March 30, 2012 4:00 AM EDT

“It changed my life,” my friend announced at dinner a few months ago. The “it” in question was a book, which she described as orgasmic. My interest was certainly piqued. In furtive late-night conversations and mid-day lunches over the next few months, the transformational qualities of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, by British author E.L. James, spread among the wives and mothers all over New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County. The series, which began as online fan faction before racking up hundreds of thousands of e-book downloads, are about an S&M relationship between a billionaire and a virginal young college student. What started across the Atlantic as one woman’s desire to bravely express her lurid desires, had created sensual upheaval—as well as an ad hoc community of empowered women bound by their shared discovery of pleasure—in the unlikeliest of places: the suburbs. And I just had to document it.

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits Riyadh Friday, one of the main goals is to convey to the Saudis that the American commitment to their security remains iron-clad, the New York Times reports. The strategic relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been a stabilizing force in the Middle East for decades, but recently the allies have faced disagreements over policies toward Iran, Syria and Egypt. “Their view of Mr. Obama is that his entire understanding is wrong. The trust in him is not very high, so he will not have an easy ride, and a lot of hard questions will be put on the table,” Mustafa Alani, an analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center, told the Times. Negotiations with Riyadh's arch-rival Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, and the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran, have especially worried and angered the Saudis. [The New York Times]    
Gillian Laub

In mid January, I attended a book party in New York City for James, who was literally overwhelmed to tears of joy (and alarm) by a pack of hundreds of middle-aged women acting like adolescent girls unleashed on Justin Bieber. “I’m completely and utterly stunned by the reaction to these books,” James would tell me, a few days later, at my apartment. All the women in attendance claimed the same of themselves: forever changed – and all for the good. “You need to read it. You need to do it now. And you need to wear panty-liner,” one woman’s friend warned. Another fan at the signing told James that she’d never had an orgasm before—and that at 43, she had her first one just reading it. It’s obvious that Fifty Shades of Grey has become a suburban literary virus of sorts. And James’ life—as well as the women readers she inspires—will henceforth never be the same.

Read More: James’ Bondage

Gillian Laub is a New-York-based photographer. See more of her work here.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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