When I heard earlier this week that “Fifty Shades of Grey” author, E.L. James would be coming to Union Square’s Barnes and Noble on Thursday, I anticipated chaos. What I did not foresee, however, was the most intense event I’d ever write about. I guess that means I’m lucky, but I was overstimulated, and not in the way that James’s freaky characters are. Though I met some memorable folks at the gathering, all of whom were sweet and engaging, I felt like I’d escaped an insane asylum by the time I ducked out of the three-hour affair. Once I finally pushed open the exit doors to head home, I was approached by a random saleswoman in a magenta sundress who asked, “You just met the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ author? You should come to my passion party! Do you know what that is?”
“Isn’t that a sex party?” I asked, totally delirious, and somehow managed to tune out her one-minute spiel and dash away without agreeing to partake in her pricey orgy thing.
I spent a chunk of my college newspaper reporting days covering events and what not, so I’ve seen a lot of unusual things over the years. All of it paled in comparison to the atmosphere of today’s reading, which felt like a Justin Bieber concert for women fifteen years older than his demographic. The screaming, the waiting, the energy, and the idolization were a lot to take in. I thought people stopped obsessing over pop culture productions after age 12, but clearly, I know nothing about the way our society works.These ladies went wild for James and book character Christian Grey, whom many described as perfect and the ideal guy. Yes, a physically abusive control freak is a stand-up fellow as long as he can buy you Chanel bags and new cars.
As I mentioned last night, I’m only halfway through the first book in the trilogy. One of the women I met today was a complete mess over it, as she continuously shushed people for revealing details of novels two and three in my presence.
“Laura hasn’t gotten to that part yet, shut up, ladies!”
It was actually kind of nice. We all created a community in the three hours we were at the bookstore. James got it right when she said “Fifty Shades of Grey” brings women together like nothing else. At one point in the evening, my new friend turned to me and said, “I’m really worried about you, Laura. Very worried. I don’t want anyone to spoil the story for you. And I’m not so sure you’ll be able to handle what’s in store. You have no idea.”
I laughed and assured her that I’d be fine whether someone ruined the books for me or not. She went on about how much she regrets finishing the series, as she longs to have Christian Grey back in her life again: “I miss Christian Grey. I miss him so much. So, so much.” Lots of females had the same reaction at the conclusion of the “Twilight” saga. Why oh why doesn’t Edward Cullen really exist, they lamented. Some even cried over it. Though Edward Cullen and Christian Grey have obvious appeal — attractiveness, wealth (in a security sense), stability, and passion — they’re also domineering, particularly Grey. Not my kind of connection, and I think that’s why I’m struggling to fully embrace and finish the story. Grey makes me want to run for the hills.
It was rather fascinating to speak with women who seem to think that Grey, a sexual deviant who would like Anastasia Steele to be his sex slave, is so well loved among the female population. They think no man could ever measure up to him, but when I surveyed the group of women on whether they’d ever sign a contract to become Grey’s Submissive as he tries convincing Anastasia to do, they all said no. In the end, they seem to know he has more downsides than pluses. But as we learn in the book, everything has shades of gray: You can’t view the Dominant/Submissive relationship dynamic in black and white. It’s not sick and twisted all the time, and it takes two to tango. It’s not my place to stomp on the choices or sexual preferences of two (or more) consenting adults. Would it be for me? Never. But there’s a reason the Anastasia and Grey tale resonates with millions everywhere. We all want that crazy love story and recognize that a person does not always achieve it in “The Notebook” fashion.
Anyway, as much as I enjoyed engaging with everyone and making friends, the event was just too overwhelming, and I was only there for three hours. It was estrogen overload, even for me. Maybe I’m just not old enough to appreciate the book yet, as its targeted at mothers, but the main character is a new college graduate, so we have roughly the same educational experiences. Some have argued that the popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey” stems from the fact that many middle-aged women, James’s key audience, are sexually frustrated. The “SNL” skit implies that as well, albeit in a light-hearted way. I can’t say for certain since I was younger than most of the attendees at the signing, but who knows?
I liked getting a feel for the others around me, particularly the guy who showed up in his female boss’s place. It was especially amusing to watch the women ostracize him anytime he dared utter a negative word about “Fifty Shades of Grey.” My favorite new gal, Mable glared at him and said, “I can’t even look at you.” He said under normal circumstances, he’d love to be in a room packed with hundreds of women, but for obvious reasons, would have rather been elsewhere that evening.
After I told everyone that I wanted to be a bigtime writer and see the kind of success James has received (fat chance!), they suggested I pen a novel similar to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” to which I giggled and admitted the genre wasn’t for me. I’m a non-fiction girl all the time. I’d rather write about what’s real.
“She would never write a book like this,” said one of the women.
I talked to James very briefly, and you’ll learn more about it in my article for work. Here are some photos I took from the event: