I’ll show you smut!

EDIT, May 16, 2012. Just to be clear, since this post (as well as my professional affiliation, which I don’t mention anywhere on this blog) has been made a lot more public than I could have expected: this is my personal opinion, and not the opinion of my workplace. Also, I did not write this while I was at work–it was all written on my own personal time.

Oh, and my last name is Donohue, not Donahue.

Now, on with the show.

(Note: I started writing this about a week ago, and am just getting back to it now.)

Approximately eight and a half years ago, I wrote a blog post on one of my old blogs about how much I hate library blogs. This was during the heyday of library blogs, when everyone with a library job was busy pontificating about boring library stuff or telling “funny” stories about the stupid things that library patrons do. It made some people surprisingly angry–I guess they were showing their hidden sensitivity or something–but it’s still true. For the most part, I hate library blogs.

But I’m not above an occasional post about library-related things, so here goes.

The big story in the library world today (at least, in the public library world–you academics are probably all aflutter about something related to scholarly communication* or whatever) is that the Brevard County Public Libraries** in Florida have yanked all of the copies of bestselling smut-lite book Fifty Shades of Grey from their shelves. I am not ashamed to say that I have read Fifty Shades of Grey. I have also read the second book in the trilogy. I know that it is Twilight fanfiction with the names changed. I know that it has been derisively called “mommy porn.” (As if giving birth changes a woman’s tastes in erotic literature.) I’d love to tell you that I read it out of librarian-ly duty, because I wanted to be aware of current trends in patron demand, but that would be a lie. I read it because it is purportedly a dirty book, and I am a sucker for a dirty book.

And you know what? It wasn’t that dirty, really. It was very tame. The language was very euphemistic (do recent college grads really refer to their genitals as “my sex”?) and the BDSM scenes–which are what has made the book such a media sensation–are downright tame. Yes, there are references to some sexual paraphernalia (Wartenburg wheel! Nipple clamps!) and kinky practices, but the hero and heroine really don’t get down to it in any graphic detail that goes beyond anything that appears in a typical mainstream romance novel. It’s not a work of classic literature by any means, but I was surprised at how compulsively I read that damn book. I knew it was awful, but I could not stop reading it.

I will even admit to reading the second book in the trilogy, which is just bad. It’s not compulsively readable, it’s just bad. I guess I was willing to forgive the first book because I was so swept up in the awful, implausible story (and perhaps because I was expecting something really dirty to happen), but the second book was just…bad. I finished it because I paid money for it and therefore felt that I should finish it, but I had completely lost interest by the time I was halfway through the book. I bought the third book and will eventually read it, but I am in no hurry. I can pretty much tell you what happens without reading the book:

  1. Ana and Christian will get married.
  2. There will be some sterile, clinical sex. With light bondage.
  3. Ana will bite her lip some more.
  4. Christian will brood until the power of love and vanilla sex cures him of his need to dominate women.
  5. Ana will, undoubtedly, get pregnant (without any problems, of course) and have a baby, because that is the default happy ending for all couples who are in love. Right?

In short, Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance novel with some not-particularly-graphic sex scenes (featuring milder language that what is found in most mainstream romance novels) and some mild BDSM. It is no more shocking than a lot of things found in your typical public library, especially a public library the size of Brevard County. The big difference between Fifty Shades of Grey and, say, anything from Kensington’s Brava line of erotic romances is that Fifty Shades of Grey is getting a crapton of media coverage, thus making it an obvious target.

So Fifty Shades of Grey is too hot for the readers of Brevard County. Okay, whatever. Communities have the right to determine which items to add to their collections based on local standards. But I wondered to myself if they owned books that I would consider hotter than Fifty Shades of Grey (which is pretty much most things with a few sex scenes). I decided to take a look at their online catalog to see if I could find some smutty stuff. I avoided the obvious targets, like nonfiction books about sex (e.g., The Joy of Sex or The Joy of Gay Sex) or boring-ass classic literature with sex scenes (yeah, they own Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but that’s tame by modern standards). I narrowed my list down to twelve authors, titles, and series, but I could find more. Lots, lots more. Go forth, administration of the Brevard County Public Library, and weed! Bowdlerize your collections! Make your library safe for readers!

Here’s my Dirty Dozen Books that Brevard County Library Hasn’t Removed from Their Collection:

  1. An e-book by Lauren Dane, who is one of my favorite erotic romance writers. I met Lauren Dane when I was in Seattle for ALA–my friend Katie knows her. I’ve been reading her books ever since.
  2. A novel by Lorelei James, a well-known author of graphic and non-clinical erotic romance. James’s novels are often recommended as “additional reading” for readers who liked Fifty Shades of Grey and are interested in exploring erotic romance with BDSM themes further.
  3. Most of the works of erotic romance author Robin Schone, whose first novel, Awaken My Love, includes a scene involving time travel via masturbation (I learned this on the first day of my Adult Popular Literature class in library school and purchased the book that evening). They also own The Lady’s Tutor, which was the first erotic romance I ever read (also when I was in library school).
  4. A copy of Around the Way Girls, an urban-fiction anthology that had some pretty high smut content. I know that urban fiction/street lit is low-hanging fruit when you’re looking for potentially “offensive” material in library collections, so this pick feels a bit like a cop-out.
  5. Most of the Zane canon, including The Sisters of APF, which made ME blush when I read it. I may not be a huge fan of Zane’s books, though I have read a few, but I appreciate the way she has built such an amazing brand for herself.
  6. Several installments of the Bad Boys erotic romance novella series, including Bayou Bad Boys and Bad Boys of Summer. These tend to be more graphic than, ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey.
  7. Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus and Little Birds. I suppose you could use the “classics” defense on these, but they aren’t classics of anything other than erotic literature. They are mostly just old. I read these in college when I was trying to be “cool” and “edgy.”
  8. Most of the Lora Leigh “Breeds” series, which are shapeshifter romances that consist of a string of sex scenes filled in with some weird futuristic fantasy stuff. I find these books almost uniformly awful, but I do have a game that I play with them. Whenever I see a new one, I try to open the book up to the spot where the buttsex happens. This is Lora Leigh, the buttsex is her trademark, and it’s usually between two-thirds and three-quarters of the way through the book. I am really good at finding it.
  9. A book called To Serve and Submit, which is probably more explicit in its depiction of BDSM than Fifty Shades of Grey is.
  10. For that matter, they have Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, which a co-worker suggested as a potential read-alike for Fifty Shades readers who want to know what BDSM is REALLY like.
  11. Herotica 2 and a 1990s edition of The Best American Erotica, which makes me wonder if the Brevard County Public Library selectors are sneaking into my personal library and poaching books from my shelves, because these are pretty old and I own both of them but can’t find them anywhere. If Fifty Shades is “pornography,” these should be illegal.
  12. The Smart Bitches covered this one nicely–Brevard also owns quite the selection of Longarm books, which are nothing if not FILTHY. I remember finding out how dirty Longarm (and Spur, too) are when I took Adult Popular Literature. My grandfather used to read those things like crazy. When I learned how raunchy they were, it was like a little piece of my childhood died or something. Not that I fault the guy for liking some raunch, but I thought he was reading about stampedes and cattle rustlers, not loose women and even looser men.

Now, I have no problem with libraries adopting collection development policies–as long as they stand by them and enforce them uniformly. If Fifty Shades of Grey is “pornographic” and your library isn’t going to purchase it (or, even worse, you’re going to BUY it and then pull it from your shelves, thus wasting money, because seriously, with all the media coverage about the stupid book, you KNEW what you were getting when you purchased it), that’s a-OK with me. But don’t present yourself as the gatekeeper of holy learnin’ and clean content, because you aren’t.

*I have threatened to start a blog called “Scholarly Communication is Boring” several times. But the idea of a blog about scholarly communication, even one that is a parody of scholarly communication blogs, puts me in an instant coma.

**I keep wanting to call them the Broward County Public Library. I think this is because when I think of counties in Florida that a) begin with “Br” and b) do not like filth-flarn-filth, I think of Broward County and the 2 Live Crew obscenity charges from the early 1990s.

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6 Responses to I’ll show you smut!

  1. June Pinnell-Stephens says:

    I hope you sent this item to their local newspaper, perhaps as a letter to the editor. Establish the “slippery slope” and then leave it to the rest of the community. Nothing like a major bru-ha-ha to remind people about the 1stAmendment.

  2. Amber McCrea says:

    You forgot about Belladonna and the Beauty series both of which are better than 50 shades. Ironically many libraries have Belladonna on the shelves without knowing the content

    • Mark Allen says:

      Amber, there is certainly irony in this, but it is not that libraries do not know what they have on their shelves; that’s not a library’s job. Libraries try and provide material that their members will find useful or entertaining. Librarian’s often don’t know what they have on the shelves. I have not read any romamnce novels nor do I feel any obligation. It does however make me happy that my library has chosen to buy them AND that they circulate (big time). I trust we would stop buying them if they didn’t circulate. My thanks to the Blogger; I guess when I choose to try a romance read my first choice should not be 50 Shades.

  3. Alice Graves says:

    This is a great post and like June I hope you sent it to their hypocritical local newspaper. I live in Florida and it gets weirder every day. But I am addicted to the lovely weather and refuse to move back to civilization (the northeast). When we did a Banned Books event at the Univ of South Florida last year, undergrads were shocked that books are “still” being banned and that “Huck Finn” is one of them. It’s written in the vernacular of the uneducated, uncultured narrator, duh!

  4. Lisa Eck says:

    “crapton”..lol …..”crapton” I just love that.

  5. Anne says:

    Nanette, I adore you. (This is not news, but this post compelled me to state it publicly.)

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