, author of the dominatrix memoir "Whip Smart"; Ian Kerner, a sex counselor; and Daniel Bergner, author of "The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys Into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing." Another panelist, Roxane Gay, appeared via Skype.
"50 Shades of Grey" is the mega-bestselling series -- it has two sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" -- that tells the story of virginal college student Anastasia and Christian Grey, the billionaire entrepreneur who takes an interest in her. They soon develop a sexual relationship that gets kinky -- there is bondage and submission. Cultural observers have been trying to decide what the titillating book's popularity says about our moment's sexual mores.
"I couldn’t find anything that turned me on, other than the fact that he gives her a rare copy of 'Tess of the D’Urbervilles,'” said Erica Jong, whose 1973 novel "Fear of Flying" became a sensation for its frank treatment of female sexual desire. Jong decried the lack of editing of "50 Shades of Grey," noting, "I don’t believe anyone ever said ‘holy cow’ at the moment of her first orgasm.”
Febos was more forgiving. “I was simultaneously repulsed and turned on,” she said. “I mean, good writing is not necessarily the bedrock of good erotica.”
Gay described the book as "a fun travesty."
Kerner, who admitted to not reading much of the book, finds it to be a positive force. “I do think it functions as an erotic stimulant, and on this level I think it's great,” he said.
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