To women wondering which position to assume while enjoying the pornographic runaway best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey, here’s what I’d recommend: Sit in a thrumming bus or subway car and read E L James’ indefatigable sex story on an e-reader, cradling the instrument with one hand while stroking the touchscreen to turn pages with the other. Odds are, other anonymous readers will surreptitiously be doing the very same thing. And if so, odds are also that each woman is in a state of arousal, amusement, or, at the very least, amazement at the ingenuity and imagination with which the pseudonymous James — described in sketchy press materials as a West London TV executive and mother of two — has made steamy female-centric erotica out of what began as Twilight fan fiction. If Bella Swan had more gumption and sexual curiosity, she might be Anastasia Steele, Fifty Shades’ 21-year-old heroine, who quickly and decisively loses her virginity to an overpowering man but never relinquishes her fondness for the girlish, clod-kicking expression Holy crap! And if Edward Cullen weren’t, well, a vampire, he might be Christian Grey, the fiendishly rich and handsome sexual fetishist who plays Dominant to Ana’s Submissive.
As hardcore (and, per this lady, yowza! pleasurable) lady porn, Fifty Shades of Grey has a long literary tradition behind it, from The Story of O and the erotica of Anne Rice to Toni Bentley’s The Surrender and Catherine Millet’s The Sexual Life of Catherine M. But as a hot publishing phenomenon (Vintage Books has paid seven figures for the rights to a trilogy) that pours female-oriented erotica over a base of Twilight leavings and makes brilliant use of the discreet portability of e-books, Fifty Shades of Grey is in a class by itself. Holy crap! A reader might just miss her bus stop. B+