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Silver Threads: ‘Grey’ matters

Almost 40 years ago, when I was editing The States-Item women’s section, feminist writers such as Bella Abzug and Germaine Greer were touring the country to hype the books “The Feminine Mystique” and “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.” I allowed a reporter to quote one of them using a perfectly respectable and scientific eight-letter word referring to the part of a woman’s body associated with sexual gratification. It was no more risqué than, say, testicles, but the S-I city editor called me in and said that it had no place in a “family” newspaper.

“My wife doesn’t even know that word,” he said. I did not, under the circumstances, beg leave to doubt his chauvinistic certainty.

I got to thinking about that the other day as I noted that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is still at the top of the best-seller lists.

Have I read it? Of course. I’ve a personal and professional history that demands keeping up with the au courant, and wildly popular novels are no exception. In fact, “Grey” prompted a reading of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which I told you two weeks ago I would be taking along on Hurricane Isaac evacuation. That book was published — and subsequently banned in much of the civilized world — in 1928, seven years before I was born, and was still being mentioned while I was a child and teenager. Since we hadn’t studied it in any lit classes, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and how it compares with today’s racy romances.

Well, for starters, D.H. Lawrence was certainly a far, far better writer than E.L. James. And he served up a much more compelling plot, which you got to read a lot of between Lady Chatterley’s encounters with her gamekeeper lover. Short on plot, “Grey” is about guy who has a world-class masculine beauty — a fact that’s belabored to the reader’s boredom in the text — has a damaged past, possesses the wealth of Croesus, the physical stamina of a mule, and up until the time he meets our virginal heroine, has indulged only in kinky sex.

They have sex on every other page — several times on the way from his limo or helicopter or airplane to his apartment, and several more times on the way to the bedroom.

Well, I exaggerate. But you get the gist of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” If any men have read it, they must have either been laughing or dangerous to be around for several days.

This all got me to thinking about pornography in general and soft porn and risqué portrayals of the sex act, which of course are nothing new since ancient times but haven’t to my knowledge in my lifetime enjoyed such widespread comment as the “Grey” trilogy. And comment is widespread indeed, thanks to the internet with — can you imagine it? — more than 14 million search results when you Google the title of the first novel.

I read through enough of them to discover that young readers had the same reaction to its excesses as I did, and furthermore, at least those posting on the web and on Facebook regard it as hilarious.

I was cheered by this development: My juniors aren‘t as easily taken in as I‘ve thought.

But their seniors may be. A two-years younger cousin told me at a family gathering that she had read the first “Grey” book, and heard that at least one book club in her hometown of Dallas is reading it.

How will they discuss it? Only after more than a few glasses of wine, I theorize. But somewhere in Big D a lot of middle-aged and older book lovers are in for a raunchy time.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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