Say what you will about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Call it bloated. Call it amateurish. Call it Ishmael. The bottom line--and it's literally a bottom line--is that this series of S&M novels has sold nearly 50 million copies, and in so doing has made the book world safe for smut.
If it weren't for E. L. James, the British TV executive and mother of two, who began writing Fifty Shades as online fan fiction, I doubt that I'd have been invited to participate in a live Internet chat about Beaver Street on Talk Story TV on September 12 or to read from and sign my investigative memoir at the Book House, in Albany, NY, on September 14.
Fifty Shades of Grey and Beaver Street are both entertaining books about sex that contain explicitly pornographic passages. And there are, indeed, a number of S&M scenes in Beaver Street. But the similarities end there. Fifty Shades is fiction. Beaver Street is nonfiction that reads like fiction. Fifty Shades was written to arouse. Beaver Street, though arousing in many parts, was written to inform—to show the history of the late 20th century through a pornographic lens.
Ironically, critics have panned Fifty Shades of Grey and acclaimed Beaver Street across the cultural spectrum, from highbrow to lowbrow—which only goes to show that nobody cares what critics say. Which is to say, if, over the course of my lifetime, I can sell 1/100 of the number of books that James has sold, I’ll be a very happy author.