50 Ways to [Blank] Your Lover

Northeast Florida is no stranger to censorship. Back when this reporter was just a cub, the Beastie Boys came to Jacksonville, and pillars of the community rose up in protest of their raucous, phallocentric stage show. The band ended up winning a civil suit and a nominal sum against the city, but, thanks to the helpful guidance of people like then-Miami-Dade District Attorney Janet Reno and Tipper Gore, I was reduced to having my mom buy me the 2 Live Crew magnum opus “As Nasty As They Want to Be” (on cassette at the old Turtle’s Records at Market Square Mall).

Much has changed since then, of course. It’s possible to download any image — however graphic or heinous — via a simple keyword search. Censorship in the 21st Century runs more along ideological lines than personal morality; we have the right, broadly speaking, to look at pictures of almost anything. It follows, therefore, that we would have the right to read whatever we wanted.

That’s mostly true. But, as former Folio Weekly staffer Gwynedd Stuart notes in her current capacity at Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, some books have been deemed unworthy of inclusion in public libraries. One such book is the bestseller, “50 Shades of Grey,” E L James’ debut novel about a young woman’s sexual awakening.

Stuart wasn’t impressed. She noted that while much attention has been paid to the book’s shocking content, what she found most shocking was “That it is a book that was written by an adult person, not a seventh-grader … The lawsuit accusing John Travolta of sexual assault is written with more panache.”

And yet it has captured the hearts and loins of millions of suburban housewives, and created an attendant demand on libraries, some of which aren’t so keen on the book. Libraries in Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin have pulled “Fifty Shades” from shelves — or not ordered it in the first place — dubbing it inappropriate and poorly written. Cathy Schweinsberg, library services director in Brevard County, made the decision to pull the books in their system. “Nobody asked us to take it off the shelves,” she told Florida Today. “But we bought some copies before we realized what it was. We looked at it, because it’s been called ‘mommy porn’ and ‘soft porn.’ We don’t collect porn.”

Here in Northeast Florida, however, librarians have a different problem with the novel: Keeping it on the shelf.

In Duval County, for example, Willow Branch librarian Jessica Whittington observed, “We have so many copies and they all have holds on them, because every 35-year-old woman has checked it out.” When asked by Folio Weekly if there have been complaints regarding content, she observed, “The only complaint that we have gotten is that we don’t have any copies.”

This anecdote is echoed by Kathy Lussier, the Jacksonville Public Library’s assistant director for community relations and marketing, who notes that while they do carry the book, “There are more than 825 ‘holds’ on the material in all formats.” She added, “We are not aware of any outcry in the community.”

St. Johns County Library System Director Debra Gibson says the system owns the complete trilogy — “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed” — as well as e-book formats, and all copies have numerous holds (waiting lists) on them. “To date, there has been no public outcry about the book at any of our six branch libraries nor on our two bookmobiles,” she says. “We have no plans to pull the titles from our collections.”

Residents of Clay County, meanwhile, may have to wait to have their literary desires sated. Pat Coffman, library spokesperson, said “the county is still reviewing” the book to see if “it meets selection criteria.” Seeking clarification, I contacted Arnold Weeks, director of the Clay County Library, who further explained the Clay delay.

“I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a lot of reviews and talked to colleagues,” he said. “We’re leaning toward inclusion. The library is trying not to censor — we have never had a censorship issue in Clay.” He added that the last Florida library censorship issue he could recall was in “Marion County, 20 years ago.”

Though there may be segments of the county’s conservative core who would like to censor the book, Weeks is conscious of market forces. “This book is in high demand with a certain demographic — 34- to 50-year-old women. My wife’s library in Bradford County has it. St. Johns has it. Most have it.”

But will Clay have it? If Weeks is to be believed, Clay County may adopt it even before you read this. But the outcome is, as yet, far from explicit.

AG Gancarsk

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