In Defense of Literary Junk Food

Long Island is a hotbed for soccer moms who are reading FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. It has definitely benefitted my husband, but more surprisingly, it's the women who are bonding over it. Except for one.

I had my first argument with someone whose friendship has become almost as important as my marriage.  

When we met, it was just happenstance, but upon closer examination, it seems as if there was nothing less than destiny playing its hand.  And though it was just a five minute snippy text fight, it felt like a threat to what we’ve built through a slow and steady courtship into the full blown intimacy that can only be experienced in the friendship between two women. 

We met outside the door of my son’s first preschool, as I wrung my hands in anguish and questioned whether letting him suffer through separation anxiety was good parenting or child abuse.  

She stood next to me, with needles and test strips in hand, in case her son’s blood sugar went too high or low, and he needed her. Neither of us could venture too far during the two and a half hour torture that was preschool.

She was my first experience with play-dates, meeting at a nearby park and divulging facts about ourselves that our husbands had discovered on far behind first dates.  We were both one of three children, with a brother and sister. We shared Italian/Jewish heritage.  

Although the preschool was four towns away, our houses were a block and a half away from each other. And our sons became fast best friends, and our little curly blond haired daughters followed closely behind. 

Weekly play-dates turned to daily phone calls, play-dates at the park turned to drops offs at one of the other’s houses.  We both went back to school and scheduled our classes around each other, signed our girls up for the same ballet class, and quit the PTA with the other’s approval.  

Our talks turned confessional - fears shared, dreams examined, the details of our “first times.” Talk that our husbands had tired of long, long ago and our best friends from childhood already knew. 

You get a heady feeling building a new relationship such as this one. It’s akin to falling in love.  There’s no sex involved, not in this kind of play-group anyway, so the intimacy achieved and arrived at in small increments is pure in a way that few people experience in a sexual relationship. But then we had a fight.

It started with a text.  About Fifty Shades of Grey. 


Long Island, New York is in a big way responsible for the success of the trilogy. You can't take two steps onto a soccer field out here without some mom saddling up to you, whispering from the side of her mouth, "Have you read the books?"

The Facebook PTA group for our elementary school is chock full of pass-the-budget information and fundraisers and cupcake recipes, but if you read the comment threads carefully, you'll see that Fifty has infiltrated there too.  The salutation "Laters, Baby," is the calling card for those who have read it.  

Talk that would usually stay within the PC parameters of 5K runs for Autism Awareness and gossip about the boy scout leader's fight with the cheerleaders, have grown a bit hotter with talk of who we might cast as Christian Grey in the movie and "Did you know that's what those silver balls were for?"

Truth is, it's fun. And it's more than pornography, which is fine for it's own sake. Especially literary porn, where you can effectively get off without the back of the mind guilt that the silicone breasted "actress" is probably a drug addicted child abuse survivor.  In short, I'm okay with it.  Even more than okay.

What bring these books such enormous popularity as to become what the newsreels are calling a "cultural phenomenon" is that its brought out confessional, giggly conversations between women.  Men might bond over sports or beer, but women connect, really connect, when we make revelations to each other.  We dress the perfect part, sweat at the obligatory spin class, highlight our hair in unison to present a perfect front to each other. And then we get close by stripping down those exact manifestations, with confessions about how cheap we got our designer bags, how we cheated on our diets, how we scream at our perfectly coiffed children, drink too much wine, and read pornography. 

The books themselves are a side note, a catalyst to a conversation we've all been dying to have.  Fifty Shades of Grey has served as a lubricant to the separateness between us.  The writing falls below superb.  And though I (almost) have a Master's in Literature, I can appreciate a book that's main objective is fun. The first books I read were the Babysitter's Clubs and Sweet Valley High.  Not literature by any stretch, but a place that an author worked to create, and I enjoyed hanging out in. No, it's not Nabokov.  It's not even Stephanie Meyer. Which is where Lisa and I had our impasse.

Lisa is a huge Twilight fan.  She was insulted, like many others, that the plot and characters of Fifty Shades seemed to be ripped off of Twilight, and rewarded with huge success.  I couldn't argue much there, except to say that that isn't the point. I read the Twilight trilogy too. This isn't really a confession.  I love my junk reading as much as my literature.  

I can talk about dramatic irony and the political implication of works by Shakespeare and the above mentioned Nabokov (my favorite), but I can also let my hair down and talk about Twilight, Fifty Shades, The Hunger Games.  Popular books.  Decidedly not art.  As long as my smut doesn't try to be art (Remember that Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie?  What was that?), then I'm happy to indulge.  We cannot judge these popular books by art standards.  We judge them for what they bring out in us.

And if human connection is the end result, I say bring on the five million dollar advance, E.L. James.  Well done. 

As for me and Lisa, well, snippy text fights are now an addition to our girl talk repetoire now.  Learning to disagree and move forward is just another notch in our belt.  


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