If you have anything to do with books, whether you’re a librarian, a bookseller, an author, a reader or someone who likes to hang out sniffing the new-paper smell at the newsstand, you’ve probably heard of Fifty Shades of Grey.
Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on contemporary romance done right.
It started out as author E.L. James' fanfic about Twilight, was sent through a few rounds of “Find and Replace,” and published. Then, women started talking about it, publicly saying on the record with their names and the towns they lived in, “This book was great for my sex life.”
The book became a viral bestseller, despite paper copies being impossible to find, and when Knopf purchased the rights, the reported price was well into seven figures, and that’s before the movie rights were sold. Fifty Shades is inescapable.
I’ve spoken to a few librarians and booksellers who have referred to Fifty Shades as a book that appealed to people who don’t usually read. These are people who read books which achieve a high level of popularity and media attention, and there is, to be clear, nothing wrong with them, or with not reading books as a form of entertainment. Reading is what I choose to do with any spare moment of time I can get my hands on. Not everyone reads like that, and that’s totally OK. But the reason this particular book has reached such, dare I say, popular market penetration (heh heh) is because it’s received so much attention, and so many people are curious about it.
I personally didn’t enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey and could not finish it. While many readers found it dark and fascinating, sexy and arousing, I had the opposite reaction—I found it to be bleak and rather limp. But I’ve talked to a lot of women who loved it, every last page of all three books in the trilogy, and some who have asked for recommendations for something similar. Of all the people who have read Fifty Shades, there’s a percentage who I picture looking up from the book once they’re done and thinking, "Wow, that was kind of fun. I wonder if there are more books like that. Are there more books like this one?"
You bet your sweet bippy there are. The tricky part of answering that question is that I need to ask frankly, what was it about Fifty Shades that you liked? Was it the bondage and discipline elements, better known as BDSM? Was it the explicit sex depicted alongside the negotiation of their relationship? Was it the very specific point of view and the experience of witnessing sexual play from a single person’s perspective?
If the BDSM depictions were enthralling for you, Joey W. Hill should be the name you look up first, particularly Natural Law (Ellora’s Cave), which was the first BDSM romance I’ve ever read and nearly singed my hair with the hotness. Cherise Sinclair specializes in BDSM-suspense romances, and her books come with a warning in the front that without training, you should not try it at home.
If the explicit sexual content and sexual exploration in Fifty Shades made you curious for more, there is, I kid you not, a few bodrillion erotic romances you can peruse. Among my favorite erotic romance authors is Lorelei James, who writes a series set in and around Wyoming ranching communities called the Rough Riders. There are now 14 books in the series, and the most recent, Cowboy Casanova (Samhain) features a lot of kinky sex, which would appeal to those who liked the BDSM elements of Fifty Shades.
Maya Banks also writes scorching erotic romances, often with multiple partners. her Sweet series is very explicit and features sexual variety that can be intense and playful. And less explicit but one of my favorite Banks’ books is The Tycoon’s Rebel Bride (Silhouette Desire). It can be hard to find, but if you see a copy, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Ignore the old-style Harlequin title and enjoy the uniqueness of a curious heroine going after the sexy, powerful man she’s always wanted. I love that book.
Anne Calhoun is one of the best writers of contemporary erotic fiction, and her books are among my favorites, particularly Liberating Lacey (Ellora’s Cave) and What She Needs (Harlequin). Many of her works are erotic short stories and worth finding. One anthology in particular, Agony/Ecstasy (Berkley), includes two of Calhoun’s stories, along with 19 other short erotic tales, and since it deals with the line between pleasure and pain, those curious about sexuality and BDSM might also find enjoyable reads. Jane Litte, who runs DearAuthor, edited the anthology and is a friend of mine (yadda, yadda, full disclosure), but really, if you’re looking for an assortment of explicit fiction to read, that anthology might help you identify what you like in erotic romance so that you can go find more of it.
As any reader of romance can tell you, erotic romance has been part of the romance genre for years. Ellora’s Cave, which specializes in erotic romance fiction published digitally, was founded over 10 years ago. Those of us who read a lot of romance have watched as the books in every subgenre have become more and more explicit. For example, years ago, depictions of oral sex were unique and unusual. Now more adventurous sexual acts, like anal sex, use of toys or restraints, and multiple partners are featured in various romances, many of which are marked with a “heat” warning about their explicit content. I like to think that the increase in explicit sexual variety is a reflection of how we have become more sexually curious and educated, and if everyone’s having good orgasms, whether they were brought on by reading Fifty Shades or reading other erotic romance fiction, more power to us.
If you’re looking for more to read that’s like Fifty Shades, there are many lists of recommended erotic romances at GoodReads for you to explore. But let me say, most of all, welcome! There’s an excellent variety of erotic stories in the romance genre, and you can read many of them digitally or on paper. We who read romance love to recommend books, and if you’re looking for more, there’s a bountiful plenty to choose from. Happy reading, and boy howdy, do I mean that.
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.