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The Fifty Shades of Hype around an erotic bestseller

Posted at 1:18 AM, May 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-16 00:40:31-04

All three books of the Fifty Shades Trilogy are at the top of the New York Times bestseller list—and have been for months.

So what are these books about and why are they stirring up controversy—from the cover of Newsweek magazine to the library?

The story line was developed from Twilight fan fiction by writer E.L. James.

Wondering what fan fiction is? It’s basically recycled and re imagined literature.

The quick synopsis is that fans extend the story lines of an original work, and develop already existing characters from a story.  Fan fiction isn’t new, but it is quite uncommon for fan fiction to be published and skyrocket to the top of the bestseller list.

The characters were originally named after the Twilight characters they are drawn from–Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.

However, the new material pens a steamy, sexual relationship that the two original characters didn’t have.

As the whole affair heated up, the author removed her story from and onto her own. She then rewrote the piece with the principal characters renamed Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele

The first book was published in May 2011.

In March, Universal Pictures acquired the movie rights for reportedly more than $5 million, and the traditional publisher Knopf/Vintage promised to turn the book, sold mainly as an e-book, into a paperback version with a 750,000 copy print release in April.

Despite the increase in print editions, shortages remain at libraries. In Sacramento, California, a librarian told CNN that there were 870 holds for the first copy.

In Henrico County, there are 250 holds; in Chesterfield, 240.

In fact, your library might not even carry the book anymore. Recently, Brevard and Orange County libraries in Florida pulled it from their shelves.

Now a book called “parasitic fan fiction,” joins a list of banned books that boasts fiction considered masterpieces.

The book is more than your average romance. It includes graphic descriptions of sadomasochist interludes.

And it has people asking, why, in a time when women are less dependent or subjugated than before, are women flocking to a novel with a retro message of dominance?

“It is intriguing that huge numbers of women are eagerly consuming myriad and disparate fantasies of submission at a moment when women are ascendant in the workplace, when they make up almost 60 percent of college students, when they are close to surpassing men as breadwinners, with four in 10 working women now out-earning their husbands, when the majority of women under 30 are having and supporting children on their own, a moment when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.”

Why is it that after bringing the bacon home for Dads to cook, do women  voraciously consume a storyline about a dominant man and vulnerable young woman?

Read ‘Mommy porn’ novel has retro message

Intellectuals are busy dissecting the symbolism behind the book’s success:

“However hot the property appears, the plot and devices are centuries old, leading us to wonder whether the commercial success signals a breakthrough in women’s sexual freedom or a new low in women’s debasement.”

Others are busy making parodies, like this one by Saturday Night Live, that was posted on the website Fifty Shades of Suck.

Regardless, women are clutching their e-readers and paperback—under the covers, and people are left wondering if women aren’t turning a page back in the wrong direction.

Are you reading the book? Do you plan to? What are your thoughts on it?

*reporting from CNN contributed to this report.