New Fifty Shades of Grey Tests Positive For Herpes and Cocaine. Germaphobes, unite! And grab a tinfoil hat while you’re at it! If my opener didn’t tip you off, I’m one of those people who believes dirt is good for you, antibacterial everything is not, our pets sleep in our beds … you get the picture. With that in mind, I had to double-check my web browser to make sure I wasn’t on The Onion when I clicked on a Facebook link about library copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey” having herpes.
Apparently a couple of Belgian scientists, one a toxicologist and one a bacteriologist, were bored and decided to do something no one else had. Well, they didn’t quite succeed, as a group at Brigham Young University tested for bacterial colonies on popular library books back in 2011, but I doubt the BYU professors would have tested “Fifty Shades,” as the first installment of E L James’s blockbuster trilogy was only published in June of the same year.
Toxicology professor Jan Tytgat, from Catholic University of Leuven in Flanders, Belgium, examined the top 10 borrowed books from the Antwerp Library for all sorts of nasties, including bacteria, viral deposits and drugs. All 10 books tested positive for cocaine, and “Fifty Shades” as well as Pieter Aspe’s novel “Tango” turned up with herpes simplex 1 — the strain that causes cold sores. The traces of herpes were not concentrated enough to be contagious; however, the cocaine, while not enough to get anyone high, was nevertheless strong enough to be detected by today’s drug tests. That alarmed even laissez-faire me.
So what do we do with this information? Sometimes, the more you know, the more paranoid you become — who here hasn’t felt ill, looked up their symptoms on WebMD or its equivalent and, at least for a moment, felt sure they had some dire, unpronounceable and possibly fatal disease? As I write this, I’m afraid of other people’s fear. What scares me most is not that I might pick up trace elements of something undesirable from a library book, but rather that other, more paranoid individuals might use this information as a weapon to close libraries, scare people away from them or police what sort of books can be read, and therefore published and written. Many of us lament the gradual switch from hard-copy books, magazines and newspapers to e-readers and Internet news — will information such as this study speed the trend? Will churches use it to keep people from reading smutty books? Will parents keep their kids away from the library? Will we have to wear gloves while handling books, or worse, with fewer customers, will the neighborhood public library become a thing of the past?
Perhaps I need to step back for a second, sip a cup of coffee and remember the words of novelist Steven Brust, who said, “Just because they really are out to get you doesn’t mean you aren’t paranoid.” We already know from Tytgat’s study that it’s unlikely anyone will actually get cold sores from Christian and Anastasia, or the handling of any other popular library books. The drug test implication is a little more of a plausible cause for concern, particularly if the drug test uses hair, where substances can remain for months. Even so, I think we can breathe easy. While it’s been years since I had a random drug test, the last time I took one I had to write down all over-the-counter medications, vitamins and all sorts of other substances I had been exposed to, so perhaps a question about library books should make its way onto those questionnaires. And although this study examined library books, I’d bet you that $20 bills or any crisp currency, hotel bedspreads and subway car handles have just as many, if not more, gross, disgusting, contagious and potentially criminal elements.
I’m not going to worry myself over this study, and I hope no one else will, either. My prediction? Interest in Pieter Aspe’s novel “Tango” will go up, it will go back into print, and if they release an e-reader version, sales will skyrocket. Let’s be honest, if it’s as drug- and disease-ridden as “Fifty Shades,” don’t you want to know what it’s about?
Mind you, I won’t go and borrow it from the library, but for privacy reasons, not disease control. And, OK, maybe I’ll use hand sanitizer when we actually have library books in the house, but I think we can all chill out, have a giggle and move on. As long as we’re not sardonic about it. Holy crap.