The Book Genome Project is a fascinating and ambitious compilation of massive amounts of statistical data about books. Aaron Stanton, its founder and CEO, has written up an article for Digital Book World comparing prevalence and placement of sexual content of E. L. James’ first book, a genre representative romance novel (he chooses Elizabeth Boyle’s His Mistress by Morning) a volume of Letters to Penthouse and a novel once shelved in erotica but now considered classic gay fiction (The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil) . The question he’s trying to answer is one of genre. Do readers or bookstores have a firm idea of how much sex determines whether a book is romantic or erotic?
Whether or not that is a question readers or bookstores are asking themselves, his statistical graphs are fascinating and informative. Notably, there are differences in where and how much sexual content emerges in these samples. In Boyle’s novel, some sex appears early on (in the first fifth of the book) then disappears for a long while, re-appearing periodically at the middle and three-quarters points. Very differently, Fifty Shades of Grey makes readers wait considerably longer for the first instance of explicit sex, but then it appears more densely and frequently throughout the rest of the novel. Still, both of these fall into a very wide middle ground between the Penthouse Letters and Musil’s 1906 novel. For Stanton, this hints at potential genre shifts and more melding between erotica and romance. The idea of a range of sexual and erotic content may not be news to people more involved in the spectrum of romance publishing: expectations for an Amish romance not being the same as for paranormal ménage after all.
So, whatever level of heat you find acceptable for subway reading, chances are you can learn more about it through the Book Genome Project. Readers, writers, and publishers can all find something interesting in the wealth of data made available by the Book Genome Project. Genre analysis or hunting for the smutty bits are just two tips of the proverbial iceberg. Lastly, Stanton is right that 50 Shades of Grey is shifting perceptions of both romance and erotica and pulling both more into the mainstream.
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