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October 03, 2006

Why Aren't More Books More of a Turn-On?

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If books people -- ie., librarians, publishers, profs, etc -- are serious about wanting people to read, why don't they publish and promote more -- and better -- sexy books? Erotica writer Polly Frost recalls being aroused into readerhood by "Lotta Drum and the 69 Pleasures." Nice passage:

She had to endure lesbian love from her captors, as well as some highly detailed bamboo S & M ...

The fact is, I can still remember passages from "Lotta Drum" that I can't remember from the books I'd been assigned in school. I slept through "The Red Pony," and even though it was a "classic" it had no impact on my life and today I can't recall anything about it except for a lot of tedious metaphors that my teacher wrote up on the blackboard.

Lotta Drum, however, has stuck with me ...

Librarians, listen up! Erotica writers are your best friends -- we're the ones who get people hooked on reading.

That's for sure, at least in my case. As a kid, I spent a Lotta Time reading the sexy potboilers that Polly praises in her posting: Jackie Susann, Harold Robbins, Mickey Spillane. Those in fact are the books -- along with the comic books I was enjoying at the same time -- that turned me into a lifelong reader. One thing's for certain: There's nothing quite like a novel that's full of good parts to make a kid's reading-comprehension skills skyrocket.

I can't imagine that there aren't, oh, a few million other people with similar stories to tell. Given this, why is the books establishment such a dreary, do-gooding, back-to-school thing? And what were some of the books that turned you into a reader? Saucy and dirty candidates especially encouraged.



posted by Michael at October 3, 2006


Switching between your blog and Rod Dreher's is like travelling back and forth through the looking glass. He just had a post a week or so ago complaining about an Epischopal school having its high school students reading _Brokeback Mountain_. I think erotica won't fly with that demographic. But how about something everyone can agree on: adventure? Why don't students read _The Count of Monte Christo_? Sure, it's huge, but Dumas keeps the action moving.

Posted by: CyndiF on October 3, 2006 3:51 PM

Books written with the intent of being "erotica" are awful, in my experience and I can't think of any books I've found sexy at the moment, I just wanted to get that first point out there.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 3, 2006 4:08 PM

Reading passages of my dad's dirty books, stored on the upper shelf of his clothes closet and in his underwear drawer, helped me learn to speed read and scan pages to find what I was looking for. . I was reading with a double purpose: to get aroused and not get caught. I employ this skill today scanning books I teach from or write about, scanning for passages I want to quote or that I remember as substanial. I'll be forever grateful to books like *Glover* and *Valley of the Dolls* for helping me develop this scanning skill.

Posted by: raymond pert on October 3, 2006 4:54 PM

Donald and Scrooge McDuck comic books, the ones illustrated by the great Carl Barks, back when they were real adventures -- traveling to "Betelgeuse" and "Indo-China" -- had the first and most profound influence, then probably my parents' quaint old sex manuals (don't ask), "hidden" behind the headboard of their bed and studied with awe and horror by me and my best friend after school (my reading ability shot up quite mysteriously that year) before their return from work, then "Candy", "Lady Chatterly's Lover", quaint (again) old porn my father was drawn to (further increasing comprehension), then Nancy Drew mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and Edgar Allan Poe's short stories (especially The Gold Bug").

Posted by: Flutist on October 3, 2006 5:26 PM

Lightly editted copies of "The Weekly World News" and a stack of old "Mad" magazines got my number two son reading.

Posted by: Bradamante on October 3, 2006 6:09 PM

I hardly read anything until high school, and even then it was very infrequent (and consequently, I read slowly...). I doubt erotica will do it -- you came of age when visual, graphic pornography was underground rather than ubiquitous. I didn't discover erotic thrillers around the house but VHS tapes of hardcore boinking. Girls would go for the stories, true. But you don't have to worry much about them getting into reading. Boys are the endangered reading demographic, and they'll choose gut-exploring porn over subtle erotica any day. I was never a war nut, but I understand war stories are popular with young males.

I got into reading when I was a mopey teenager: Catcher in the Rye, Sorrows of Young Werther, novellas by Dostoyevsky or Kawabata -- y'know, stuff that would ensure I'd remain a virgin throughout college. I was never a novel guy, though -- again, they took a long time to read, and I had other things to do. I was turned on more by poetry: Donne, Eliot, Baudelaire, and outside the canon, Edward Gorey. Also real chick-magnet material, though among goth babes Gorey was a god (as was his indirect disciple Tim Burton).

I only mention the female attention thing since it represents a huge barrier to your goal of getting more young people -- especially boys -- into reading. One solution is just have them read pure dreck, like the words in between hot babe pics in Maxim. Another is to have them read chick-lit just to be able to talk with girls. I think most guys would have too much trouble with this -- yoga classes don't require lots of time & effort, but plodding through The Da Vinci Code is too much of a bother.

Finally, you could get them into the more manly Canonical stuff -- but nowadays any sign of being cultured marks you as a gay snob, not just, say, having a copy of Wuthering Heights in your backpack. Even if you read Conrad or Kipling, which is good stuff that young guys could get into, you'd better be the captain of the football team to preempt any rumoring. Just like if you went to school in a dress, you'd better be Dennis Rodman to make up for it.

Posted by: Agnostic on October 3, 2006 8:40 PM

I started reading blogs.

Posted by: Brandon on October 4, 2006 12:10 AM

Well, I guess I was less sophisticated than Polly Frost. I shoulda been hanging out with her. Just a weak-in-the-knees kiss in "Sue Barton, Student Nurse" was exciting to me.

However, I have a girlfriend who read "The Godfather" at age 10. I've always thought that was hilarious. Plenty of racy good parts. Precocious reader, Precocious teen!

PS---Madonna's character in "A League of Their Own" would agree with Polly. Remember she teaches that girl to read with a racy dimestore novel---as the girl sounds out "milky white breasts."

Posted by: annette on October 4, 2006 11:53 AM

"Finally, you could get them into the more manly Canonical stuff -- but nowadays any sign of being cultured marks you as a gay snob, not just, say, having a copy of Wuthering Heights in your backpack. Even if you read Conrad or Kipling, which is good stuff that young guys could get into, you'd better be the captain of the football team to preempt any rumoring."

I never understand this argument. Were you really teased because you read books? I doubt it. I think it comes down to expectations. If you desire a certain type of person or lifestyle, yet are yourself another type entirely, well, you're going to run into trouble. I was bookish in high school and ran with a bookish crowd, male and female. We didnt' give two shits about impressing anyone but ourselves, and so were never the brunt of any hazing.

Posted by: the patriarch on October 4, 2006 12:20 PM

No, I wasn't teased for reading books, but again, the problem demographic is not young people who are bookish & non-conformist. It's guys who would rather be playing manly sports and otherwise want to fit in.

Posted by: Agnostic on October 4, 2006 12:37 PM

I can't believe no one mentioned Judy Blume in this thread.

Posted by: Spungen on October 11, 2006 2:33 AM

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