The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

It’s time, I think, for me to write about “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

Silly woman, you’re thinking, that book was a summer phenomenon. She is coming way late to this party. It’s clear she was starved for an idea this week and just blindly grabbed for what she decided would be the most naturally contentious material, so she wouldn’t have to produce any actual intelligent thoughts about it.

To which I would say: Well, yes, that’s probably definitely correct.

And by the way, you’re now asking, has she fulfilled the most basic requirement for purporting to be an expert on this topic? Has she even read this book that she plans to write an entire column about?

To which I would say: No, but I did read a hilarious .GIF-filled review of it on Goodreads.

Whatever, you’re saying, this woman is full of bull excrement, this paper is the worst, I’m going to throw it in a puddle and go anger-tweet about the death of journalism. And that is your right.

But if you haven’t done that yet, hear me out for a second: I work in a bookstore, and E.L. James’ erotic trilogy is still easily what we sell the most copies of. We also do pretty well with Sylvia Day’s “Bared to You,” a thinly veiled Jamesian copycat whose cover — in lieu of handcuffs — sports some sexually charged cuff links.

It’s delightful to watch the people who come into the store and reckon with these books, which occupy prime real estate on a display table. Occasionally a curious customer will ask my opinion of them, in which case I will produce my practiced response of, “Oh, I myself haven’t read them yet, but, you know, everyone seems to really dig them, ha ha, no idea why (conspiratorial eyebrow raise).”

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just middle-aged straight women for whom these books seem to have magnetic properties.

Children are always inexplicably drawn to them, causing their parents to loudly laugh them off as “grown-up books” and shepherd their offspring back to the kids’ section, still technically smiling but looking deeply disturbed. There was also the septuagenarian man who came in, thumbed through a copy, and simply said, in a moment of clarity, “Ah. Eroticism.”

I’ll leave it to Tumblr to discuss the cultural implications of bestselling BDSM, James’s portrayal of women and the fact that the origin of this whole business was a piece of “Twilight” fanfiction (perhaps the most logical literary bloodline of the century).

But in an election year, when argument seems to be the primary mode of conversation and we’re perpetually working to classify and discern ourselves from one another, it’s sort of comforting to witness something that — like shiny objects for mongooses — generally all people find fascinating.

Has E.L. James unlocked the heart of humanity? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say so. But before we elect her president, let’s make sure she’s unlocked those handcuffs first.

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