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US women electrified by erotic novel

March 10: Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic novel by an obscure author that has been described as “Mommy porn” and “Twilight” for grown-ups, has electrified women across the country, who have spread the word like gospel on Facebook pages, at school functions and in spin classes.

Or as the handwritten tag on a paperback copy in a Montclair, New Jersey, bookstore helpfully noted: “Yes, this is THE book everyone is talking about.”

The problem has been finding it. The first book of a trilogy, it was published by a tiny independent press in Australia, and distribution in print has been limited and sluggish, leaving bookstores deprived of copies.

The lion’s share of total sales (more than 250,000 copies for all three books) has come from ever-discreet e-book downloads, which have propelled Fifty Shades of Grey to No. 1 on the New York Times e-book fiction bestseller list for sales in the week ending March 3.

Now American publishers have just concluded a battle over the rights to re-release the book in the blockbuster fashion they think it deserves. This week, Vintage Books, part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, known for its highbrow literary credentials, won a bidding war for the rights to all three books, paying a seven-figure sum.

On Monday, the publisher will release new e-book editions of the trilogy. Weeks later will come a 750,000-copy print run of redesigned paperback editions.

“We’re making a statement that this is bigger than one genre,” said Anne Messitte, the publisher of Vintage Anchor, who discovered the book when a colleague at Random House slipped her a copy. “The people who are reading this are not only people who read romance. It’s gone much broader than that.”

Fifty Shades of Grey and the two other titles in the series were written by a British author named E.L. James, a former television executive who began the trilogy by posting fan fiction online. The books, which were released last year, centre on the lives (and affection for whips, chains and handcuffs) of Christian Grey, a rich, handsome tycoon, and Anastasia Steele, an innocent college student, who enter into a dominant-submissive relationship.

Publishing executives said the word-of-mouth excitement accompanying Fifty Shades of Grey was reminiscent of that accompanying novels like The Da Vinci Code, The Kite Runner and Eat, Pray, Love.

Except this book has been credited with something else: introducing women who usually read run-of-the-mill literary or commercial fiction to graphic, heavy-breathing erotica. And in the cities and suburbs of New York, Denver and Minneapolis, the women who have devoured the books say they are feeling the happy effects at home.

“It’s relighting a fire under a lot of marriages,” said Lyss Stern, the founder of DivaMoms.com and one of the early fans of the series. “I think it makes you feel sexy again, reading the books.”

One Long Island woman, who insisted on anonymity so that she would not embarrass her employer, said the book had gained an obsessive following among her friends, the first erotic novel they have ever discussed.

 
 
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