I read the first book and the second before giving up in disgust, and yet, I really can't begrudge the Fifty Shades series its success and its publicity. I'm tired of listening to people harsh on it. It has done some good, after all, and I'm willing to accentuate the positive (take that, middle school guidance counselor!). It's done at least three things that are good enough to offset just how bad the series itself is.
#1. Women are Discovering Erotica
The multitudes of females who picked up Twilight were unlikely to stop being interested in paranormal romance after they had finished Breaking Dawn. If you loved Edward and Bella, how much more would you love Kate and Curran or Anita and Jean-Claude (and Richard and Nathaniel and Micah and...) or Rose and Dimitri? By the same token, are we seriously unhappy that legions of women are picking up a book about the sexytimes and loving it? No matter how terrible Fifty Shades is, it's just a gateway drug. I love being able to say to women, "Well, if you liked Fifty Shades of Grey, you are going to LOVE The Siren by Tiffany Reisz!" And it's true - The Siren is totally hot and it's beautifully written. If EL James's success gets Tiffany Reisz even a few readers, then I call that a win. There are a zillion amazing erotica books out there. I see no reason why they shouldn't all get a boost from women discovering the genre.
#2. Non-Vanilla Sex is Getting Mainstream Attention
#3. Women are Reading
There's no such thing as a bad book - I mean, unless it's The Necronomicon or something - and anything that encourages women to read is great. Whether they're picking up Fifty Shades of Grey or War and Peace or anything in between, these women are opening themselves up to different perspectives, they're using their imaginations, and they're acknowledging the value of other experiences by spending their time reading about them. This is no small thing. In an age where our entertainment is becoming more and more mindless and a Kardashian is more recognizable than Stephen Hawking, anything that gets people engaging their brains by reading the words on the page is a victory. Even if that interest in reading has humble beginnings, it can flower into a full-fledged passion. If a little poorly written heavy-breathing seduces us some new readers, I'll give it a pass.
Instead of bitching endlessly about what Fifty Shades does wrong, let's use it as a stepping stone to what its readers could be doing right. If you're tempted to kvetch about how it sucks when someone brings it up, don't. Instead say, "Well, if you thought that was great, you should check out <insert erotica author here>." Or you can try, "Have you read any other similar books? There's a lot out there, you know!" You could even guide them toward genre materials with a well-timed, "Have you read any Anya Bast? Jeweled is kind of like Fifty Shades but there's magic!" You and I know that Bast's work bears no resemblance to EL James's other than that they're both erotica, but if Fifty Shades is a person's only frame of reference and they loved the book, a little white lie to nudge them to the proper side of the Force is acceptable.
In short, I am asking you to use your powers for good. Fifty Shades is not great erotica but a lot of people don't know better. If you do, then it's incumbent upon you to educate, not just to hate.