In a coffee shop, you hear a whisper about “the book.” While standing around the water cooler at work, you notice two women talking quietly about Christian and Ana in what sounds like secret code. The mothers at the playground discuss biting lips and vanilla.
The same women who talk in hushed tones in public will likely open up behind closed doors with glasses of wine in their hands scrutinizing the erotic, at-times hostile and occasionally surprisingly endearing relationship that dominates the plotline of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
The trilogy of books has taken hold of women’s — and even some men’s — conversations across the country, and Lodi is no exception.
The explicit book is taboo in some circles, but in others, it has women who have never read books with even one, let alone several, explicit scenes opening up about their own experiences.
“The most shocking was how kinky it was. I have never read a book like this before,” Lodi resident Felicia Cueto said.
All three of the books in the trilogy — “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” — hold the top spots on Amazon’s bestseller list for 2012. The Lodi Public Library has three copies of “50 Shades of Grey,” with a total of 13 holds on them. Tom’s New and Used Books on School Street is buying new copies once or twice a week to sell.
“This has been so much fun!” Tom Kohlhepp said. “All the ladies have been buying them up.”
When she started reading the series, Lodi resident Felicia Cueto spent every available moment of her day with her nose in the books.
“Once I started I couldn’t stop. I was running back to the store to pick up the next one,” she said. “It was hard to stop reading them.”
Published in 2011, the trilogy features Christian Grey, a young, rich owner of a corporation who, through unexpected circumstances, meets Anastasia Steele, a beautiful, reserved, witty and headstrong literature student.
The two embark on a relationship but struggle to balance Christian’s erotic urges with Ana’s need to have a normal relationship. As they become increasingly infatuated with each other, Christian’s dark and troubled past starts to reveal itself and threatens to ruin their future.
Lodi resident Lanay Crawford’s favorite part was the mystery surrounding Christian, the brooding CEO.
“Most women want or wish to be desired by a lover and brought to that level of desire and ecstasy. The book seemed to help me take a break from my daily mundane routine,” she said.
Discussing the book has become a regular part of Crissy Gardner’s job at Visible Changes Hair Salon. Women enjoy being able to chat about the sexual nature of the book out in the open. One of her clients even said their grandmother was reading the book.
“A lot of women comment, ‘Oh, to have Christian be our husband,’ not because of the smut part, but because his character is intriguing,” Gardner said.
Even though people often focus on the sex scenes when they discuss the book, Crawford said at times, they could get in the way.
“There were times the sex was really repetitive, and I skimmed past some to get to the rest of the story. Don’t get me wrong ... it was juicy. But I wanted to see where the story was going,” she said.
All of the women agreed that because of the sexual themes, women tend to not discuss the books loudly in public or are hesitant to bring it up if they are not sure whether other people have read it.
Crawford, who became so entranced by the book her husband bought her a book light to read in bed, said she feels like the books are well-written porn with a great storyline. While sex is not something everyone normally talks about, the book has opened the door for more of a discussion, Crawford said.
“When talking with other women whom I know socially, we usually just ask if they have gotten to the juicy stuff,” she said. “Then, you get ‘The Look’ as their eyes raise up with a nodding head, and then the response is, ‘Oh yes, I did.’”
The fact that women are reading a book that is explicit can make some people uncomfortable, Cueto said.
“You can almost say that it’s porn, and for a lot of women, it’s uncomfortable to admit they like it, just like men like to watch it,” she said.
While most people have no problem walking into Tom’s Books to purchase the trilogy, one young woman came in the store and wouldn’t look Kohlhepp in the eye, he said.
She asked, quietly, if he had anything by E.L. James. Kohlhepp knew exactly what she was asking for, because the author has only penned the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. Another woman received the books as a gift, read to page 40 and then traded them in for store credit, saying it was not her cup of tea.
Kohlhepp admits he has not read the books, even though they have sold well.
“We’re more of a Jane Austen kind of bookstore,” he said.
At the library, women have not seemed nervous to check out the books, librarian Sandy Smith said.
“Nowadays, we have a more secular culture. People aren’t so worried about what others think about what they’re reading,” she said.
From talking to women in the salon, Gardner said she feels like women who disapprove of the book are still interested in it.
“People who turn their noses up at it, I think really want to secretly read it because they’ve heard so much about it. But people aren’t comfortable talking about that sexual stuff,” she said.
Despite its taboo nature, Cueto said in her friend circle, the books have just become a part of their regular conversations.
“All the women I’ve talked to about this book are not embarrassed with their sexuality. In fact we enjoy talking about sex,” she said. “It allows us women to maybe even try something new that another one has done before.”
Reporters Lauren Nelson and Sara Jane Pohlman contributed to this story.
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.