Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Peering Over America's Reading Shoulder

There are only a few things I genuinely care about in this world and books are one of them. Books, not articles, are a true test of endurance and intelligence.  Books reveal personality, aspiration, values.  To borrow a yoga term, they reveal your core.  They can provide testament into the interests - however playful, however serious - of the reader.

Today I was looking at New York Times Bestseller list and I found two interesting books on the much coveted list of creative non-fiction.  At #8, right in the dear company of Christian Lander's Stuff White People Like (yes, the website turned book deal) and presidential possibility Barack Obama, is I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max and is described by the New York Times as  "life as a self-absorbed, drunken womanizer." (Let me guess, the cover is black - yep.) All of that with a cover for $12.95.  To balance Tucker, we have (at #26) My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler which is described as "a memoir of one night stands."   (Let me guess, there's pink on the cover - yep.)

Now I haven't read Handler's book.  I read a chapter of Max's potty mouth when I was sick with the flu in my brother in law's apartment and it was laying next to me on the couch with his promise it was an old Christmas present.  It was every bit as disgusting and riveting as one can imagine an author described as a "womanizer" could be. 

I heard Jessica Valenti has a new book coming out entitled, "The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Woman."  I thought the title was interesting, but my reaction to Valenti's title is the same reaction when I see these two other books about casual (at best) and destructive sex (at worst) hitting the top of the NY Bestseller List.  Three words: failed sexual exploration (America's - not necessarily yours).

Let me explain.

I believe it's more America's stigma against healthy sexual expression and exploration that tie BOTH women and men to sexual polarized poles.  Once people hear "sexual expression" they think nudity, experimentation, or sexual orientation.  That's part of it, but there's so much intimacy with the sexual self that I believe gets lost in the study and literature of sex.  Sometimes I feel like now matter how many books are published in women studies or queer studies about expanding thought around sexuality, in the end, most people still think of a hetero couple having sex in a bed, in a bedroom, lights out, curtains drawn.  For as sexualized our nation is, our creativity tends to run dry.

Enter: creative non-fiction paperbacks about one night stands and a drunken womanizer and they soar like rockets.  The fact that these books are being proclaimed as exciting is a bit concerning.  What's going on between the sheets should definitely be more exciting than what's between the pages of #8 and #26.  What is it with our obsession, not with purity, but with the lives of out-sexing-truthtelling-nonapologetic heterosexuals?

I'd love to read about the uncertain, the moments of experimenting with one's self, or a first time you had REAL love making (which, rumor has it,  doesn't happen till women are in their 30s) and shirked old conceptions, similar to Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

I'm not saying I don't think there shouldn't be dirty stories and ridiculous memories retold of taking a picture of your parents doing the naked samba, I'm just saying that the glorified sleepover stories turned NY Times Bestsellers are saying something about America in the bedroom.  I just hope that our cheapening sexual stories aren't indicative of a cheapening of sexuality. 

I wish that at, say, #4 (or, dammit, let's get ambitious - #3), there was a creative, non-fiction truth telling nonapologetic witty book that talked about the crazy tales of getting lost in your own sexual self before you try and "have sex with a black man...from"
(anyone else smell racist sexualization of the black male here?) and get lost in someone else.  It's funny, I would have thought that in this day and age, the Molly Ringwald lessons would be ringing true for Gen-X: you won't find yourself in someone else; let alone your sexual satisfaction.

Quests for sexual intimacy, knowledge, confidence, artistry...mhm, now THAT's entertainment.  Short stories about blow jobs, hangovers in Austin, Texas, and midgets are old news.  I'm waiting for America to write a new chapter on sexual exploration.


  1. Anonymous3:09 AM

    I may, MAY, be having somewhat inappropriate feelings towards this post. But I don't think so. I think I just LOVE IT.

    in the end, most people still think of a hetero couple having sex in a bed, in a bedroom, lights out, curtains drawn. For as sexualized our nation is, our creativity tends to run dry.

    On bad days I wonder if we ever had any. I know we did and we do, but "dry" is right for the books you mention here--dry, mechanical, rote, dead.

    You set off a lot here that I'll have to think more about. Damn, do I love this.

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  3. I think you should write one, Sudy. I would totally buy it :P.


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