Monday, March 26, 2007

The Books of Summer

Believe it or not, there are times when working at a sex toy store gets boring. Yes, even in Provincetown, even in the summer. During the week, especially on really gorgeous beach days, we’d often be terribly, horribly, poke-your-eyeballs-out slow. All by myself at the smaller of the two commercial street stores, with the door closed and the AC blasting, I’d survey my options: rearrange the displays for the hundredth time, take a demo model (and a condom!) up to the attic for a test-run, or pick a book from the shelves to peruse. Occasionally I’d fuss with the displays. I never actually took a toy upstairs, although I seriously considered it on occasion. Most often, I ended up reading a book. I read a lot of books. If you’re looking for something to read in your spare time – something, that is, that’s a little easier to curl up in bed with than your computer – take a look at what I thought of the books of summer!

I started with a pair of SM novels. Carrie’s Story and its sequel, Safe Word, both by Molly Weatherfield, follow a young woman (the eponymous Carrie) from her introduction to SM through her experience as a trained pony. The first book was sexy and intense and pushed my kinky boundaries. I’d never so much as thought about the idea of a 24/7 relationship before then, and although it still doesn’t really appeal to me, there are aspects of it that are exciting to imagine. The sequel, though, felt a little like sexual tourism. Butt plugs with horsehair tails attached? Pony carts? Slave auctions? After work I’d sit at my computer for an hour, looking up websites on pony play, trying to make myself understand that this stuff does in fact happen. Don’t get me wrong; Safe Word was a good read (with an interesting ending). It just also happened to be an eye opener for me.

From there I moved on to some lesbian pulp fiction, which was terribly depressing. If you’ve never read any, let me summarize the plot (because there’s more or less only one): mild mannered straight woman meets extremely seductive lesbian; “straight” woman is seduced; people find out and trouble ensues. In the end, the “straight” woman is saved or cured, and the lesbian dies or goes crazy. Published in the 50’s and 60’s, these books are interesting from a historical and sociological perspective – in a sense, they’re the mid 20th century’s prescriptive literature. I’m sure I’ve got some friends-of-friends who’ve written women’s studies papers on the topic, in fact, or if they haven’t they ought to. Anything by Ann Bannon is classic, and there are some great anthologies of lesbian pulp fiction out there.

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue was a fabulous read, but then it did combine sex and history (two of my favorite topics, if you hadn’t noticed). The novel takes the bits and pieces left to us by history of a young woman whose name made the news in 18th century England and fleshes them out, creating an engaging and intriguing story. Historical fiction fans will love this one.

Best Sex Writing 2005 left me, like the best lovers, wanting more. Although some of the pieces are sexy, it isn’t a collection of erotica – it’s a collection of sex journalism. I keep meaning to pick up 2006.

Noelle Howey’s Dress Codes weaves her own memoirs in with biographies of her mother and father and the story of her father’s social and medical transition to female; she writes with grace, humor and compassion, making the book and entertaining read even if the situation isn’t a familiar one for you.

I was utterly entertained by Bingo, by the prolific Rita Mae Brown (and before you ask, no, I never got around to reading Rubyfruit Jungle, and no, that doesn’t make me a bad queer). The familial fiction, clearly based on Ms. Brown’s own experience, had me laughing out loud even when there were customers in the store. It relates the story of Nickle, an out lesbian having an affair with a man, and her cast of friends and family. I found myself saying “YES! That’s my family!” over and over. Six of One, the book that precedes Bingo in the story of Runnymede, is high on my to-read list.

Eventually I ran out of fiction and had exhausted our entire library of Dykes to Watch Out For (and Allison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home). I skipped past the exhausting shelf of “How To Have Lesbian Sex” books – honestly, why is it that publishing companies think women need so much help figuring out how to do it?

I read SM 101 by Jay Wiseman, which is a fabulous beginner's guide (and intermediate's guide, actually) in terms of tools, tricks, and safety. The author is about as well-informed as one can possibly be, but the book is definitely written from an “SM scene” perspective; I kept finding myself thinking that anyone who just wanted to tie up her girlfriend once in a while would be completely overwhelmed by the details of floggers vs. paddles, etc. On the other hand, the section on consent and negotiation is crucial and extremely accessible.

I fancy myself a sex educator, and as such it’s important to me to read books on a wide variety of sexual health topics – even if they don’t apply directly to me. A Survivor’s Guide to Sex was interesting and informative and certainly got me thinking. The way that we relate to our sexual selves is so complex, and I liked the way the book highlighted that. It made for an enlightening read. I read large portions of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability. I seem to remember not liking parts of what I read, although I can’t recall why, but I clearly remember the light that switched on in my head when I realized how complicated sex can be. The way we shroud it in secrecy makes it much more difficult for people with disabilities to get what they need in the bedroom.

Following that, I read A Hand in the Bush, which is a guide to vaginal fisting. If you own a vagina, you probably don’t need this book. Allow me to sum it up: cut your nails, go slow, and use lots of lube. I tried to follow that up with Anal Pleasure and Health, but I had a fainting spell while reading about anal fissures and decided to set that one aside. It was full of wonderful, important information for men and women looking to engage in anal play. It just happened to make me very dizzy.

“But Amanda,” I hear you asking, “what about the smut? Didn’t you read any good erotica this summer?” Oh boy, did I. I also read some erotica that was only okay at best, but we’ll just talk about the good stuff. Exposed is a collection of stories by Alison Tyler. This collection didn’t go over well with my beau – he said it was written for women. Maybe so, because I really liked it. Alison’s stories are smart and funny. Much of this collection involves power-play in a really light, effortless way that I can imagine many of my friends identifying with.

The other collection that stood out for me was downright kinky: Best Bondage Erotica was edited by (surprise!) Alison Tyler, and is comprised of stories spanning different sexual appetites. It’s not too intense – if you’re looking for stories about bloodsports, or even watersports, look elsewhere – but it covers a good range and… well, it definitely got me off.

By the way, if anyone has recommendations for me based on the above, I’d love to hear them!


Shay said...

I'm always looking for something interesting to read in the summer when I'm getting some sun ^_^
thanks for the tips!

Anonymous said...

To add on (from a co-worker of the summer's bored days), The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability is a little fluffy. Chances are if you're a sex-positive person with a disability it will leave you wanting more, and not in the sexy way.

The Bride Wore Black Leather: Etiquitte for the Rest of Us was a witty and entertaining view of how to deal with...well... everything. It's a really worthwhile read.

A Hand in the Bush isn't much more entertaining for those of us who don't own vaginas (ok, at least not on our own selves... one can definitely own the vagina that's physically present in another person), provided we know how to play with one. It's true that there's not an awful awful lot more than the basics (foreplay, patience, lube, short nails, more lube) but those are essential to understand before trying anything.

Best Bondage Erotica gets a seconding from me, as I really enjoyed it. It's not always eloquent, but hell, it's supposed to be for 'private time' at least as much as it's supposed to inspire political and personal activism.


Amanda said...

I forgot all about The Bride Wore Black Leather, which incidentally is subtitled and he looked fabulous! That was a funny, funny book.