Fifty Shades of ControversyIf you haven’t heard of British author E.L. James’ hot summer read, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its two sequels, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” you may well be living under a literary rock.
By: Morgan Bartlett, Pine Journal
If you haven’t heard of British author E.L. James’ hot summer read, “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its two sequels, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” you may well be living under a literary rock. The scandalous book has rocketed to the tops of best seller lists and has sold millions of copies both in print and on e-readers since its publication in April, and people have not stopped talking about it since.
The plot revolves around college graduate Anastasia Steele and a billionaire she encounters named Christian Grey. Drawn together, they embark on a deeply physical affair and come to explore their own demons, desires and fears. To use a common turn of phrase, the plot really does thicken with each book, culminating in some very unexpected events and a surprising ending.
“Fifty Shades” is not the first book of its kind. Heady romance novels have been around for some time – it’s just that very few, if any, have reached the level of fame and created the buzz this one has.
Because of its suggestive content, some libraries in various states have denied their readers the opportunity to procure the book. However, this is not the case with the Cloquet Public Library. Mary Lukkarila, library director, said, “I don’t know how you can’t not [sic] buy something that’s on the top of the best seller list.”
Jodie Johnson, director of the Carlton Public Library, shares the same views.
“I’m here to provide a service to the community, and if people want to read [“Fifty Shades of Grey”], I’m going to give it to them.”
But what of the libraries who refuse to buy the books? A few libraries in Wisconsin and other states have refused to purchase the trilogy on the grounds that it “does not meet the requirements for our collection materials” or library directors have deemed it lacking in literary quality.
The Cloquet library’s list of criteria for materials under consideration for purchase is quite extensive. Library staff members evaluate suggestions from patrons, each item’s significance, permanence in the literary sphere, and availability (relative to other area libraries) in choosing materials for their shelves – though not necessarily in that order.
Things operate similarly in Carlton, but with their limited budget they depend more heavily on donated materials than the Cloquet library does, and they usually only purchase items on the bestseller list.
In the case of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy in particular, Johnson is hoping someone will donate the books to the library for patron use.
Some have claimed libraries that are too selective in choosing materials are exercising a measure of censorship on their patrons. The Cloquet library has a very clear stance on that: “The selection of library books and other materials is predicated on the library patron’s right to read, listen to, and view what he wishes, as well as his freedom from censorship by others,” according to the Cloquet Public Library’s constitution.
Johnson summed it up succinctly: “It’s not my job to decide what [patrons] read,” she said.
Many people agree with that stance on the basis that no one likes to be told there is a limit to what they can read or borrow from the library. Librarians only seek to ensure that everyone has access to materials they wish to enjoy.
These books have caused a stir in the literary world and this particular genre is growing. Spurred by the surprising success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, audiences might be seeing a lot more novels of this kind riding on the shirt tails of E.L. James’ “hot reads.”
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