Charity Sex: 50 Shades for a Cause

The Skinny Books editor takes on the 50 Shades trilogy for a good cause. And doesn't enjoy it one single bit. No siree, honest, he swears. Not even the naughty parts

Feature by Alan Bett | 13 Feb 2017
  • Fred Fletch: Sex Club

This month has been an awakening for me, as a cold and dry January of abstinence blossomed into a sultry February of indulgence. I’ve experienced things never contemplated nor even imagined by this fine and upstanding Books section editor. Endured cruel tortures in a red room of pain, as a submissive to none other than Mr Christian Grey.

I’m being metaphorical of course. I think. I hope. Who the fuck knows by this point. For the last two weeks I've been trussed up in unrealistic, repetitive dialogue and spanked repeatedly by truly awful analogies. Over the 28 days of February I am at Christian and Anastasia's beck and call, forced to read the full 50 Shades trilogy to raise money for Scottish Book Trust literacy programmes. You see, the Scottish Book Trust currently support 20 appointed Bookfellas, each tasked with raising awareness and cash for the Trust’s literacy programmes, specifically encouraging Scotland's men to read for pleasure. While other Bookfellas opted to place wholesome, herculean feats of physical endurance at the core of their fundraising activity, I, as a cultural martyr, opted for 1500 pages of erotica.

I needed something to test me, so initially I'd compiled a varied list of potential titles for the project. These ranged from the 1.2 million deranged words of L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series, to Marcel Proust's huge and heavy tome In Search of Lost Time, narrating a life from childhood to adulthood.  Call me a coward, but I settled on something which would test me in a very different way. 50 Shades fit that bill. It enjoys universal infamy and so I hoped my so called 'Mommy Porn' marathon would capture the public imagination. Plus, the novel's light mockery feels a relatively victimless crime. If its author takes umbrage at all then E. L. James can simply dry her tears with £100 notes while the highly successful films play in the background. Even the book's fans seem unperturbed. In fact it is scarred trilogy veterans who have been my most generous and gleefully vindictive sponsors thus far.

The process has not been without pitfalls. Aligning my readathon with the cinema release of 50 Shades Darker was by pure bad luck rather than sadistic design. Unable to switch off from the task, I've been stalked by trailers, adverts and countless opinion pieces, even within our own magazine; an intensive root canal last week offered a rare and delicious hour of respite from the slap and tickle. In addition, friends and family saw donations as not only benefitting a good cause, but offering value for money in allowing free swings at my ego and pretentions, both to be mortally damaged by the neccessity to read the books in lunch breaks and during my commute to work. But plans around such public consumption were swiftly reconsidered after BTL comments in this Guardian article equated publicly reading 50 Shades to watching porn on the tube. Masking book covers under the brown bag uniform of the liquor store seemed a further step in the wrong direction. In addition, issues relating to the genre at large were raised by reading Eimear McBride's fascinating discussion on the problems with erotica in the London Review of Books.

But reading should be fun, with this campaign specifically promoting reading for pleasure. 50 Shades, despite the flack it endures, has brought a lot of pleasure (of many types I am sure) to millions of people across the globe. And if I couldn’t have a bit of a laugh with the idea then we’re in a bad place. The Scottish Book Trust highlight the fact that reading for pleasure is more important to educational achievement and future success than wealth or background. We know that fewer boys and men read for pleasure than women. And we know that only a quarter of dads under 25 read to their children, compared to over 60% of mums in the same age group.

Reading and writing improve mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and dementia, and they influence our work and relationships. We live in a Scotland where one in five children are growing up in poverty, children from deprived backgrounds often do not go on to higher education and 35% of the adult population lack the literacy skills expected of an 11-year-old. Encouraging everyone to read for pleasure could help remedy this. So, I’m reading something outside my comfort zone, to encourage us Scottish men to read and enjoy whatever we like.

So, why not sponsor this pretentious literary type to battle through the trilogy. My progress will be recorded on my Just Giving page and a live Skinny podcast reading is currently in discussion where I plan to take a 50 Shades quiz to prove myself. You can also find out more about Bookfellas and view a list of further worthy projects others have and are undertaking. Reading and writing have the power to change lives, not only ruin mine for a month.

Bookfellas efforts will help ensure Scottish Book Trust can continue to help the people of Scotland thrive through reading and writing.