published Sunday, August 26th, 2012

Erotic novel “Shades of Grey” takes Chattanooga by storm

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    This book cover image provided by Vintage Books shows "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E L James.

The searing summer heat is nearly over. But for many Chattanooga women, and some men, these sunny months were much steamier than expected.

Leigh Ann Lingerfelt, a 44-year-old single mother, said she isn’t sure she’ll ever look at the world the same after tearing through the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy in 10 nights.

“It just made me look at people differently,” she said. “You never know what they do behind closed doors.”

She said she spent three or four hours a day, waiting until her son was asleep or napping, reading the books.

“I was obsessed with it,” she said, giggling. “It was like reading a train wreck. I have never read anything as crazy as that. I could not believe she was writing all this stuff down.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” a 2011 erotic novel by British author E.L. James, has been a surprising success for the struggling publishing industry, and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Book-selling giant Barnes & Noble is reporting better-than-expected revenue for the year thanks to the book.

And the company that owns Trojan condoms, Church & Dwight, said sales of its products have also increased since Anastasia “Ana” Steel and Christian Grey were introduced to the world, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The books track the relationship of Grey, a brilliant and handsome billionaire, and Steele, a literature student.

In Chattanooga, a church-saturated city surrounded by Christian colleges and large ministries, some people are shy about being seen with the book. Some have dubbed it “mommy porn.”

Some say the sexual submission detailed in the book degrades women. Others just think it’s wrong to read erotica and refuse to buy into the fad.

“I don’t think it’s healthy or good for married women to read the book,” said Ashley Johnson, a Chattanooga mother of three.

“It’s setting you up for a wrong perspective on sex and marriage ... I think that it would get my mind to think about another man. Being married, I don’t want to think about other men in a sexual way.”

But there has been no lack of demand for the book and the sexual fantasies it stirs up.

“We are constantly getting the displays filled up,” said Catherine Stevens, a manager at the Barnes & Noble store at Hamilton Place mall. “It’s one of the best-selling books ever.”

Which is shocking, said Stevens, because book sellers have peddled erotica and romance novels for years.

“This just hit a chord,” she said.

The Chattanooga Public Library is also struggling to keep up requests for the book.

Last week, all of the library’s copies were checked out, and there was a waiting list with 35 names, the staff reported.

At the Clyde W. Roddy Library in Dayton, Tenn., all three copies of “Shades of Grey” were checked out last week, workers there reported.

When asked if there has been any kerfuffle over carrying the book, which includes explicit details of sexual practices such as bondage, librarians said they haven’t heard a peep.

“We haven’t had any complaints,” said Susan Kemp, a librarian at the Chattanooga Public Library.

The book also has lifted sales at a local adult store. Amanda Ford, who works at Allure Adult Couples Store on Rossville Boulevard, said she is seeing more red-faced first timers in the shop than ever before.

Wives are sending husbands to ask for handcuffs and whips, she said. They can hardly keep the items stocked, she added.

“I don’t know why,” Ford said. “There have been so many books just like it.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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