E.L. James started Fifty Shades of Grey as a piece of fan fiction with a different title, different character names and written using her pen name Snowqueens Icedragon. When complaints came along about the erotic nature of the story, she moved it to her own website, started to use her own name, renamed her characters to Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, and retitled the story. At first, it was a self-published eBook. But the popularity of the book changed all that. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 125 million copies worldwide. It was made into a film. And it has appeared on best seller lists around the world, but especially in the UK and the US, including the New York Times Best Seller List.
At the Alachua County Library, the book has had 728 check outs, the audiobook on tape has had 310 check outs, the playaway got 143 check outs, the downloadable audio got 662 checkouts, and the DVD got 3151 check outs! That's a lifetime of nearly 5000 checkouts for this first title in the 50 Shades Trilogy. The next title Fifty Shades Darker got 169 book checkouts, 148 audiobook on tape check outs, and the DVD got 1317 checkouts. And then the last title in the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, got 382 book check outs, 111 large print book check outs, and 1000 DVD check outs. All told, that brings the grand total to more than 8120 check outs for the Fifty Shades stories.
Despite the popularity of the stories, they have met with criticism. Numerous reviewers have cited the poor quality of the writing. Salman Rushdie has been quoted as saying, "I've never read anything so badly written that got published." Another 2015 article in The Atlantic by Emma Green states that the film will lead to an unhealthy trend among women.
This begs the question, If it's so bad, then why is it so successful? And why was it banned.
Well, the easier question to answer is the banned question. It is full of explicit sexual content between a Dominant and his Submissive. That's why.
Okay, so why has it been so successful? My theory is that while the book isn't up for any National Book Awards because the language does get repetitive and unrealistic, it still reads easily and smoothly. The story is easy to follow. You don't need to re-read any paragraphs in order to figure out what the author is trying to say. The popularity of the book with women my be due to the pure escapism. The activities that E.L. James describes don't make most readers cringe because it's about an attractive couple in love, and they both have jobs and families who love them. So it's a love story with a lot of heavy breathing. And some gadgets.
Luckily for all the satisfied readers, viewers, and buyers of the book, it didn't remain banned.
For something else by E.L., she wrote The Mister in 2019.