Thursday, June 01, 2006

Travel/Reading



First, just a quick note to say I'll be on the road for the next few days, and am not sure what my 'net access will be like. So things may progress as normal, or they may go quiet--we'll just have to wait and see.

Second, I've been wanting to point out that Playboy has created a list of "The 25 Sexiest Novels Ever Written." Go check it out and let me know what you think. Are these nominees valid? Should there have been others instead?

Personally, I think the title of the list is problematic. "Sexy" is defined as "arousing or tending to arouse sexual desire." I would agree with that definition; so I posit that a number of these books, while they talk about sex, are not sex-y. There's a difference, you know.

Actually, I often think the problem with most people is they don't know there's a difference. A frank discussion about sexuality is not the same as having sex or creating arousal--and yet many people treat it like it is; as if mere discussion of sex is taboo ("Sex education is condoning sex."), or embarassing ("How could you say that in PUBLIC?!?"), or meant to be deliberately stimulating when that is far from the point ("She's not embarassed to talk about sex, therefore she must be easy."), among other things.

Anyway, I have to say I'm surprised Playboy wouldn't differentiate. Portnoy's Complaint is a sexy book? Come ON. They say they chose it because it was the first book to talk about masturbation. But just look at the excerpt--there are plenty of ways to talk about masturbation that are FAR from sexy. Portnoy's Complaint is frank, yes. But sexy? No.

And of course, my all-time erotic lit axe to grind: Lolita. The book no one actually reads, but everyone insists is sexy. Lolita isn't sexy. Now please understand, I have nothing against seduction erotica, or May/September pairings (yes, I meant September, not December), but that is NOT what Lolita is. Read the book, people. It's about a pedophile who marries a woman in order to attain guardianship of the child he wants to fuck, then kills her mother so the child has no recourse but to rely on him and submit to his whims in order not to be entirely abandoned. It's a fascinating literary study of mental illness, but it's not sexy, and in fact hardly has any sex in it--it's primarily just Humbert's obsessive ramblings, with no actual action. In fact, even Playboy's write up of it says:
This novel has a reputation as a "dirty book" that it doesn't really deserve; its storied buzz is hotter than the text itself, which is why it doesn't even make our top 10.
So, they're naming it one of the 25 sexiest novels of all time because it's got a reputation of being dirty even though it's not actually very hot? What kind of crap logic is that? Come on Playboy editors, show a little literary cojones. Break the mold; call a non-sexy book what it is, and put an actual sexy book on the list.

I'd agree some others are certainly stimulating. I haven't read them all, so I can't judge the entire list; but Lawrence, Jong, Miller...these people made grand and often successful attempts at sexiness. And I can see how the Story of O could get some people all stirred up based on its subject matter, though personally I find the prose to be pretty simplistic and dull. No matter how many times I try, I can never finish it, and not because I need to go pleasure myself; I just get bored. And again, I love me a good non-consent story; but I need more than just a "...and then he did this and she did that and then this thing happened and then someone else said let's do that next, and they did."

So anyway, I say either change the list's name to "The 25 Best Sexually-Themed Novels Ever Written," or replace some of the non-sexy titles with ones that are sexy in the truest sense of the word (and I vote for #2). I wonder if the problem is there just aren't enough well-written, truly sexy novels out there?

Food for thought. Discuss at will.

6 Comments:

Blogger Evil Minx said...

THANK YOU!

Finally someone else says out loud what i've been saying for years. Lolita -- while gloriously written (far be it for me to criticize Nabokov, nor would i wish to do so) -- is an utterly foul and horrible story.

I can breathe again. I'm with you on the whole "discusses sex or sexual activity but isn't sexy" thing too. Very much so.

*blows Syl kisses*

6/02/2006 8:58 AM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

Well if anyone read Lolita they'd also know that Humbert Humbert doesn't actually (personally, and intentionally) kill Lolita's mother - she is hit by a car as a result of fleeing the house after an argument.

Yep, I've read Lolita.

I admire Nabokov for writing it, because while Lolita is a young girl, the type of girl Nabokov describes isn't all too distant from Mandy Smith (who was briefly married to Rolling Stone Bill Wyman), who wasn't a 'child' in the sense of being unaware of her sexuality and the power she wielded. Lolita, in the novel, is aware of her sexuality. Those who've read it would know this, before being (too quick) to mouth off. The novel isn't just about the writing, it's also about the themes it presents, themes that are a reality in the 21st Century. It's a book that will never date, theme wise.

Anyway, the great erotic novels for me are those that speak more about the nuances of lust, love and sex (the positive and negative), and don't focus on the 'porn' aspect. Too many to mention: Tropic of Cancer, Philosophy in the Boudoir..but I doubt many people read those types of books these days.

;)

6/02/2006 11:31 AM  
Blogger bollocks said...

I read those types of books, Anastasia, and I'd love to see the rest of your list. You're spot on about Lolita, but I can understand the other opinions - that is the beauty of the book. Nabokov reels you in with his rhapsodic descriptions of the lovely Lolita to the point where you are mesmerized. But in the end, it all comes to bad, because that is what it must come to, given the predatory nature of Humbert's game. It's a great book, and sensual. Not erotic, and not affirming of the story it tells.

6/03/2006 12:00 AM  
Anonymous Shakes said...

I have to disagree about Lolita.
You say it's your "all-time erotic axe to grind" - and therein lies your problem. It isn't erotic literature. Nonetheless, it is a sexy novel (Playboy's reasoning aside).
Books that aren't "Sexually-Themed" can be sexy, too.

6/03/2006 9:24 PM  
Blogger The Rural Observer said...

I recently read Portnoy's Complaint and it was far from sexy. I'm somewhat surprised to see it on this list. Somewhat, given the source being Playboy.

In fact, sexy didn't even enter my mind when reading it.

6/04/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Minx: Glad someone gets what I was saying. :)

Anastasia: Thanks for the correction. I was writing quickly, and read Lolita many years ago and had a mental blip in the midst of my rush. You are correct in that Humbert is not the one who kills the mother (though he is not particularly sad to see her dead); I will correct it in the post. However, imho my other points still stand. While it is true that the book implies that Lolita is a sexual being, we also have to recognize the evidence we have of this is being told to us by an extremely unreliable narrator, as Humbert himself is the one giving us the only view we can see of Lolita (which is in fact not even her real name--further clue that Humbert isn't really *seeing* the child that is there). It's quite common for pedophiles to claim--and actually believe, despite evidence to the contrary--that children are far more knowledgeable of their sexual power than they actually are. I think his statement (I'm paraphrasing here, so am not sure if the wording will be exact) after her mother is killed is very telling--she comes to him because "you see, she had nowhere else to go"--not because she enjoyed being sexual with him. And yes, I know he says Lolita had had some sexual experiments before being with him. Even if this were true, it doesn't negate the fact that HIS sexual relationship to her was not sexy.

Lolita was the product of a mentally and verbally abusive mother, an absent father, and a sexually abusive stepfather. She acts out in very predictable ways--but I would not call them sexy. The thing that is fascinating about the book is that Nabokov wrote this before today's more public discussions about child abuse and pedophelia, and yet his character's behaviors are so entirely typical of the roles that are commonly played out in such abuse situations. But again, though this may be well portrayed, and interesting, it isn't sexy.

I'd also ask that terms like "mouth off" be avoided in commenting, whether to me or other commenters...it's an inflammatory phrase, and doesn't contribute to positive discussion. Any commenter can feel free to agree with me or any other commenter at any time, but I want to maintain a culture of respectful debate here, and everyone should have the right to state an opinion without it being derided. Debated, yes--derided, no. Thanks. :)

And yeah, it's a shame people don't read some of the old erotic classics. They could learn a thing or two.

Bollocks: As above, it's Humbert who lures you in with the descriptions of "Lolita," and though he clearly is lusting for her, it's not at all clear what it's seeing is actual. Plus, imho, Humbert's descriptions are so overwrought as to be entirely unbelieveable--I found them because of their grandiosity to feel fake and again, the opposite of sexy. But everyone has different responses.

Shakes: I'm saying Lolita IS sexually-themed, just not sexy. If you are saying something can be sexy without being erotic, I disagree. The definition of sexy is something that arouses sexual desire. Erotic means tending to arouse sexual desire. Oranges and oranges.

Rural observer: Same here. What were they thinking?

6/05/2006 8:33 PM  

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