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Sex And Gender

Delta of VenusDelta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The backstory of this book is as much a part of this book as its characters. Anais Nin and a group of her fellow writers were offered 100 dollars a month, by an anonymous collector to write erotic stories. For various personal reasons, the writers accepted this commission. The collector never revealed his identity or offered response except to urge them to ‘concentrate on sex and leave out the poetry’. Anais Nin and the other writers were stifled by this condition but unable to let go of such a lucrative gig. In a twisted kind of revenge, Anais Nin began writing more and more outrageous things, making her stories as ugly and grotesque as she could make them. Still, the collector devoured them and demanded more. Delta of Venus is a collection of some of those stories.

Anais Nin has mentioned how at the time erotica was primarily written by men and her attempts to push through her influences to emerge with her own writing voice, that of a woman’s perspective to sex. This is within the framework of a client who demanded that the emotions be filtered out, all while she felt women tend to fuse emotions more with sex.

Delta of Venus is not as beautiful as some of Anais Nin’s other work but it is a lot less meandering, much more focused on the sex. This is not to say that the sexual depictions are necessarily fine. This is a woman attempting to push a male perspective while retaining a feminine voice, while writing about sex, which differs so much by individual, let alone gender. The effort shows. The stories feel abrupt and bizarre. Some stories wander about from one sexual encounter to another, switching protagonists too. On the other hand, the book offers a smorgasbord of sex writing, dealing as it does with bestiality, S&M, rape, pedophilia, voyeurism, exhibitionism, orgies and incest.

The book in isolation is shocking rather than fine literature. But given the context of time and situation, this is probably a must-read for anybody interested in the erotica genre.

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Beyond Eden-Kele Moon: It Was All About The Sex

I was curious about erotic literature, especially after the horrendous 50 Shades of Grey and the rather insipid S.E.C.R.E.T. Much of sex really is about things other than the act, secrets, emotions, grief, nostalgia, family and promises. I’m coming to believe that good erotica is a story that recognizes this. And this book was a happy find that way.

Beyond Eden

Beyond Eden by Kele Moon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the story. Unlike other erotic literature I’ve read, the plot didn’t feel like just words bunged in between sex scenes. The threesome relationship and the fetishes came through well too, without disgusting or scarring. The sex scenes were fresh, the emotions adding a richness to the complicated dynamics between Paul, Danny & Eve.

Danny is an interesting character, the real draw in the story. His character is beautifully nuanced as the troubled in-love bad boy, as a reluctant stand-in for the snake in the original Eden story. The character of Eve could have been brought out much better, however. The two men and even the catalytic dom-from-the-past were well-etched characters but Eve, such an important character to the story, felt just like a random body, conveniently fitting into the sexual/emotional dynamics between everyone else.

I noticed only about a quarter way into the book that that the two bodies in bed on the cover were both male. And then I couldn’t help noticing that the woman’s body with a strategically held apple, while beautiful was a Photoshop botch-up on the right leg. Minor but maybe not for a book that is about the appreciation of the body’s beauty.

I got this book off NetGalley, for a review.

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Fifty Shades of FAIL!

Do read my earlier post on Fifty Shades, if you haven’t already.

I finished reading the second Fifty Shades book – Fifty Shades Darker. I retract everything I thought while reading the first. This is not a good book. This is not a good story. These aren’t strongly etched characters. Fifty Shades of Bad Writing.

My biggest grouse with the books is that they’ve been grossly miscategorized, in an obvious attempt to reach a larger audience. It stands to reason that not even a fraction of the readers they’ve had now would have even stopped by an aisle (or online category) titled ‘Erotica’ or ‘Pornography’. But this push for more sales has I think, hurt the story. Genres, cover art and blurbs go a long way in setting reader expectations even before the first page is read. Fifty Shades is about as misleading on all of these as any book can possibly get. Fifty Shades of Dirty, Rotten Lies.

It’s bad enough business to fool the customer;  it only results in resentment. But here’s why I’m most pissed off. Genres like Romance & Chicklit convey a certain impression that the stories they tell are what life is like or is supposed to be like. Never mind how unrealistic they may seem or even regressive; within the social setup that we all live in, they make us, their target readers feel good. Romance is out and out candy for the soul laced with a little sex talk couched in a ‘safe’ manner that doesn’t threaten most women. And if you’re wondering about the ‘safe’ business, most women learn an emotion that most men never do, in bed – fear. Fifty Shades of love is supposed to be fun, not scary.

It’s debatable whether ChickLit is really empowering to women but at least superficially, it places a woman at the center of the story, much time is spent examining her moods & motives, which hitherto don’t find adequate expression in real life or in popular media. Having someone talk about things that you’ve been told are stupid or irrelevant, all your life gives you a burst of energy in a way that only people who’ve been marginalized in some way, would understand.

In contrast, Fifty Shades is dark, forbidding and hopeless – I can’t imagine anybody actually feeling good about it. The female protagonist Anastasia Steele appears to be little but a hapless victim of an abusive, hostage-situation relationship and subjected to any manner of mind games and deviant sex. If I’d found this categorized as BDSM or the larger genre of Erotica, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Different strokes for different folks (pun entirely intended) and so long as it doesn’t involve children, animals or murder, I don’t judge. I believe that we have different tastes but I also think that anything that doesn’t fall under ‘plain vanilla sex’ (as the book calls it) caters to niche audiences. I have a problem when someone tries to pull a con by mainlining a niche offering.

Books are powerful medium of expression after all and a more intimate one than the other mainstream media. A good writer can effectively get into your head and possibly even change your outlook on life. Imagine giving the kind of power to someone who believes that pain is fun, control games are a birthright and sexual abuse is the cure to physical abuse. That’s what these books have done. Fifty Shades of This is Madness.

The first book at least piqued my curiosity, having brought up things that you don’t normally hear about in mainstream reading. It also ended with Anastasia Steele taking a strong stance against the madness. The second book lost it all with Anastasia’s supposed stance crumbling in a mere 4 days and her running back to the abusive madness of Christian Grey. And as if to justify a third book, the ending pulls a flimsy deus ex machina in the form of a barely disguised villian with murderous intentions. Twilight couldn’t have disappointed me better. Fifty Shades of I’m so disgusted I won’t waste my time reading the third.

*Also posted on The Idea-smithy.

XXFactored Feb2011: Defying V-Day Month With Sugar Mamas, Smart Girls & DIY

February, month of Valentine’s day and mush-mania from the media. I’m determined not to add to that deluge of pink teddy bears, silk hearts, roses and chocolates. Here’s presenting my picks for the short n’ spicy month of the year:

  • The Rise Of The Sugar Mama (via YourTango).
  • I’m actually flattered as I think a smart woman would be if she read on to page 2: Thought Catalog on why you should date an illiterate girl (link courtesy Alfred Lee).
  • A good piece on innovative alternate uses for everyday products in beauty/fashion. (via Vintage Obsession)
  • This is so not good news for us. Ladies, what’s this strange fascination we have with mystery (the more dangerous, the better)?: “Want to pique a date’s interest: Play hard to get” (via LiveScience)
  • Sexual success dampens criminal behaviour. It’s not so much ‘calming influence of marriage’ as it is ‘ambition fulfiled’. (via The Economist)
  • “Admirer Calls out Girl’s Facebook Status ‘Im so sick of boys being such dicks”…and ‎….and the comment-war that follows touching on everything from boy-girl relationships, online venting and Digg vs Redditt. (via Digg)
  • An erotic writer writing as a man experiencing a woman. Gender lines crossing all over. (via RamyaRanee)
  • We’re not a stockinged country but everyone loves legs (yes, we women do too!) and I love graphs in pop culture. So here’s presenting a matrix of stocking styles. “What your hosiery says about you” (via The Frisky)
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