Ashley Cummings had a little mishap while engrossed in "Fifty Shades of Grey" on her way to the San Francisco subway. Head down, clutching her iPad, she ran smack into a fellow pedestrian. When the downloaded culprit became clear, her victim went from grumpy to new friend.
It's not the only time the 24-year-old publicist's e-edition was something less than private. Across the country in Connecticut, her 13-year-old brother wondered why she was reading "those sex books" when they also showed up on his iPad, since the two share an account.
"I laughed it off," Cummings said, "and proceeded to lock him out!"
Much has been made of the erotic trilogy's success thanks to discreet e-books, but whether downloaded or between paper covers, it has made for many a twisted life scenario since a mainstream publisher acquired rights and shot it out into the world nearly two months ago.
Margie Goolan's reading group with five, 40-something girlfriends in Novato, Calif., just finished "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" by Robert K. Massie. Before that it was "Tinkers," a Pulitzer-winning journey into the painful past of a dying clock repairer, by Paul Harding.
Highbrow be damned for their next meeting. They succumbed to Grey, though Goolan was pulling for Brian Doyle's "Mink River," the lyrical story of quirky, fictional townsfolk along the Oregon coast.
"I had a laugh when I bought `Fifty Shades' at the small local bookstore," said Goolan, in San Francisco's north bay area. "I'm in there often. When I told him that it's my book club's selection so I get the store's book club discount, he just smiled and said `so it's gotten that far already.'"
So much further, Mr. Bookseller.
Some Grey-lings proudly brandish their copies in public, posting and tweeting photos of themselves with their prizes for fun or as some sort of kinky badge of honor. Others won't leave the house with their books, while an unknown number are going the e-route.
Random House and its Vintage Books paperback imprint have sold more than 10 million copies of the rough-sex love story across all formats, including audiobooks. The publisher won't break down the sales by e-book versus paperback, but you know who you are (no judgment, just sayin').
Meagan Feeser, 30, in York, Pa., is a Kindle kind of Grey girl.
"It's embarrassing enough without everyone around you knowing that you're essentially reading pornography in their presence, not to mention the fact that I'm 37 weeks pregnant, so I would look like a walking stereotype," she said.
A walking "Fifty Shades Freed" stereotype. The last of the three books has once-innocent Ana enjoying a round or two of pregnant sex, Christian Grey style.
Feeser's all-female reading group took on the books in May. Two among them "loved it." Two, Feeser included, "are having a hard time finishing the first one." And two "never read any of the books and just come for the wine."
Turns out Feeser lives in a hotbed for "Fifty Shades," according to the book site Goodreads, one of the first places where the phenom surfaced.
The site looked at readership among 8.6 million members around the country to see which areas are the most Grey, weighting the data to account for population and membership fluctuations.
The highest concentration of "Fifty Shades" readers was in the East's tri-state and New England regions, though the books by London mom E L James were liked more in southern and plains states than anywhere else in the country, Goodreads said.
Dan Malkin, 24, of New York City found himself in a strange Grey moment when he whipped out his copy on a bus to Boston, earning him funny looks from his female seatmate. A stolen glance at her Kindle revealed that she, too, was reading "Fifty Shades."
"The real question in my mind," he puzzled, "was did she know that I knew?"
Lisa Holden, 26, in San Francisco was on a train when she pulled a fast one on a lovely, elderly gentleman after he struck up a conversation about reading devices, like the Kindle she was cradling as she read "Fifty Shades."
When their chat rolled around to what she was reading, "In a quick panic I lied and said `Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.' I wouldn't read this book without using my Kindle. It keeps me from having to talk to a stranger about spanking."
To heck with that, declares Patty Vonder Heide, 56, in suburban Chicago. She usually likes to read on her iPhone but chucked it in favor of hard copy for "Fifty Shades" when she found herself distracted by the constant page turns.
"I'll purchase the next book in print and will take it to the pool or beach this summer for sure," said the speech pathologist and mom of two grown children.
In Orlando, Fla., 25-year-old Laura Keesee has never been more thankful for her iPad as she read all three books nonstop. She's looking forward to re-reading without questions about why she's lugging around THOSE books again.
"Going into the bookstore and standing in line with the hard copies of the book, I would feel a little bashful," she said. "It's like standing in the grocery line buying condoms or tampons. Everyone knows what's going on."
Keesee's boyfriend teased her so much about her Grey obsession that she took to quickly flipping to a different app when he, or anybody else, got too close.
"I'm not usually a shy or bashful person. I told everyone I was reading the books. I got a few colleagues to start reading and we had full discussions in the office," she said. "But there's something about being in the moment and reading `Fifty Shades' that you just want it to be your little indulgence."