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Beyond "Fifty Shades"

If all the buzz about E.L. James' Fifty Shades series has made you curious to read it, there are three things you should know first.  One: yes, our library owns the whole trilogy (regular print only!).  Two: it's very popular, which means the reserve list is pretty long.  (Not as long as for James Patterson's latest, but you'll probably be waiting awhile.)  Three: it's got a lot of sex in it that many people would describe as "kinky."  (Don't laugh-- a surprising number of people have requested the first book without knowing anything about it beyond its popularity.)  This month I'm going to talk a little about the subgenre this series belongs to, and offer some suggestions for what to read while you're waiting for the next book (or, if you've already enjoyed the whole trilogy, what else you might like).  This means I'll be talking about books with similar content-- consider yourself warned, if this isn't your cup of tea.

Still with me?  Great.  So yes, the Fifty Shades series is enormously popular right now, and it's got the publishing world sort of scratching its head.  How did a book about... THAT... become so popular?  Women (and men) are saying it's revitalized their marriages.  Some mainstream critics (many of whom didn't read it before passing judgement) are making disparaging comments about "mommy porn." (Clearly, whoever came up with that term didn't give much thought to the mechanics of becoming a mommy.)  A few conservative elements seek to ban it.  There's talk of a movie deal.  So, what's all the buzz about? 

Remember that "spectrum of sensuality" I blogged about a couple years ago ("Burning Books")?  The books we're talking about fall at the spiciest end of that spectrum (the ghost pepper of the romance world, if you will), the category (or categories) known as romantica/erotica.  Some people will lump these together as one genre; not everyone makes a distinction between the two.  To those that do, the difference is in how the main characters relate to one another.  Erotica can be highly sensual without containing any romance (or even a relationship, beyond single encounters) at all.  Romantica, on the other hand, no matter how steamy, will always have a romantic relationship at its core.  And, as most romance does, romantica will often have a committed-relationship ending, a "happily ever after."  (The Fifty Shades trilogy would qualify as romantica.)

Erotic literature's been around for a long time (Ovid, anyone?), and the controversy surrounding it is nothing new, either.  Madonna's Sex, A. N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)'s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, the works of Anais Nin, Erica Jong, Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence... choose your decade, and I'm sure I can find an erotic novel that got people hot and bothered in ways it didn't intend.  Today, the subgenre claims a modest (in size, anyway) chunk of romance readership-- about 15% of the romance market last year; that number jumps to 32% in ebooks, where others can't judge the book (and by extension, the reader) by its cover.*  If these numbers seem trivial to you, bear in mind that the romance genre commanded 13.4% of the entire consumer book market (fiction and non-fiction) in 2010-- that's a bigger share than mystery/suspense, speculative fiction, or even literary fiction could claim-- and generated over $1.3 BILLION in sales that year.*  (I will also not-so-modestly point out that Romance is one of the hottest collections in the library, circulation-wise.)

While the scorching content of Fifty Shades was the newsmaker and likely the initial draw for many, I suspect another aspect of the series is what kept bringing readers back for more.  It's a little word-- just four letters-- and it's one of the most sexy and daring things Ana learns to do with Grey.  That's right: TALK.  They don't just have hot, adventurous sex, they talk about it.  In detail.  Without shame (at least on Grey's part).  Their desires and fantasies, what they like, what they don't like, where their boundaries are and where they're willing to push them.  (Of course, the talking leads to the having-- that's sort of the point.)  As any therapist or long-time romance reader could tell you, it's good to speak your mind in bed (and not just when your beloved steals all the blankets).  Open and candid sharing with your partner can lead to trying new things, and can create a more fulfilling (or, as some Fifty Shades readers have put it, "revitalized") relationship.

The good news for readers who enjoyed (or are looking forward to) Fifty Shades is that stories like it are thick on the ground in romance.  If what you liked most was the plot (hush, there IS a plot)-- the innocent heroine's sexual awakening and the sexy-and-powerful-but-emotionally-damaged hero's romantic redemption-- you don't even need to look for erotic titles to satisfy that urge (unless you want to, of course!).  The wounded bad boy is all over romantic fiction; "racy Regency" readers will happily chime in on all the books that fit the "reformed rakes make the best husbands" trope. 

If you were intrigued by the edgier aspects of the relationship-- what's known as BDSM (for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism)-- then the romantica/erotica subgenre is definitely what you're looking for.  If you'd like another dominating hero (or heroine) to master your heart, try Lora Leigh, Maya Banks, or Shayla Black.  If the bondage play got you in a twist, you should look for Sylvia Day's forthcoming Bared to You, the works of Joey W. Hill, Beth Kery, and Lorelei James.  Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series (which you'll find in our Speculative Fiction collection) will likely be of interest to you, too.  If you'd just like another incredibly steamy read, feel free to have your way with anything in the list below.

Oh, one last thing: the field of romantica/erotica is quite eclectic, and the titles I've listed here cover a pretty broad swath of sensuality.  Depending on your personal tastes and experiences, some titles may seem tame to you, while others may be a little more adventuresome than you're comfortable with.   That's okay-- if we all liked the same books, my job wouldn't be any fun.  I'd recommend looking for a bit of content description (our catalog offers reviews and descriptions for most titles, as do Goodreads and LibraryThing) before you choose.  And if you're still feeling shy about checking out one of these erotic reads, please know that you're definitely not alone in liking them.  About a quarter of the authors listed below consistently show up in New City's "Top 50 of Romance"-- the best-circulating authors of our ever-popular romance collection.

So, while you're waiting for Fifty Shades... check out a few of these!

Turn It On by Vivian Arend (PbkRomance Arend) (COMING SOON)
Sweet Persuasion by Maya Banks (PbkRomance Banks)
Mine to Hold by Shayla Black (PbkRomance Black) (COMING SOON)
The Best American Erotica by Susie Bright, ed. (Short Stories Best)
Changing the Game by Jaci Burton (PbkRomance Burton)
Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey (Fantasy Carey)
Insatiable by Lauren Dane (PbkRomance Dane)
Bared to You by Sylvia Day (PbkRomance Day) (COMING SOON)
Satisfaction by Thea Devine (Fiction Devine)
Real Men Last All Night by Lori Foster, et al. (PbkRomance Real)
His, Unexpectedly by Susan Fox (PbkRomance Fox)
A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton (Fantasy Hamilton)
Damage by Josephine Hart (Fiction Hart)
In the Company of Witches by Joey W. Hill (PbkRomance Hill)
All U Can Eat by Emma Holly (PbkRomance Holly)
Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Ione (PbkRomance Ione)
Wrangled and Tangled by Lorelei James (PbkRomance James) (COMING SOON)
Hot Spot by Susan Johnson (Fiction Johnson)
Perfect Kisses by Susan Johnson, et al. (PbkRomance Perfect)
No Limits by Alison Kent (PbkRomance Kent)
Wicked Burn by Beth Kery (PbkRomance Kery)
Forbidden Pleasure by Lora Leigh (PbkRomance Leigh)
Tanner's Scheme by Lora Leigh (PbkRomance Leigh)
Wild by Noelle Mack (PbkRomance Mack)
Hot Night by Shannon McKenna (PbkRomance McKenna)
Ready by Lucy Monroe (Fiction Monroe)
Delta of Venus by Anais Nin (Short Stories Nin)
Engaged in Sin by Sharon Page (PbkRomance Page)
Simply Forbidden by Kate Pearce (PbkRomance Pearce)
Exit to Eden by Anne Rice (writing as Anne Rampling) (Fiction Rice)
Dangerous Secrets by Lisa Marie Rice (Fiction Rice)
Bad Boys Southern Style by JoAnn Ross, et al. (PbkRomance Bad)
Sheer Pleasure by Maggie Shayne (PbkRomance Shayne)
Private Places by Robin Schone, Claudia Dain, et al. (PbkRomance Private)
Scandalous Lovers by Robin Schone (PbkRomance Schone)
Dangerous Pleasures by Bertrice Small (PbkRomance Small)
Fascinated by Bertrice Small, et al. (Fiction Fascinated)
The Seduction of Phaeton Black by Jillian Stone (Fantasy Stone)
Lover Unleashed by J. R. Ward (Horror Ward)
An Indecent Proposition by Emma Wildes (PbkRomance Wildes)
Steamlust by Kristina Wright, ed. (PbkRomance Steamlust)


There's far more out there than we carry on our shelves (or is even available in print format-- a lot of romantica/erotica titles are ebook-only).  If you're looking to explore the subgenre further, you might also try these great lists:

Kirkus Reviews: Fan of 'Fifty Shades?' Get Ready for More Erotica... (by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books)
Dear Author: If You Like... Fifty Shades of Grey
Goodreads: Popular Romantica-Erotica Books
Goodreads: Popular Erotica-Romantica Books

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Thanks Karen!

Very helpful blog -- I ordered 4 of the upcoming books for the Orangeburg Library!