I’m Marissa Day, and I write erotic romance. Given what I write, it’s probably no surprise that I took it personally when I heard a number of groups either had burned or were planning to burn copies of 50 SHADES OF GRAY.
Let’s start by being absolutely clear about one thing. 50 SHADES OF GRAY, by E.L. James is a trashy book. It’s a trashy book that goes on at great length about sexual acts that have been around since, well, forever, but that it is still not considered polite to talk about. It was written by a woman and aimed at a female audience, which automatically ramps up its PTI (Perceived Trashiness Index). It’s also a runaway bestseller. This has caused the wider media landscape to gasp in collective surprise at the unexpected and wholly unpredicted revelation that women, even middle-aged women, even, even…Moms, are interested in depictions of orgasms of unusual size.
As with many popular books that shock the media landscape, somebody felt that they had to go demonstrate their righteousness — and incidentally make a blatant attempt to grab a few extra minutes of fame — by burning the thing.
I’m really torn about the persistence of book burning as a phenomenon in the USA. On the one hand, most authors I know joke about it. They might even wish to have their books burned, or banned, or denounced from the pulpit. It is a, you should excuse the expression, sure-fire way to call attention to the book, which ramps up sales. On the other hand, the attempt by any would-be moral elite to control access to ideas, even profoundly icky ideas like women expressing their sexuality in a socially unapproved fashion, is profoundly dangerous. Because it never happens once. Sure, it starts with banning depictions of women enjoying recreational sex, but after that it spreads to banning depictions of homosexuality as a normal variant on human behavior (an ongoing effort) or to depictions of racial tension written where kids can see them, (as in the Arizona public schools), or positive depictions of other religions, or political systems.
The reasons cited for the absolute necessity of controlling even frivolous ideas never change. We’ve all heard them. Gotta protect the children, of course. Gotta keep society pure and moral. Gotta keep our daughters virginal. Gotta practice that old time religion and prevent the fall of civilization. And on, and on, and on.
There is, of course, a difference between passing censorship ordinances and burning books. In this time and this country, burning books stops nothing. It does, however, provide a handy framework for a public expression of outrage at a set of ideas. It ramps up the fervor and reinforces group unity among the participants, which in turn gives them the energy to go out and get actual ordinances past or books removed from libraries. It helps make the notion that banning ideas is normal, even laudable. Even necessary, for all the reasons cited above.
Book burning is also a form of speech. The answer to bad speech, of course, is not silence. The answer is more speech. In that spirit, I’d like to answer attempts to repress 50 Shades by recommending some other authors readers of romance and erotica might enjoy. I’m creating this list by author rather than title, because most of these writers have a fairly large body of work across a range of intensities, so I’ll leave it up to the reader to search or browse for something that suits. All of these authors come out pretty high on the PTI. Most are women, and all their books are aimed at a female audience. All are explicit, but most of them have pretty tame covers.
If you read a title or author, and like what you read, please post about it somewhere. If you have a high PTI book you’d recommend, please, comment here. The more copies of these books we get into circulation, the wider we spread the conversation. The wider we spread the conversation, the harder it will be for the over-eager firebugs to attempt to enforce their personal prohibitions on the rest of us.
Maya Banks. Banks handles both her sex and the characters in an engaging manner, and uses the erotic moments as insight into the people and the relationships.
Opal Carew. I enjoy Carew. She actually was the first erotica author I read, and remains one of my favorite high PTI writers. Her characters are engaging, the situations are upbeat. Sometimes the positive psych talk around the sex gets to be a bit heavy, but in general, I find her work a lot of fun.
Lora Leigh. Leigh is terrific not only at the sex, but at the suspense. Her plots are high action, and high intensity on a whole lot of levels.
Jennifer Stevenson. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention BVC’s own Jennifer Stevenson here. She’s lower on the PTI than most of the other authors listed, but her books are fun, sexy entertainment and good reads.
Leda Swann. Swann is actually a husband-wife writing team. They write historicals, and along with the good realationships, and intense sex, the history in these is well researched and well executed.