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Video: Secret of the suburbs: The book that has women talking

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    >>> back now at 8:10. what started as a whisper among friends has turned into a loud roar in book clubs across the country. we are talking about a racy novel called "fifty shades of grey ." be warned. it contains graphic subject matter and language. but with more than 120,000 copies sold now it's appealing to more women than you might imagine. "today" national correspondent amy robach has more.

    >> good morning to you. there are entire industries devoted to telling men how to satisfy a woman. who would have thought a romance novel would answer the age old question what do women really want?

    >> reporter: there is a dirty little secret in the suburbs.

    >> i was like -- ooh!

    >> reporter: and it's not the change of a diaper.

    >> it was captivating, i have to say. things are going around. i could not stop.

    >> reporter: the truth may shock you.

    >> amazing.

    >> reporter: the fantasy isn't in a tropical paradise.

    >> reporter: it's in a book club .

    >> fastest read ever. nine years, haven't read a book .

    >> john saw the light of the ipad. what are you doing? nothing!

    >> do you think it's an issue that i downloaded it to my daughter's kindle?

    >> reporter: what's going on between the covers has to do with the story between the sheets . it's called "fifty shades of grey ." if you're thinking fabio, forget it. this story, which is part of a trilogy by e.l. james, a 40-something british woman, is not a tender romance. it's a submission sex fantasy .

    >> the most common female fantasy is a domination fantasy or a submission fantasy where she's swept off her feet, it's out of her control.

    >> reporter: sex therapist laura berman said she's not surprised the bodice-ripper is back.

    >> if we look at history we have the women 's movement which was really about empowering women not to be submissive to men anymore. now we have a new generation where women are more empowered than ever before. the glass ceiling has been broken. we have as much control as we want. what are we longing for? a little bodice-ripping.

    >> reporter: even the women in this boca raton book club agree. although they like control in the board room they would like less in the bedroom.

    >> it's nice for a man to take over in the bedroom than you having to please the man after you have just made dinner and did everything else.

    >> reporter: a word of caution about taking the fantasy into reality.

    >> it's one thing to fantasize about your neighbor when they're mowing the lawn. it's another to actually really want to act on that fantasy .

    >> reporter: although these "50 shades" fans say their husbands aren't complaining.

    >> my husband and i shared some very good times together because of this book.

    >> reporter: and maybe the book should land on the other side of the night stand .

    >> every man should read the book.

    >> if men read it, maybe it wouldn't be such a fantasy .

    >> well, we have already been getting a huge viewer response about "fifty shades of grey " on the website. some viewers have been writing in concerned that the author plagiarized from a story called " master of the universe " on a twilight fan fiction site. we can confirm that e.l. james was also the author of the same story. back to you.

    >> amy, thank you. dr. drew pinske and logan lebcock join us. we have a doozy here. this is snot harlequin or jackie collins . it's explicit, graphic and parts of it are disturbing. what is the appeal, logan?

    >> first of all, i think we differ. i don't think it's disturbing. i think it taps into a fantasy women have in terms of role playing, getting out of the comfort zone . it's about women being able to turn on their imagination. with erotica it's not visual. we explore things we could not explore in real life .

    >> it's not just steamy sex scenes . the context is bondage and submission and, stripped bare, violence against women . the man take as a young woman , a virgin, college age and introduces her to a world of, in some cases, physical pain . does this disturb you at all?

    >> it does actually. we are going beyond the issue of when people often start by saying men are aroused with visual material. women are aroused by using more of the brain. but this is going beyond that. as laura berman said in the piece, the swept away fantasy is common. but it's going beyond that into actual violence against women . i have to tell you. this is the part maybe i'll get heat for. but there is a lot of violence against children in this country. there are various kinds of physical abuse . people subjected to those experiences are especially aroused by these images. i'm not saying the average women can't be, but it's especially arousing for them.

    >> i have read the books. as a woman and also as a professional from two different lenses. i don't see this particular book as violence against women . i really don't.

    >> hold it there. women being taken out of control, held against their will?

    >> the girl does have different control and senses. i want us to be clear. the particular community has very orchestrated rules and negotiations. this is, you know, a romantic romanticized version of that.

    >> this is consensual. it doesn't depict rape.

    >> why would that be arousing?

    >> that's the question. do women really want to fantasize about someone causing them physical pain ? the book deals with that.

    >> the answer is people are doing it.

    >> but in some cases, different sensations. it's not as simple as pleasure versus pain. it's not that women want to fantasize about these things.

    >> they are.

    >> sometimes we do. sometimes we can be turned on and it doesn't mean we are acting it out or have a desire to.

    >> the books are selling. bottom line. they seem to be interested in this material and they seem not to be able to put it down.

    >> i couldn't put it down.

    >> you were disturbed by it. you liked it. i think i would be disturbed.

    >> one ocf the women said it spiced up her relationship.

    >> that's good. particularly women who may be having a drop in libido, don't take medication, read a book . it says something socially about us that's a little bit disturbing.

    >> is that where we have come after 50 years?

    >> i don't think it's political. we have to get out of it. sometimes fantasies are ways to explore things we wouldn't tap into. what's important to me is women 's story telling . being able to say something enhanced my marital sex life and i want to share it with you. that's interesting.

    >> it gets people talking.

    >> here we are.

    >> thank you so much. we

The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House
The book is part of a trilogy that also includes "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed."
updated 3/1/2012 6:32:38 PM ET 2012-03-01T23:32:38

“Have you read ‘The Book?’”

That’s the question women from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the suburbs of Seattle are asking each other in increasing numbers — albeit in discreet tones.

“It,” they hardly need add, is “Fifty Shades of Grey” — part of a triple-X trilogy involving sex games and a bondage-loving billionaire. Though the three tomes weigh in at a total of 1,200-plus pages, they seem to whiz by for many, and the books may be poised to become the post-millennial equivalent of “The Story of O,” the notorious piece of kinky erotica that has titillated some and scandalized many others since it first came out in 1954.

Though “Fifty Shades” came out last year with little fanfare from The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House, a small publisher “catering to the needs of aspiring authors,” in its own words, it has already generated almost 6,000 ratings on Goodreads.com, with an impressive 62 percent rating it a 5 out of 5. The book was also nominated for Best Romance in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards.

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“I would actually give this book infinity stars,” fan Michelle (Chelle) aka Nightshade enthused on GoodReads. “It is in a category all by itself.”

“It was really hard for me to put this book down,” a reader named Milly agreed on Amazon, which offers a Kindle edition of “Fifty Shades of Grey” — as well as its two sequels, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” — for $6.99 each. “It will definitely keep you reading for hours trying to figure out the deep secrets of Christian Grey.”

The series actually got its start as a Twilight ‘fan fiction’ story called “Master of the Universe,” penned by a writer who called herself “Snowqueens Icedragon.” While some have accused “Shades of Grey” author E. L. James of plagiarizing the story, her agent has confirmed to TODAY that “Snowqueens Icedragon” is actually E. L. James and she authored both the earlier story and the books.

Video: Secret of the suburbs: The book that has women talking (on this page)

E.L. James describes herself on her website as a “TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in West London.

"Since early childhood she dreamed of writing stories readers would fall in love with," says her author bio.

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What they have fallen in love with is the story centered around Grey, the fictional billionaire, who is described in a rather breathless summary The Writer’s Coffee Shop supplies on its site: “For all the trappings of success — his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family — Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control.”

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Little wonder then, that the fabulously wealthy young entrepreneur finds himself unable to resist the “quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit” of Anastasia Steele, a literature student dispatched to interview him for her campus magazine. Their initial meeting goes badly — even though Ana finds Grey “attractive, very attractive,” with “unruly dark-copper-colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.”

But before long, the couple embark on what The Writer’s Coffee Shop calls “a passionate, physical and daring affair” in which Ana soon find herself acquainted with Grey’s “red room of pain” and “learns more about her own dark desires.”

And Ana’s far from the only one. Allysa Goldman, a 42-year-old New Jersey mom, told the New York Post that her girlfriends “were all buying their husbands silver ties for Christmas” — ties like the one Grey uses to restrain Anastasia in the novel.

TODAY supervising producer Joanne LaMarca, who claimed she hadn't read a book since her 6-year-old was born, devoured the first installment on a recent trip after a friend of hers told her "she didn’t know anyone NOT reading this book.

"I downloaded a copy and don’t think I put it down until I finished it, despite what the pilot on my flight to Florida said," she told TODAY.com. "I can say, along with many other women I’m sure, that reading this book is very good for your marriage!"

Michelle Yogel, a 33-year-old Manhattan mom, agreed, telling the Post that the book has “revitalized everyone’s marriage on the Upper East Side.”

— TODAY.com senior editor Rick Schindler

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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