Saturday afternoon I used to spend at Hugendubels book store, to escape into the world of newly published books or to discover literary treasures I have missed so far. These days, EL James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" and the steam-hot reviews in some literary journals suddenly brought a lot of femal customers to the book-store, who are usually more interested in combinations of cooking-books, weight-loosing advisors and spiritual well being manuals. Internet book-sellers always try to attract lovers of this impossible triad by recomending: "customers who bought "The Complete Barbecue Guide for the Modern Lady" also bought "How I lost 30 Pounds in a Fortnight" and "Smashing the Mirror - The Secrets of Femal Pride and How to Achieve Total Selfsufficiency". Today, however, these ladies came here to have a look at this female day-dream of the journalist Ana and her obsession with a sado-maso type relationship between her and a young entrepeneur. A couple of woman quickly localized the table with the literary novelties, and some grab "Fifty Shades of Grey" from a big pile, hide it between some unsuspicious travel guides and return right away to the counter. It seems they all pay in cash today, thus avoiding the risk of their husbands discovering the secret literary interest of their wifes on the next credit-card statement.
But there is also another type of woman, undecisive rather than obsessed, the type woman who heard about the book from friends, but themselve are usually more in intellectual literature. They first want to give it a trial reading right here, browsing through some chapters in the bookstores coffeshop, where all the seats soon got occupied by other “Shades of Grey" readers.
What am I doing here, with my sober pile of Suri and Bals maths novel “A certain ambiguity”, the first ever German translation of Ayn Rands "Atlas shrugged" and the only book with a small erotic aspect, Philip Roths "My life as a man"? I did not saw a special announcement at the entrance of Hugendubels, warning everybody that due to release of "Fifty Shades of Grey" seats will be very limitted today and the stuff will be very busy ordering new supplies of the book. And in particular, there wasn't any note telling me that the subject of this book and its explicit language make it advisable to keep some distance to woman who are just in the process of reading. Does this mean I am better advised to leave this place, where woman deeply dive into the secret world of an rather unknown english author, who verbalises her fantasies of a sado-maso relationship, and easily fuels the readers own sexual phantasies. Perhaps they feel intimidated by my presence here, disturbed at a time when they would like to have all bookstores in town being declared "Womans only" for at least a month?
But I never before allowed others to chase me away easily, I rather develop a stubborn will to stay if somebody wants me to go. We life in an open society, I recall to myself, and I can sit and read in a public bookstore whenever I want. So I decide to carry on reading my books as I used to do on every Saturday. Even though I try to avoid any suspicious glance onto the cover-pages of the grey-shaded womans bestsellers or their readers all around me, I cannot ignore the feeling that at least some of the woman from time to time lift their eyes from their books and look at me. Is this supposed to be a hostile request to get me out of here? Or a polite hint to look for a more appropriate place to read my Philip Roth?
When I finally catch the eyes of one lady - the only one who does not turn her head back down to the pages of her book - I realize that her eyes have this innocent and hard to describe expression of looking to you, but at the same time also looking right through you into another universe. And aboard of this far-reaching glance she has already taken you away with her, into a daydream where she is the main character in "Shades of Grey". In her fantasies she has taken you hostage, captured you violently and kicked your books away. Her eyes are under a layer of misty blurr, her mind is so far away that she does not realize that here in the reality of the bookstore you have already catched her double-focussed glance that rested on you since minutes. What is she doing with you, in this parallel world, or what does she wishes to be done to her by you ? What character has she invented for you in a movie that has its scenes right from the book and its launch party is scheduled for today.
I dont want to be the party-pooper for this womans wellness afternoon, but I have to turn down my part in it, feeling that somehow I got misused as the cristallization seed for their hidden day-dreams. As much as all attempts to chase me away have always mobilized my will to stay, the more does the suspicion that someone wants to force me to remain causes an even stronger reaction, but in the opposite direction.
And now, as she realizes that I grab my pile of books and are about to leave without even finishing my coffee, she arouses from her wet day-dreams. And just as a little child who just listened to the last words of a beautiful fairy-tale, a smile forms on her face. And when I pass along her table on my way to the counter, I ask almost in a routine sounding voice: "Is it worth reading?", and a multi-vocal whispering expresses their deep affirmation. There was, however, also some note of disappointment in their reply, about me leaving this place too early, before they finished their "Fifty Shades of Grey" reading session.
Shall I read the book myself now ? I think the afternoon in the bookstores coffeeshop has given me more insight into womans hidden wishes than all three volumes of EL James oevre. Words, not only the ones whispered into their ears, but equally well those written down in a book, exert a magical power onto woman, they can seduce them to all sorts of irrational activities. And when their eyes suddenly hide behind a veil of shaded grey, and they look through you as if your face is an open door into another dimension, you must beware of the spell they might put on you.
PS: Later I read in the weekend literary supplement, that the management of an English hotel offers their guests to exchange the holy bible, which usually lays in all rooms, with EL James “Shades of Grey” trilogy. And mens clothes shops recorded an increase demand for grey-shaded ties, whereas some urban DIY shops suddenly had to sell steel chains, pad-locks and carabiner clasps to a new class of femal customers.