For those of you who thought the buzz around E.L. James’ Fifty Shades series was slowing down — the books were bought by a new publisher, the first book was optioned for film and most recently we reported on an upcoming parody is in the works — it seems that these books are still making headlines. They are now at the center of a censorship debate. Today, a Florida Today article reported that the Fifty Shades erotica trilogy by has been removed from Florida’s Brevard County Public Libraries system.
The trilogy follows college student Anastasia Steele and 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey as they embark on a relationship. Christian introduces Ana to his BDSM lifestyle, and more famously his “Red Room of Pain,” where the majority of the couple’s BDSM activities take place.
Due to the series’ risqué content, it has been dubbed “mommy porn” by several outlets of mainstream media. However, RT reviewer Nicole King addresses the series kink-factor in her review of book one, Fifty Shades of Grey, saying, “fans of BDSM erotica that are familiar with the subgenre may find James’ tale a bit tame and slow-paced.” In the first book, the couple ventures as far as experimenting with restraints and flogging, which is certainly much less sensational than many of the stories seasoned erotica readers are familiar with.
Hardcore or not, the “mommy porn” label and sexual content was enough to make the Brevard County Public Libraries decide to take their copies of the book off the shelves. Library Services Director Cathy Schweinsberg, speaking on behalf of the library system, explained the decision to pull the books from circulation by saying the series “doesn’t meet our selection criteria.” Schweinsberg continued saying that the removal of these titles from the Florida libraries was not precipitated by public opinion. “Nobody asked us to take it off the shelves. But we bought some copies before we realized what it was. We looked at it, because it’s been called ‘mommy porn’ and ‘soft porn.’ We don’t collect porn.”
This distinction is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the library system carries other works of erotia. A quick glance at their online catalog shows that these include installments of Kate Douglas’ paranormal erotic Wolf Tales series, stand-alone works such as Three by Noelle Mack and anthologies like The Mammoth Book of Erotica edited by Maxim Jakubowski. These works boast an equivalent or higher kink factor than the news-making series that the library system has deemed “porn” and decided not include on their shelves.
Another aspect of this debate is that the library system also has several works of classical erotica in circulation. Copies of The Complete Kama Sutra are available through the Cocoa Beach, Mims/Scottsmoor, Palm Bay and Titusville branches of the same library system that is pulling Fifty Shades. Also up for grabs countywide are Fanny Hill, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Fear of Flying, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita, all of which contain heavy sexual themes.
So what makes the Fifty Shades books different in the eyes of this public library system? “I think because those other books were written years ago and became classics because of the quality of the writing,” Schweinsberg said. “This is not a classic.”
“It’s hard for a book to become a ‘classic,’” points out RT’s Morgan, “if a book is not available for readers. A book earns the label of ‘classic’ after years and years of readers (generations, really) discovering and enjoying it, allowing to the book to retain its cultural relevancy.”
And “classic” or not, at over 3 million copies of the Fifty Shades books selling online and in stores, nobody can deny that incredibly popular series is reaching a diverse audience. It is also undeniable that E.L. James’ books are introducing many readers to a genre they may have otherwise never explored.
What do you think about libraries banning the Fifty Shades trilogy? Should erotica be offered in public libraries? Let us know in the comments below. For more genre news and coverage head over to our Everything Erotica Page!