(CBS/AP) "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first book in an erotic trilogy that has earned millions of women fans in a matter of weeks, has now expanded its fan base to men.
Reading on iPads and Kindles or hurriedly picking up the books in stores, some men didn't know about the romance part, thinking the surprise best-sellers by newcomer E L James would be more "American Psycho" than steamy Harlequin.
Others knew exactly what they were getting into, buying into the buzz since the venerable imprint Knopf took on publishing rights, shoring up a story that began as "Twilight" fan fiction and putting it out in handy trade paperbacks on April 3.
The book features a steely control freak of a gazillionaire - Christian Grey - who enlists the virginal (not for long) college coed Anastasia Steele for rough-but-consensual role play.
"People hear about flogging and stuff like that in this book, and they don't get it. I became emotionally invested in the love story, especially from the female's perspective. That was important to me, to put myself in Ana's shoes. It was overwhelming, and I'll never forget it," said Jeremiah Wirth, a grad student and Iraqi war vet in Maine.
He was so moved that he even sent James an email, "apologizing for assuming that your book was anything less than it is: wonderful." And she responded, his deep interest surprising even her, "given that you don't fit the demographic of the readership (women 17-100) but I am delighted that you enjoyed it."
John Puckett, who is gay, lives in San Dimas, Calif., where he works as a theatrical manager. He usually prefers autobiography and true crime stories, but now he's reading all three "Fifty Shades" books for a second time.
"I was pretty much hooked from the beginning," said Puckett, 45. "It grabs a hold of you and it doesn't let go."
Most appealing, he said, is Grey's slowly unpeeled vulnerability, that "lost, hurt little boy who craves nothing more than to be deserving of unconditional love."
The books are flying off the shelves as James is set to open her first U.S. tour in Miami on Sunday. Movie rights have already been sold and the guessing game is on over who will play the lusty key characters
Dr. Mehmet Oz even dedicated a recent show to exploring the books with an audience of women and, yes, men who have read them.
"This woman has gotten people talking about sex in a way that no one else could get them to talk about it," he said Tuesday night from the red carpet of a gala honoring Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world -- James included with the likes of President Barack Obama and Rihanna.
James, a Londoner and former TV producer with two teen sons, didn't attend the event but has called the books her "mid-life crisis." She replaced her original Twi-names as her story jumped from free downloads promoted on fan sites to not-free e-books and hard copy from an Australian publisher, then finally Knopf.