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Author Almost Collapses at '50 Shades' Book Signing

E.L. James, the author with the newfound androgynous name, is a genius marketer. The banality of the setting fits what I'd assumed was her market, suburban women worn down by any number of duties in a post-Steinem world.
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I mean me.

The spectacle was staggering. The SUV's and minivans filled all nine levels of the lot.

Yes, the mind behind that trilogy of sadistic fiction of debatable quality arrived in Los Angeles, and chose the Disneyland of outdoor malls to sign at, The Grove. The kind of gauche contrivance that a different shade of gauche non-Angeleno dismisses this city for, the blowing of fake snow all December to tease you into procuring dolls for your nieces.

Tonight, however, it was about a hardcore desire of a different order.

E.L. James, the author with the newfound androgynous name, is a genius marketer. The banality of the setting fits what I'd assumed was her market, suburban women worn down by any number of duties in a post-Steinem world. Mothers who drop their kids off at Waldorf schools then barely stop at stop signs, hurrying to the local dungeon (where it is suddenly difficult to get a RSVP) before meeting Jenny for salad to tell her what you'll never believe happened. It seems like these fantasy-starved devotees need to be hanging around airport lounges and cigar bars hoping to happen to meet that certain Mr. Right, who will beat them.

None looked like the kind of woman I thought would crave being belted by a wealthy man they at first assumed was gay, named Grey. Christian Grey. He beats and seduces Anastasia Steele, a virgin.

Nor the type to become addicted to vibrators. But what do I presume to know? I read Montaigne at night.

You may wonder if I'm the only man here. Sprinkled here and there amongst us are some scavengers who happen to walk by, the kind of guys known by other guys as dweebs. They're the ones who learn yoga or protest fur, for the single purpose of looking for a catch. Today they're vaguely dressed like Christian Grey. In case you didn't know, that means making yourself look like the kind of billionaire who would want to wash these women's hair, based on a scene in the book.

And hardware stores love him because of all the rope they're selling.

Make no mistake, it was basically all women. What few men there were did it out of generosity and duty. One tells me he's simply the chauffeur. It was the big event of the year for his family, and he did it all for them, driving from somewhere in the desert several hours away. A few tough looking guys left early, with their day of work in hand. They'll sell the trilogy on eBay and make a hundred dollars.

There were women who'd come from afar to camp out, but were told no admission wrist bands would be released until 9 a.m., and slept in the parking lot. One insistent fan set an alarm every hour to come down and make sure the flocks hadn't arrived, and many did by 3 a.m. Seemed reasonable compared to those I spoke to that had camped out for five nights to get tickets for the opening night of Sex and the City.

I heard it time and again, The book changed my life. It was obvious that most of the attendees came from rougher, poorer circumstances. The forgotten and neglected. Not cougars and Beverly Hills residents who were afraid of running into someone they knew. It was impossible not to notice that the ethnic makeup was heavily on the Latina side. They'd probably heard it a thousand times, how unworthy a book this was, and didn't mind.

I was speaking to a well-dressed young woman who hadn't read the book, but had stood there since sunrise with her friend. "Everyone keeps telling me I have to read it." She seemed uncertain.

"Read Tolstoy," I said.

"I prefer Dostoevsky," the guard in charge of the people in standby introjected. "Especially Crime and Punishment."

We instantly began a two minute chat about the merits of literature, and how this was the opposite of that.

The female guard responsible for letting people in asked me about how I write, because she wanted to write, and found it difficult. She had dreams, and her gentle eyes were watching it all too.

Another security guard shared his disappointment about all this hooplah given a book with so little merit. "They shut down the store for Justin Bieber. That made me sad. Parents were sleeping overnight so their kids could see Miley Cyrus. Not me, no. What kind of book did she write? I would sleep here for two days to see Shakespeare," the man said. He was from another continent, and understood that perspective comes from wisdom.

I had arrived hoping to dismiss the women there.

Everyone had a perspective on the extravaganza, and the truth was it was all fine. Not everyone in line was all that impressed. Many were there not because they loved the book. People kept to themselves.

These women needed something that life before this book wasn't giving. The sadness and disappointment were tangible. On all three levels and outside the Barnes and Noble they waited, quietly. Finally, to quick bursts of screams the author arrived and stood for the flashing cameras, on her own journey of success.

I had them all wrong. These women know it is just a book, know there's no Christian Grey, and leave me with the feeling that there might just be some justice to the escape they crave.

But I still hope that none of the women I know, and will ever know, will read it.