Miss Conduct

Is it OK to read 50 Shades of Grey in public?

Plus, dealing with an advice-dispensing in-law.

Illustration by Lucy Truman

> A few days ago, I was visiting my father in the hospital. My sister was there, reading Fifty Shades of Grey (with our father lying asleep a few feet away!). Is it old-fashioned of me to think this is probably not appropriate reading material in this situation, or really any public setting? Am I simply being too prudish?

L.G. / Phoenix

Fifty shades of gross! Your poor father was probably only feigning unconsciousness out of embarrassment.

Reading in public is a fine, improving act. As a city dweller, I have always enjoyed the way public reading creates a barrier — yet a permeable one — between the individual and the people surrounding him or her. You have a sense of fellow feeling with readers, don’t you? Oh, look, that guy over there likes the New Yorker, too. Commuters catching up on the newspapers, students plowing through dense academic tomes, “escape” readers with their lurid science fiction or crime paperbacks . . . reading in public gives people a little window into your mind.


And therein lies the, er, rub. The purpose of Fifty Shades of Grey is to arouse the reader, which means that reading it in public is about as appropriate as feeling yourself up in the coffee shop. You are forcing other people to witness a sexual act.

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If your sister had put another cover over the book, that would have been acceptable. (Or read it on a Kindle. She wasn’t trying to get back at your father for not giving her the e-reader she wanted for Christmas, was she?) But reading clearly labeled erotica in a hospital — or subway, park bench, or Lutheran fellowship hall — is a violation of decency, and what on earth has happened to our society that I even have to explain that?

Besides, why on earth would you want to get yourself all hot and bothered in the ICU? I pity the women whose lives are so tightly scheduled that they must pencil in their porn during a few moments on the morning commute. Heavens, ladies, schedule a half an hour of “me time’’ and read the stupid thing in the bath or curled up in bed with a nice glass of wine. You’re worth it.

It’s not as though I’m immune to the appeal. Every time I see a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, I, too, am overcome with powerful desires and fantasies . . . that someday some dreck piece of fan-fiction I wrote will make me a multimillionaire.


> My mother-in-law is well intentioned but gives us lots of unsolicited advice regarding every part of our life — finances, child rearing, our professions. My husband says just ignore her, but I think it’s offensive and intrusive. Advice?


L.D. / Groton  

Never start a conflict with your in-law that your spouse won’t back you up on. It’s like starting a land war in Asia: a bad idea. If he doesn’t want you to confront her, then ask how ignoring her is supposed to work when she keeps returning to the same points. Ask him, also, to create more of a buffer zone between you. He’s used to the heat, so he should stand between you and the flame. You can start to create your own buffer zone by murmuring, “Hmm, interesting. Why don’t you ask Bob about that?’’ whenever she starts “helping.’’

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m.