Dedicated to erotica-enthusiast Lana Harper, with many a filthy but loving thought.
It was Valentine’s Day this week!
It seemed apt at this time of year, when everyone’s thinking about chocolates and roses and the continued success of the commercial erotica genre (it’s not like a wasp! It won’t go away even if you ignore it!), to give you my view on properly good erotic books.
(Except, because I am lazy, I got some help from a couple of my friends.)
Here we go.
FANNY HILL, John Cleland (1748)
What it’s about:
Young Fanny (teehee) writes letters to a lady friend, and deigns to fill these letters with total filth. As a prostitute Fanny sees many a sexy adventure, which feature orgies, pretty men and massive penises. There is a lot of sex.
Why you should read it:
Well, for a start, it’s free, available online. It was the first English-language porn novel, too! Also, it’s way sexier than most of the crap on the mass-erotica market because it’s written in a very teasing way, with real loving detail lavished on the description of genitalia and sexual encounters.
“Curious then, and eager to unfold so alarming a mystery, playing, as it were, with his buttons, which were bursting ripe from the active force within, those of his waistband and fore-flap flew open at a touch, when out IT started; and now, dis-engag’d from the shirt, I saw, with wonder and surprise, what? not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant.”
HAND-REARED BOY, Brian Aldiss (1970)
What it’s about:
Aldiss describes it best: “Young Horatio Stubbs suffers the pangs of adolescence, but is weaned from the pleasures of masturbation by the delights offered by his school’s nursing sister, who is not all she seems. The novel became a great scandal in England, where it was rejected by thirteen publishers, and caused a lawsuit – as a result of which it became a bestseller.”
Why you should read it:
I’m going to go right ahead and say I really disliked the book the first time I read it. There’s young sibling mutual masturbation to get past before the school part, and it’s pretty odd to read about, to say the least. But the charming tone and constant exclamations of delight are actually very entertaining. It’s twee, it’s rude, and it’s caused a scandal, like all books worth their salt do.
“Kneeling beside me, she stroked my prick as though it was one of her guinea pigs.”
Lana recommended VENUS IN FURS, Leopold Sacher-Masoch, 1870
What it’s about:
Sexual slavery! (But not the shitty E L James type. It’s a story with a moral, donchaknow.)
Why you should read it:
It’s another free one! It’s lusciously, crisply written; the whole thing reads like a joyful celebration of eating with the eyes, sexual possession and obsession.
Check out the spectacular pubic hair metaphor: “Watch out, I have a large, very large fur, with which I could cover you up entirely, and I have a mind to catch you in it as in a net.”
THE STORY OF O, Pauline Reage, 1973
What’s it’s about:
Another sexual slavery novel, but this time more hardcore. Genital piercing, being whipped and servicing many men at once are all part of O’s role as a sexual captive.
Why you should read it:
It’s a staple of the erotica genre; it’s very hot (in my opinion… and the opinions of loads of other people, I presume); it glorifies female body hair (fuck yeah).
“Jacqueline had gone upstairs and joined O in her alcove. The sea and sun had already made her more golden than before: her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes, her nether fleece, her armpits, all seemed to be powdered with silver, and since she was not wearing any make-up, her mouth was the same color pink as the pink flesh between her thighs.”
Kim recommended THE EDUCATION OF VICTORIA, Angela Meadows, 2009.
I haven’t actually read this one yet, but the Amazon page for it promises great things, like: finishing school! Art of sexual pleasure! The sharing of carnal knowledge! Going to get on this one ASAP.
So we come to the third and final post in my Leafin’ Through series. I promised theatre, and theatre you shall have…
Obviously, your reading music had to be part of the soundtrack from the most famous film version. Yes, I know I’ve used one of the tracks already, but the soundtrack really is very good.
Third Leafin’ Through choice: As You Like It, by William Shakespeare.
Aside from being one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, there is one thing that makes this play especially suited to autumn – trees, trees, trees. The Forest of Arden is the main site of the action: if there’s one place you can and should be able to appreciate the new season, it’s a whacking great arboretum like Arden. In fact, Arden is so lovely that Celia comments, “I like this place and willingly could waste my time in it.”
Now is the perfect time of year to get good photographs of trees. This is where something real cool kicks in – the Globe’s Forest of Arden project. Send in a picture of a tree and contribute to an online Arden. The result will be made into a poster, sold in the Globe’s shop, and the proceeds go back into their work. What could be better?
The play itself makes a gorgeous companion to an afternoon stroll in your local park, or indoors on a rainy afternoon with your feet up. The simplicity of country life, a love story (or four), and some excellent clowning from the immortal Touchstone combine to make a really cracking October warmer.
On Friday, I posted part 1 of my Leafin’ Through articles. On a mission to supply you with new reading material for autumn, I’m back with my second choice – and we’re going from one England to another one in a trip across the pond.
This time, your reading music is a little bit different. Purely instrumental, one of Nicholas Hooper’s finest contributions to the Potter saga, I think you might find the eerie edge of this perfectly suited to the next book choice.
Second Leafin’ Through choice: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson.
This is an odd fish in many different ways. Castle‘s popularity apparently seems to have been fairly constant, with occasional surges among bloggers of a certain age. I myself came to it a couple of months ago when an Amazon review of Florence and Giles (worth a read by itself) compared Harding’s storyline to Jackson’s. Having read it, I can see why Castle remains a constant.
Merricat, Constance and Uncle Julian are a reclusive set of oddballs, holed up in a large house and overshadowed by the murder of their family members. Constance was acquitted of the deed, but the gossip continues. The ensuing events are narrated by younger sister Merricat, who is what I might call sweetly nuts. This might be an obvious statement, but the book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – gloomy, with a relentless sense of insanity simmering underneath. So why am I attempting to persuade you to read it?
Well, its tone and images suit the cooling temperature perfectly. There is an obsession with home cooking; in particular, a dish of blackberries is a recurring motif and vital plot point. Constance’s kitchen is a haven, away from the spite of the townsfolk and filled with warmth and taste. Obviously, there is another edge to this blade: Constance remains unmarried, catering to the disabled Julian and essentially trapped. Her domesticity is at once a contrast to the murders she was accused of and a depressing kowtow to status and gender. But since the book is told through Merricat’s voice, you inevitably feel comforted by Constance’s work, if only for the first half of the book.
Aside from being a staple of American gothic, the story handles subjects which, put frankly, are fascinating. This is a book in which sight and perception – and indeed not looking, and incorrect perception – run rife. The townspeople think they know more than they do; their stares follow Merricat to the general store and back again. Merricat herself imagines the whisperers as dead, and herself as queen of the moon. The element of mental illness snakes through the prose: Merricat lives by hopping from ritual to ritual, Julian misremembers the day of the deaths over and over obsessively, and it is very probable that Constance is agoraphobic.
Yet the book carries a strangely triumphant pennant. The sisters’ love for one another is the one thing that remains constant throughout the book and its events. Their relationship foibles, and they themselves, are odd but ultimately heartwarming. Indeed, Merricat won herself a place on a Book magazine list entitled, “100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900“.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is to be enjoyed with a large pot of tea in front of an open fire if possible and – if you’re feeling brave – a well-sugared bowl of ripe autumn blackberries.
Get your paperback copy on Amazon UK for £6.29, or download to your Kindle for £6.99, here.
What better way to start off my blog than by writing a trio of articles straddling two ever-pertinent delights: books and autumn! This post and the next two in the series were inspired by Jane Bradley’s Favourite Autumn Reads post over at the For Book’s Sake site. Reading in autumn is an ideal pursuit: indoors, with the heating on, mug of coffee. Maybe you’ve read your customary autumn stash time and time again, and you want something new. Hopefully, my top three choices – blending classic fiction, American gothic and, er, theatre – will give you some inspiration (and perhaps a new favourite).
For a little bit of reading music I’ve given you Paloma Faith’s new single. I can’t help but feel autumnal when I hear it, mainly because it’s used on the new John Lewis advert,, which has a lot of golds and browns in the palette. Coupled with the time of year it’s being shown on TV, the ad and the song are really nice little warmers to take the bite off the weather.
First Leafin’ Through choice: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens.
I adore this book. Well-meaning Esther ends up discovering some alarming family connections, whilst butter-wouldn’t-melt friends Richard and Ada fall in love and eventually (in a classic dose of Dickensian misfortune) suffer from Richard’s career indeciveness, and guardian John Jarndyce despairs over a behemoth of a law case and experiences decidedly non-fatherly attitudes towards young Esther. Dickens’s underlying purpose is to critique the law and its tedious, exhausting practices but there’s so much more. There’s smallpox! There’s a crazy bird lady! There’s (and this is the best) spontaneous combustion!
But there are two main reasons why this ends up at prime position in my selection:
I: The descriptions of landscape and scenery are phenomenal. I won’t spoil them for you, as they’re worth discovering for yourself. Look out for the infamous opening about London, Tom-All-Alone’s, and the grounds of the Deadlock estate in particular. They will make you curl up in the corner of the sofa feeling both slightly warmer for being indoors in a rainstorm, and very grateful for living in modern times. They’re also Dickensian prose as its finest.
II: The characters. Come on now, you knew that one. You may only have read a single Dickens work in your life, but you will have seen the insanely good way that Dickens names and enlivens his cast. Ben Jonson was doing the name-personality link way back when, but Dickens took it to incredible heights, and I think Bleak House is where he comes into his own. The sheer range of characters laid out before the reader means that you will end up with three or four favourites.
There are flaws, of course, depending on what you favour in your books. Esther can become gratingly selfless, and the subplot between her and young failing Casanova Guppy might be ludicrous for some (I really love it, actually). But not only is Bleak House wonderful cold weather reading material, the book itself is a weighty chunk that will give you a ridiculously large sense of satisfaction. Probably the Dickensian equivalent to a whole box of cheese and biscuits and a novelty mug-sized serving of cocoa to yourself. Definitely worth a purchase is the BBC adaptation on DVD, for some extremely entertaining autumn evenings.
Amazon UK retails Bleak House at £1.99 for paperback and free (free!) on Kindle, here.
ETA: For further celebration, elaboration and deliberation on Tom-All-Alone’s, I recommended getting a copy of Lynn Shepherd’s novel of the same name, on Kindle for under £5.
On Monday, I will be back with my second choice – a complete departure from Dickens, I can assure you!