The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 4, 2012

Lee Duran: ‘50 Shades’ highlights gray area for romantic genres

By Lee Duran
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — When you say “romance novels,” you’re covering a whole lot of territory. From sweet to BDSM (which I looked up: It stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism), romance books fly off the shelf faster than any other genre.

You have doubts? Here are the facts from Romance Writers of America:

Romance fiction brought in $1.358 billion in estimated revenue for 2010.

And these facts don’t account for independently published e-books because RWA doesn’t recognize them.

What passed for sexy romance back in the ‘80s is tame stuff today. Leading the charge is a book which, some speculate, has created a whole new genre -- which I don’t see as possible considering how far the romance novels labeled “erotica” have already gone.

“50 Shades of Gray” by E. L. James is either erotica or porn, depending on who you ask.ÊIt’s also a New York Times bestseller “because women across the world are enamored with the book,” according toÊThe novel has become an international smash, but “are thousands of women buying a book that encourages them to submit to male domination?” wonders.

Some call it mommy porn, which outraged a writer at She calls that label “the worst term ever invented. Ever.” She also calls the book “soft core BDSM,” a new genre of literature. This is better than mommy porn? questions if “the women’s liberation movement is making a massive U-turn? Some say the book encourages its audience to subscribe to an ethos of submission by perpetuating rape culture, and essentially bringing feminism to a freezing halt.”

Wow! Strong words. But as I pointed out earlier, there are milder forms of romance available. Although the vast majority of readers are flocking to “50 Shades” and a lot of authors will hop on that bandwagon, note that religion/ inspirational books are second in sales. I don’t know if that includes fiction, but I do know that Christian romance is a relatively new and increasingly popular offering.

And in between? Just about everything, much of it thanks to the Internet where e-books serve every conceivable niche.

Nevertheless, the debate about whether “50 Shades” is romance or porn continues:

To each her (or his) own. I won’t be reading “50 Shades.” My TBR (to be read) pile is halfway to the moon already.

I like romance but I also like action and adventure and mystery and interesting characters and above all else, a well-developed plot -- sometimes all in the same book. Somehow this new trend seems way short on most of those attributes.