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The Naked Reader Book Club: Ars Erotica, Part 2

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From censored to celebrated, erotica emerges from its dark alley and brown-paper-wrapper past to stake its claim on the bookshelves along with classic literature of every genre.

  What’s Saucy for the Goose…

With a great deal male-oriented sexual imagery having migrated to other mediums like magazines and adult film by the ’60s and ’70s and sexually revolutionized women taking more ownership of their sexuality, it was natural for more female-written and oriented work to begin to dominate erotica. Erica Jong lead the way in 1973 with the enormously popular Fear of Flying, which introduced the world to the phrase “zipless fuck.” Anne Rice’s hugely influential BDSM Sleeping Beauty novels (1983-85), written under the name A. N. Roquelaure, and Susie Bright’s groundbreaking Herotica, a collection of erotica fiction written by and for women sealed the deal of three decades in 1993.

“I’d been reading a lot of erotica and eventually thought, I could try this,” recalls Rachel Kramer Bussel who has edited over 25 anthologies, and is author of the soon-to-be-released, The Art of the Erotic Love Letter. “It was 1999, and I decided to write a story called ‘Monica and Me,’ about Monica Lewinsky, to submit to Shar Rednour’s anthology Starf*cker. It got published there, as well as in Best Lesbian Erotica 2001. That was thrilling for me, and I’ve been writing ever since.

“I’m a big fan of the early Herotica collections, and still reread those and remember vividly some of the stories I read long ago,” says Kramer Bussel, who, at the time of this writing, was reading Anaïs Nin’s Spy in the House of Love.

Also looming large, in the late ’80s to be exact, was Macho Sluts, by Pat Califia (now Patrick Califia-Rice), a collection of inventive, shocking, funny, sado-masochistic lesbian short stories, which sounds like another afternoon on Springer now, but was mind-blowing in 1988.

It was still a time of “the sex wars,” and in a thoughtfully provocative passage Califia talks about the “erotic totalitarianism” of a sexually homogenous society that makes it’s kinky inhabitants hate themselves: “We know we are ugly before we have even seen ourselves, and the injustice of this, the falsehood, chokes me.”

The mix of authenticity—the honest desire for sex—mixed with the art of presentation, wit and craftsmanship is what erotica is all about, and in the 21st Century, it’s moving forward with ebook and hard copy (pun fully intended) companies such as Ellora’s Cave, (whose sales, according to Digital Book World, went from $43,000 a decade ago to more than a projected $5+ million), and and smaller contenders like Wild Rose Press, which goes from sweet to steamy (and whose list of subgenres intriguingly includes "time travel"). Even the standard-bearers of the bodice-ripper, Harlequin Romance, has expanded into a heated line called Spice.

For Cleis Press, with new works by Califia, Bussel and prolific author author, editor, and bon-vivacious blogger, Alison Tyler, the ’90 s was a golden age but the new work shines just as well. “We started with Best Lesbian and Best Gay Erotica, in the ’90s,” Newman says. “Prior to that most erotica was little, smutty, poorly edited dime store kinds of books.” Not that erotica shouldn’t be explicit, Newman says, it should.

But just as many other facets of the adult industry have matured (i.e. vibrators becoming beautifully designed and sold in more mainstream locales), Cleis has helped mature, diversify and celebrate the genre.

“(Erotica) can be can be just so unflinchingly sexual and use all of the language that people use in speaking about sexuality, and it can be well-written and edited and packaged and have a beautiful cover and be sold in trade bookstores. That’s what we’re doing. The change we made is that you could have it all in one book…it could excite you in an intellectual and aesthetic way, and be very explicit and excite you sexually as well.”

[italic |The Naked Reader Book Club is where the best books on sexuality and erotica meet with readers just like you to form a more perfect, sex-positive union. Look for monthly selections from Cleis Press available the Naked Reader Book Club Store.

The Naked Reader Book Club Selections for April 2010
Best Sex Writing 2010
Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Best Fetish Erotica
Edited by Cara Bruce



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