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'50 Shades of Grey': What is the appeal?

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(Read caption) “Initially, I had to put it down,” says one reader of '50 Shades of Grey.' “The sexual part was just, it was disturbing to me... [But] once you get through the initial shock, like anything else, you become desensitized in a way, I think,”

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“50 Shades of Grey” is not exactly your typical book club read. An erotic novel with fan-fiction origins, penned by a mysterious British mother named E. L. James, this first book of a now infamous trilogy, includes explicit scenes and heavy doses of bondage and sado-masichism. It's being described by bloggers and reviewers as “Mommy porn."

Needless to say, Oprah has yet to bestow her seal of approval.

But across the country, this originally self-published romance which now stands at the top of The New York Times bestseller list, is taking over the discussion at book clubs – mystifying more than a few industry experts and dismaying some social commentators in the process.

In Shari Von Holten’s neighborhood, it started with a buzz among friends on Facebook. Then Van Holten’s Long Island neighbors started asking each other about the book the street, discreetly, or during chance encounters the market. “My friends were saying things like: 'I just finished it, it’s the best,'” says Von Holten.

Intrigued, she floated the title at her book club’s next meeting, and the women quickly agreed to read it for March.  “I knew it was a little explicit,” Von Holten says, “but I thought maybe we could try it."

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