So I spent a few days in Newport, R.I. this summer. I have done this for the last nearly forty years because my Mom’s whole side of the family is comprised of Newporters. It is a wonderful and beautiful place, but since I have done the tourist stuff innumerable times, every time I have gone there in the last ten years, we have simply just gone to the beach. You sit on the beach, and get some sun. You hope you get hot enough to go into the frigid Atlantic for a shock to the system. No doubt, when I was young as a kid I spent my time in the water until I turned blue. Now I must get red hot, and then take dip in the cold. It’s kind of a reverse Sweden from hot to cold. No hot tubs and ice baths, but beach bakes and frigid water. It is exhilarating in its own a way.

The point I wanted to make was that many (at least seven by my count) attractive young women thought Fifty Shades of Grey was appropriate beach reading. As I walked down the beach I saw several women intently focused on the sexual situations presented in that novel. I could make some sort of smart sociological or psychological observation here, but not having read the novel, I will restrain myself. I just thought it odd that so many women were reading the same novel, and this novel was considered to be in the popular press pornographic. What would be the case if I were found leafing through Hustler magazine while I baked on the beach? I suspect it wouldn’t be as acceptable.

Regardless, on the beaches of Newport things have always run hot and cold. Hot on the sand at First, Second or Gooseberry beach, while cold in the water. So must I read soft porn, in order that I be cold later with the one I love? I don’t think so. It is a strange dichotomy.

Not having read it, I don’t understand the fascination with Fifty Shades of Grey . Is it a novel about an unsatisfied and burned women? This I get. Isn’t much of literature about this, and not only literature written by men—such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or in part Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God ? Of course Flaubert’s Madame Bovary could be mentioned too. But this mood doesn’t make good reading of itself. Or does it? Should I read Fifty Shades of Grey or is it simply another Jacqueline Susann? And isn’t Anne Rice better than Fifty Shades of Grey ? I say this without reading it, but then I got my pornographic fix from reading the Marquis de Sade. And of course I already know the answer to these rhetorical questions.

Perhaps Carl is right, and we should all return to reading Jane Austen. But sitting in the hot summer sun on a Newport beach, I need to get into that bracing Atlantic water.

BTW—on the beach, I was unerotically reading Jay Cost’s excellent new book on the Democratic party, Spoiled Rotten . It is an excellent book, but it doesn’t provide the Look of Love . Nonetheless, while I read, the sun was hot! Luckily the ocean was nearby. The hot and cold on the beach could keep me spoiled.

Articles by John Presnall

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