“My inner goddess:” an expression I hope never to encounter in a novel or anywhere again.

Also, “stop biting your lip.”

Top it off with “double crap” and “jeez.”

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ve somehow missed the word-of-mouth magic that turned the novel 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels into a major success. And I mean major.

It seems like everyone has read 50 Shades of Grey and its sequels, or is about to read it. Others, out of a general anti-pop culture sentiment, refuse to read it. Those are the same people who skipped the Harry Potter books, Hunger Games, The Help, and Twilight. Having somehow managed not to read Twilight, see the movies, or watch a single episode of The Real Housewives of any city, I suppose I reside in both camps. (I’m Hunger Games obsessed, a Harry Potter fanatic, and I loved The Help.)

But back to 50 Shades. I read the first book in the trilogy for the same reason as any other woman–word of mouth and the allure of something racy. I heard about it in early February from my best friend, who lives in New York City and likes to keep my quaint Minnesotan leanings up to speed. She insisted we read the book after all of her Upper East Side friends were telling her to get going already. She didn’t want to be left out of the conversation. And neither did I.

E.L. James forces the reader through several laborious chapters before arriving at the steamy scenes. By the time you’ve reached the section of the book everybody’s whispering about in corners of the preschool, you’ve already made a hefty investment in Ana and Christian’s unusual relationship. So despite James’s grating use of last names throughout the entire story, her overuse of Ana’s self talk (like the aforementioned “double crap”), and the formal dialogue and stiff prose (no pun intended), I soldiered on to the end of the first book.

I started the second book because the first practically ends mid-sentence. But one “inner goddess” mention too many made me stop around the 20% mark of the sequel. Even the sex scenes felt overly gratuitous by that point. I mean come on, she’s screaming and out of her mind every single time? Listen, I get why people like the books. What baffles me is why so many people like them. 

I honestly can’t stop thinking about the story’s massive popularity. Is this craze the result of some sort of mob mentality? Is it that nobody wants to be the lone voice in a group of friends saying, “What’s the big deal?” Are we witnessing old-school peer pressure like when I pretended to like Rusted Root my freshman year of college and somehow knew the words to numerous Phish songs?

I guess I’m coming out as a stick in the mud maximus. There are other reasons the writing annoyed me, but this post isn’t about tearing down the book in intense detail or delving into the Twilight rip-off problem–two issues you can find easily enough in a Google search. But on a related note: If erotic fan-fiction of popular books is going to become a mainstream publishing “thing” now, I’d like to see Harry Potter and Hermoine Granger get together. Or what about Harry Potter and Katniss from Hunger Games in the ultimate dirty mash up? Ginny Weasley and Peeta? Just saying.

Have you read the 50 Shades books? What did you think? If not, does the hype make you want to read it? 

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Nina is a columnist at The HerStories Project and a contributing writer at Kveller.com and Greatnewbooks.org. Her essays have appeared regularly at Brain, Child Magazine, The Huffington Post, The Jewish Daily Forward and have been syndicated in Jewish newspapers across the country. Her short stories have appeared in over a dozen literary magazines, and she loved participating in the 2013 cast of Listen to Your Mother. Nina is a co-founder of The Twin Cities Writing Studio. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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