Erotica is something that we don’t discuss so much in American culture, certainly don’t talk about as part of our current reading list. Yet books like Fifty Shades of Grey top the bestseller lists and romance novels, a staple of American reading, include more and more erotic content. So we may not admit to it, but we certainly do read it.
Therefore in perpetuum let me openly proclaim, I read erotic novels. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes I laugh openly and immediately dispose of them. But, on occasion, I do read (shhh!) erotic books.
Typically I don’t write negative reviews in this blog as I want to encourage people to read, and I realize that people have different tastes, interests and so on, but for today’s lesson we will delve into the dark side of criticism. As with any book, quality of writing is important, and there are perhaps more poorly-written erotic books than there are in other genres. Fifty Shades of Grey sold like wildfire, so obviously many people loved it. I too read this title to see what all the hubbub was about. Well. Let me tell you a thing or two about this particular word salad. It’s one of the most poorly-written books I’ve ever encountered. And it’s not even mildly erotic. The attempted eroticism is laughable. Ha ha!
Now the only reason I bring this book up is to have a sort of base line with which to compare other books. I fully support anyone who enjoyed this book because one of the important things about reading is to have fun. However, I am going to stand by my earlier assertions. So let’s look at some other erotic literature in the library and see how it compares to this recent bestseller.
The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
The Fermata employs an extremely literate writing style enjoyable perhaps to the readers of Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides or Yann Martel. As with anything sexual in nature, the story certainly has the ability to offend, but this is on the kind and gentle end of the spectrum. The story tells of a man who is able to freeze time, and, as one might suspect, he uses this ability to take advantage of women, although only by undressing them. What makes the character interesting is that he is not a drooling pervert but a sensitive, caring person with a sort of moral code that he imposes on his interactions with the frozen women. The erotic content of this book is more titillating or sensual than overtly sexual.
Jane Eyrotica by Charlotte Brontë and Karena Rose
A somewhat popular literary trend of recent years is the literary remix. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!, The Meowmorphosis and Zombie Island are just a few examples of classic literature updated in an absurd, nearly surreal manner. The best of these feature seamless rewrites, the style of the modern author matching perfectly that of Austen, Kafka and Shakespeare. Jane Eyrotica is a rather racy remix of Brontë’s classic, rampant with bosom heaving, Victorian innuendo, bondage and somewhat explicit carnal activities. Although the story is changed a bit (Jane being 16 rather than 10) to accommodate the subject matter, this is a well-written book, classic yet sexual, and a far cry above the quality of Fifty Shades. For a quick taste, witness Jane’s reaction when looking at a photograph of an attractive man:
“Upon first seeing [his eyes], I had felt a jolt of pleasure beneath my petticoat;”
A fairly tame observation, Victorian in its naiveté, but merely an aperitif of what is to come.
Twilight Girls by Paula Christian
Both an example of 1950’s pulp fiction and vintage erotica, Twilight Girls is an early lesbian romance. The book contains two novelettes about a stewardess called Mac who is tired of men’s advances and one night stands. After finding herself confused and attracted to another stewardess, Toni, she transfers to a faraway state and tries to put her feelings for Toni behind her. Without giving too much of the story away, this is a book about a relationship (which just happens to be lesbian) peppered with tawdry and sordid encounters as the characters come to terms with their true natures. Although pulp by definition is not high-quality writing, this tale is still head-and-shoulders above Fifty Shades.
Finally, here are a few mainstream romance authors who include healthy doses of eroticism in their books.
So what have we learned today? Erotica comes in many shapes and sizes. Read it proudly, read it discerningly, but most importantly, don’t forget your petticoat.