ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Public libraries in several states are pulling the racy romance trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey” from shelves or deciding not to order the best-seller at all, saying it's too steamy or too poorly written.
Even in the age of e-books and tablets, banning a book from a public library still carries weight because libraries still play such a vital role in providing people access to books.
“When a book is removed from the shelf, folks who can't afford a Nook or a Kindle, the book is no longer available to them,” said Deborah Caldwell Stone, the deputy director of the American Library Association's office for intellectual freedom.
“Fifty Shades of Grey,” a novel about bondage, wild sex and yes, love, has been called “mommy porn” because of its popularity among middle-aged women. It has become so well-known that “Saturday Night Live” performed a skit about it, joking that a Kindle with “Fifty Shades” uploaded on it was the perfect Mother's Day gift.
This week, the steamy books hold the top three spots on The New York Times best-seller list.
Libraries in Wisconsin, Georgia and Florida have all either declined to order the book or pulled it from shelves. Other states may soon follow.
“It's semi-pornographic,” said Don Walker, a spokesman for Brevard County, Fla., where the library put 19 copies of the book on the shelves then pulled the novel after reading reviews about it. Some 200 notices had to go out to people on a waiting list to read it.
Librarians in at least four Florida counties have declined to buy the book — even though hundreds of people have requested it. Reasons range from not having the money to poor reviews.
“It doesn't suit our community standards,” said Cay Hohmeister, director of libraries for Leon County — where Florida's capital, Tallahassee, is located.
In Gwinnett County, Ga., a suburb northeast of Atlanta, all 15 library branches will not carry the book.
“We do not collect erotica at Gwinnett County Public Library. That's part of our materials management collection policy. So, E L James' three books in the trilogy fit that description,” said Deborah George, the county library's director of materials management.
What's it about?
In a nutshell, here's the plot: Anastasia Steele, a virgin who has just graduated college, meets Christian Grey, a rich and impeccably handsome young entrepreneur. Grey shows Steele his “playroom,” full of whips, ropes and sex toys, and asks her to sign a contract to be his “submissive” sex partner. Before Steele signs, the pair romp mostly around Seattle — where the novel is set — performing a stunning array of erotic activities. As the sex gets more daring and Steele's emotions more tangled, drama ensues.
Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Random House, said Brevard County is engaging in censorship by taking the book off the shelves.
“We believe the Brevard County Public Library System is indulging in an act of censorship, and essentially is saying to library patrons: ‘We will judge what you can read,'” Bogaards wrote in an email.
Reviews of the book have been mixed. While The Guardian of London called it “jolly” and “eminently readable,” the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph said the writing was “appalling,” “hackneyed” and readers would have to wade through “pages of treacly cliche.”
Hohmeister said those kinds of reviews went into her decision not to buy the book for libraries around Tallahassee.