TRUE CONFESSION: I am a lapsed (erotica) reader
I used to read a LOT. As a kid, I was always way ahead in the summer reading competitions at the library. I lugged home stacks of books, everything from science fiction to new adult fiction to some well-thumbed items I sneaked out of the human sexuality section, and I read it all. Man, I got ALL the stickers on my little summer reading map, every summer. Even in my late 20s, even holding down a 9-to-5 and a full-out nesting relationship, I would go to the new book section of my local public library every week and pull out at least one or two new books, just on the basis of the cover and the inside jacket blurb.
Nowadaysâ€¦ not so much.
I feel bad about this.Â People ask me for suggestions about what to read all the time, and I don’t know what to tell them. To make matters worse, I am myself a writer. I do a lot of writing besides the plays, all the Sidewalk Smut and so on, so I should be doing a lot of reading, right? That’s one of the ways you become a better writer, they say. So when I say that I don’t read a lot, I worry that people will get the wrong idea, as if I’m holding myself above everything, that nothing is worth my time. That is totally not what I’m saying. I’m not sure what the problem is, but it’s not that. I think it’s that what I’m looking for, in the act of reading, has changed, and I get overwhelmed at the thought of looking for it out there.
When I was younger, it was easier: I was reading to escape, or to live vicariously. I felt hemmed in by things, I wanted bigger and better. I didn’t see any way to go out and live those things, so reading turned out to be the easiest way to broaden my life. This was as true in erotica as with any other genre. I read Patrick Califia in my early 20s, back when he was still Pat Califia, and I thrilled to the descriptions of rough sex and brutal power games and strap-ons and fist-fucking and all of it, things that I didn’t even know whether I wanted, really, but I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to get them with my fairly vanilla girlfriend. Later that decade I read books like the Best Lesbian Erotica collections, yes, and I remember skipping and scanning through those for the rough stuff, too. The languid, loving pussy-eating and curtains blowing in the breeze, I already had all that in my life. I did all that. I was searching for something different.
And nowâ€¦ I can’t say that I have it all, or have had it all, but I’ve been living pretty hard and good. I’ve been getting around and getting shit done and getting done myself on a regular and pretty stellar basis. So I’m not reading for content anymore. I’m not reading to necessarily escape, or to go someplace new. I’m reading to learn how to get to the same universal human placesâ€”being in love, feeling downtrodden, or inspired, or tired, or yes, turned onâ€”in a different way. I’m looking for writing, erotic or otherwise, that pulls out the magic from the mundane, that teases the spiritual out of the sexual, that drills deep and fine enough, without getting twee, that you can see some seriously core shit happening, in the characters and story and setting. I’m looking for something beautiful and powerful and good.Â I am looking for bursts of poetry in my prose, where the author evokes a sense or memory in a way that whistles straight past my verbal brain and right down my spine. I want to see other writers do this, because it’s what I strive for myself. I’m not reading to sail away anymore. I need to read to get serious about my own shit.
So. I’m slowly picking up books again. I’m ready to start reading again, but really, if anyone has any suggestions, I’ll take them, in the comments or in a direct email. At my age, at this stage, I know exactly what I’m looking for. I just worry that I don’t have enough time to find it, let alone write it.