By Ilona Wallace
Your grandmother is reading porn. And she probably bought it from me. It’s all the rage these days, didn’t you know? Crack open some softcore while waiting for the G10, thumb through a paddling scene, leaf past a headjob and maybe skim over a bit of cheeky feather play, you tease.
You could be sneaky – order online, read on a Kindle, illegally download erotic reading packages from The Pirate Bay – but some traditionalists need the silky feel of a page in their hand to get in the mood.
Last year, I finished working at a bookstore in the height of the paranormal fiction boom (cheers, Twilight). Now, in a new year, in a new bookstore, a new fad is making its inky mark on the world: erotica.
Not the steamy bodice-rippers of yore – when Lady Jane succumbed to her overwhelming desire for the young stablehand, Gunther – but whip-n-chain spectaculars with the added spice of accidental pregnancy.
The sexy novel is hardly new. Mills & Boon have been regurgitating one per fortnight since 1908. All the godlike guys and sassy seductresses you can shake a stick at, embraced in a sweaty knot of writhing limbs.
Erotic literature has been around since the actual Greek Gods were the worshipful flavour of the month, and even Shakespeare had a crack.
But EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is a phenomenon unlike the others. One fanfiction (cheers, Twilight) was all it took.
Take that one exploration into creative licensing, chop it into three volumes, edit it lightly – so as not to damage the charm of the original, of course – et voilà. Pop culture at your leather-gloved fingertips.
At its peak, Fiddy was bringing James £1 million a week, and gossip about movie deals was coffee table chatter around the world. Since then, novels detailing semiabusive sexual relationships have just been coming, one after another.
A real life account of sexual masochism can be found in Sophie Morgan’s Diary of a Submissive: A Modern True Tale of Sexual Awakening.
Like James, Marina Anderson provides a Haven of Obedience in three desirable volumes.
Anaïs Nin’s classic sensual literature has been reprinted and Nikki Gemmell, semi-anonymous author of the semiautobiographical The Bride Stripped Bare, has published a sequel.
For every Irvine Welsh sold, two dozen Fiddies galloped off the shelves. Only two poetry anthologies have passed under my scanner (to the same customer) while I’ve worked at the store, compared to the hundreds of crinkled blue books that didn’t even have enough time to dry before the printer rushed them to market.
Even though droves of customers waltzed into our store claiming “not to know” what Fiddy was about, many more came back giddy, panting for the next naughty volume.
And they aren’t being bought up by perverts in gimp masks (to each their own). A friend told me her mother is keen to lend her a copy, “just as soon as your father and I are finished with it.”
Oversharing parents are joined by an army of grannies, school girls, studious boyfriends and dutiful husbands, all clamouring to get a copy of the Little Blue Book.
Women are embracing their kinks and exploring other peoples’ with a freedom of sexy expression that has been on decline since Madonna’s fitness regime turned her from a lithe sexbomb into Terminator 5.
So Fiddy normalised sexual exploration, reinvigorated an understated genre of literature and sold a metric fuckton of books.
But, in the immortal words of Shannon Noll*, what about me?
We, who work in the noble and selfobsessive trade of bookselling, have been demoted to glorified purveyors of pornography.
We recommend where readers should go after dipping their toe in the scalding pool of sexlit. We guide them through the shallows and release them into the deep black water of explicit desires.
Really, all it means for us is that The People have taken back The Book. And the book the people want is SEX. Not artful representations of the act, nor metaphoric floral descriptions, but the sticky slam of a pelvis on pelvis in 300 pages or less.
All it means for us is that word-hogging wankers will have to find a second-hand corner to cry in.
Poplit is the (sexy, sexy) king.
*who plagiarised said immortal words from Moving Pictures