As the aughts, a decade fondly described by many to be the worst decade ever, mercifully makes way to the grave, an uncharacteristically optimistic blogosphere is abuzz with requisite "best of the decade" lists, signaling that even the grimmest times come with small condolences. These "best of the decade" lists are -- for all their neat hierarchies, pithy generalizations, and annoying assumption of authority -- quite fun to read. And, as a rare opportunity to recycle old news as relevant content, they are also fun to write.
Among the many "best ofs" floating about at the moment, I find myself gravitating toward the literary. For all their Anglo-centric, sexist, dead white male undertones, and despite the occasional mentions of Malcolm Gladwell or Dan Brown, these "best books" lists seem far less depressing than their pop-cultural (like hipster of the decade) or political counterparts (like top political scandals of the decade). And as I peruse the many books deemed by many opinions to be the best of the year or, grander yet, best of the decade, I find myself compiling a modest, literary list of my own: 10 Sexy Books Published in 2009. Having been all of 14-years-old in the year 2000, I don't really have the authority to create a "best of the decade list" regarding anything sexual.
However, I have certainly read some very sexy books this past year.
If sexy is to be taken by its dictionary definition as "sexually interesting or exciting," then the following ten decidedly qualify. Some are sexy for their potent ability to raise readerly temperatures, others, for their intellectually seductive, mentally stimulating faculties. Despite a somewhat disparate array of themes and subjects, each book is capable of producing the feeling that compels readers to, as my aunt puts it, "close their legs and open a book": the ecstasy of reading.
10. Confessions of an Ivy League Pornographer, by Sam Benjamin. Ahh, Ivy Leaguers, drawn, as moths are to a flame, to porn careers which are subsequently turned into quarter-life memoirs. Or not. Mind you, this career trajectory is not something I fault a college graduate, or anyone at all, from pursuing. In an economy in which a college graduate is lucky to find a job doing anything, partying with porn stars sounds like the glittering reward at the end of a Horatio Alger (himself an Ivy League grad) tale. With the dreaded spring semester looming ahead, soon-to-be-graduates are advised to find inspiration where they can. Hint: Benjamin's book.
9. Over Here, a volume of poems by Frank Sherlock. Having won a coveted Sexiest Poem of 2009 award, from CAConrad's "Sexiest Poem Award" blog, Sherlock is a shoo-in for a spot on this list. "Over Here" is, without a doubt, a sexy poem -- though it's not a poem about sex. What makes Sherlock's poem sexy is, in CAConrad's words, its "tenacious defiance for culture's endless forms of violence to our fellow humans, other animals and the environment." Hmm... tenacious defiance...
8. Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, by Kathleen Rooney. In the beginning, there was irony: Rooney began working as a nude model after being fired from her cafe job because she refused to sleep with her boss. Her experiences as an art model are the inspiration and subject of her book. Rooney is a talented writer whose honesty, conviction, and obvious poetic gifts underline her ambitious theoretical observations. In this contemplative book, Rooney ruminates on working in the buff and, in the process, finds something to say about Roland Barthes, Judeo-Christianity, and the Terra Cotta warriors of China. Somehow, she succeeds in making such declarations convincing; Rooney did earn money being naked, but her memoir cloaks that nudity in layers of meaning.
7. Obsession: An Erotic Tale, by Gloria Vanderbilt. I wrote about Vanderbilt's erotica earlier this year. Vanderbilt, who will be entering her 86th year in 2010, has a habit of becoming hugely successful in endeavors that should reasonably predict the exact opposite. Like that time in the '80s when she lent her name a line of high-waisted mom jeans... for women and men. The famous socialite's new career as a writer of BDSM erotica has impressed even Salman Rushdie, who acknowledged, "Writing about work and writing about sex are probably the two hardest things. If I'm still doing it when I'm 85, I'll be very grateful."
6. Roberto Bolle: An Athlete in Tights, photographed by Bruce Weber. Men are lucky. Men are not confronted nearly to the degree that women are by images of bodily perfection. Can you imagine what would happen if half the advertisements featuring undressed women, from Victoria's Secret to American Apparel to PETA, were to be replaced with one of Weber's strapping Adonises? For my benefit, can we conduct an informal experiment using Weber's images of Roberto Bolle?
5. Best Women's Erotica 2010, edited by SF's own Violent Blue. As a genre, erotica is tarnished with a sorry reputation, so it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of good erotica-writing abilities must be in want of a literary champion. Anais Nin had Henry Miller; these women writers have Violet Blue. Like the other "Best Women's Erotica" collections Ms. Blue edits, her latest will not disappoint her readers and fans.
4. Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, by Leanne Shapton. To any degree that a break-up can be sexy, this one is, perhaps because, in reading Shapton's book (an experiment of form that is part story, part photo essay, part auction catalogue) we can't help but recall the intensity and sadness of our own past relationships. Through ingeniously chosen ephemera, vibrant "artifacts" Shapton employs to bring her characters to life, the otherwise cloying artifice of a fictional auction becomes believably real. As this is a story of a break-up, it makes perfect sense that we should see nothing of Lenore and Harold themselves. Like our own ex-lovers, their identies are marked by absence outlined in memory, as invisible fingerprints tracing the objects they leave behind.
3. The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder, by local writer Stephen Elliott. Granted, neither murder nor Adderall is sexy. Then again, this isn't a book about murder or Adderall. Like most of Elliott's work, The Adderall Diaries is about Stephen Elliott and, true to form, his latest effort contains (in addition to good writing and a dark backstory that readers familiar with Elliott's work will recognize as one that could only have happened in this author's universe) a healthy dose of stolid sexual confessionism. Judging from the behavior of some of Elliott's fans, as gathered from his own reports and my own firsthand observations of several local readings, Stephen Elliott is a subject that some women do find sexy indeed.
2. We Did Porn: Memoir and Drawings by local writer/artist/pornographer Zak Smith, a tome that helped SFBG's D. Scot Miller overcome his "fear and predjudice of hipsters." Given that Smith looks like a combination between Devon Sawa's character in SLC Punk and a guy I had a crush on in high school who drew pentagrams on his fingernails with a White Out pen, we shouldn't understate the accomplishment. In any case, it was the art that swayed D. Scot, who contends that despite being a "artsty-fartsy, probably spoiled, uber-talented white boy artist," Smith's "artwork is impeccable. There is tenderness, daring, heat in his pieces. With a Nan Goldin compassion, he captures an intimacy and inclustion that is often lacking in the movies he and his comrades made." Seconded.
1. Don't Cry, by Mary Gaitskill. Mary Gaitskill is, in my opinion, the sexiest writer currently working in the English language. I've been an overzealous fan since I discovered, at an impressionable age, her short story "Secretary," a BDSM-themed story of a young secretary's affair with her boss (that later inspired the Gyllenhaal/Spader movie of the same name). Gaitskill is unafraid to tackle grand themes in small spaces, and it's her short stories -- oozing as they are in love, sex, and grief -- that her formidable abilities are most obvious. She lends an intelligence, devastating accuracy, and unmatched bravery of sentiment to topics otherwise reducable as merely "perverse". In "Folk Song," Gaitskill creates a female character who decides to have sex with a thousand men in a row. A 43-year-old woman, in "Old Virgin," lends her anatomy to Gaitskill's precisely honed scalpel. My favorite of the collection, "Mirror Ball," reveals the theft of a soul, literally, as something that a beautiful young Mephistopheles collects from his trail of lovers. Like the sex that Gaitskill is so adept at describing, the stories in this collection are first brutal, then revealing -- and necessarily in that order.