Hidden in the text bookcase of my ereader are a modest amount of books, lots have been started, some have even been read, the rest Amazon seem to have put on there without my having any input. Perhaps it’s a 1984 style prescribed reading programme? I’m sure it has nothing to do with the reactive power of one-click purchasing and free ebook editions. One such book had a less than compelling story with a standard ditzy lead, who in the first 150 pages has 3 hair disasters and more inner female dialogues than Anastasia Steele could tap her inner goddess’s foot at – oh, and the odd erotic scene. Reading this on a train to and from Edinburgh last year, I was aware that this book was a little more raunchy than my usual fare – Franzen doesn’t do fluff – but digital doesn’t lend itself to flicking back to the imprint page so I pressed on, steaming up the % bar prescribed in place of page numbers and wondering what I had gotten my hands on! Oh My!
Don’t be mislead, it was nothing stronger than Jilly Cooper’s stable-based bonk busters but falling into the erotic fiction genre is a little unnerving. Reading over my shoulder, I was appalled when it was suggested to me that I was reading ‘a sexy book’. When the book had climaxed and rolled over to reveal the imprint page, of course it was by the US equivalent of Mills and Boon – Harlequin. There was something a little thrilling in the knowledge that there is still the possibility of secrets in my usually mundane day to day, including what I’m holding in the palm of my hand. Is it to be assumed now that everyone reading on an ereader is automatically reading erotica?
Months later, on a fittingly humid and sticky, mid-week evening on the southbank — “So, what would be your hard limits?” was the question I was greeted with as I waved greetings to the group; attempting to sink from standing to sitting in something resembling a demure manner (Inner goddess would be pleased). Had I been quick enough I’m sure I could have tossed out something witty but, as with the rest of us, I was a little stunned that we were actually meeting to discuss so called mummy porn. Who knew there were any taboos left!
There is no surprise in the fact that the book was 50 Shades of Grey and that Book Club had morphed into Smut Club, but it might surprise you to learn that 10 females in their mid 20s were reluctant to talk about ‘it’. It took three weeks and two attempts for us to rearrange our Book Smut Club meet up. Technically there is nothing odd in that; we are modern women with lives to juggle. Thankfully, our book club did not resemble Channel 4s ill conceived multi part drama of the early noughties; it was genuinely about the book. But when 7 out of 10 of us had cried off within hours of Smut Club brunch one Sunday morning, I had to wonder what was going on here. As a sex, we represent approximately 50% of the population and as a generation we are more sexually liberated and informed than any generation prior. More specifically, as a group we cover all 4 corners of the UK. We will wine, dine, gossip and dance together but clearly some line had been crossed.
Have we come over all Carry On? We’ll call HOUSE for Innuendo Bingo, but nothing too direct. I’m inclined to say yes, but look at us – over 10 million physical UK copies of word of mouth success Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed sold, every remotely saucy book being reissued with a cover redesign following the 50 template and a reading public getting excited about erotic fiction. We’re getting something in the pixelated pages of our sexy fiction that we’re not getting anywhere else. Least of all from our book clubs.