Hot on the heels of the explosive Katie Roiphe Newsweek cover story examining women's sexual fantasies, New York Times bestselling author of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy E.L. James has launched her first official United States book tour, which takes her from Florida to Westchester, with stops in the Boston area, Philadelphia, Washington, DC area, New Jersey, Long Island and New York City along the way. The books have been repeatedly branded as "mommy porn," a term James's literary agent, Valerie Hoskins, told Deadline.com, "has been created for these books, I think." (Film rights have been sold to Universal Pictures and Focus Features.)
Since many of her fans have purchased her books as ebooks, some Barnes & Nobles hosting her, such as Burlington, Massachusetts (May 1), have made special provisions. That store will be assigning wristbands and has posted on the event's page, "In addition to signing books, E.L. James will sign a limited quantity of collectible cards, or your NOOK cover for customers who have purchased the NOOKbook versions of Fifty Shades of Grey or the 'Fifty Shades Trilogy' bundle." Wristbands for her May 7th reading in Carle Place, New York, will be given out at 10 a.m.
According to an Associated Press story, over 500 people attended James's first event on this tour (her second-ever signing), at Miami bookstore Books & Books: "'I read it through lunch breaks and I'm giggling,' said Laura Vargas, 31, an executive assistant at a large insurance company. 'I'm like, "I can't believe she just wrote that."'" AP also quotes Vintage Books publisher Anne Messitte (attributed incorrectly as publisher of Viking Books): "I think at the heart of it, these are wonderful, modern stories that engross the reader... they're page-turners." Vintage signed a seven-figure deal with James after selling over 250,000 of her ebook trilogy, published by Australia's Writer's Coffee Shop Publishing. Messitte explained to the New York Times in March, "We're making a statement that this is bigger than one genre... the people who are reading this are not only people who read romance. It's gone much broader than that." (See Galleycat for more on the trilogy's fan fiction origins.)
What can we expect when James hits New York City on May 10th for a reading at Barnes & Noble Union Square? Sexologist Dr. Logan Levkoff, author of How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex With You, who will be joining James, told me, "I am simultaneously pleased and completely frustrated with how mass media has covered the Fifty Shades phenomenon. I love that we are speaking about how multifaceted female sexuality (and erotica) can be and how erotica as a genre is finally being given some well-deserved mainstream press. That being said, I am horrified with how judgmental we are, how we are quick to label erotica as 'mommy porn' (as if you need to have used your uterus or be raising a child in order to enjoy it and that because it contains sex it is pornography) and how it has begun a unproductive discussion about feminism and violence against women. These are subjects worth discussing, but the connection to Fifty Shades -- or any other type of non-vanilla erotica -- trivializes these issues. Roiphe's Newsweek article contributed to this." (To get more of Levkoff's take, see "Deconstructing Fifty Shades of Grey.")
Divalysscious Moms is also hosting two luncheons, one May 7th at Carlysle on the Green in Long Island, and one on May 11th at Westchester's Willow Ridge Country Club, during which founder Lyss Stern, who hosted a party for James earlier in the year, will interview James. Stern told an interviewer at PageDaily in March:
"The story isn't as shallow as an older man taking advantage of a young, virginal girl, which is what people tend to assume when they hear about it. There is a real loving, caring, supportive relationship at play, and Ana and Christian enjoy amazing sex to boot. Isn't that what every woman wants?"
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She has edited over 40 anthologies, including Best Bondage Erotica 2012, Spanked, Bottoms Up, The Mile High Club, Women in Lust, Irresistible and the Best Sex Writing series. She writes widely about sex, dating and relationships, and blogs at Lusty Lady and Cupcakes Take the Cake.