Tell me a story.
While everyone we know is out enjoying BurlyCon, setting records for the world’s biggest fan dance, or justifiably heckling the film Burlesque, we offer you a special literary kind of supplement to tide you over until our post-Con recap…
If your daily news consumption gravitates toward smart sex bloggers, journalists, and erotic writers then you’ve probably heard of Rachel Kramer Bussel and Cleis Press. I first sought out Rachel’s intelligent commentary in the blogosphere after her name kept appearing in the seemingly endless wormholes of book recommendations I found myself navigating on Amazon. At the same time, I noticed Rachel had a hand in many of the books I thumbed through at Powell’s in the relative seclusion of the sexuality/excess culture/gender studies/erotica sections. (Yes, they were once corralled into the same aisle or two of the glorious Portland book shop).
From her home base in New York Rachel has written for some of the most broad-minded outlets online and in print (including Jezebel, The Daily Beast, Salon, The Village Voice, and The Huffington Post). She’s contributed to over 100 anthologies, and has edited the excellent Best Sex Writing series and scads of erotica collections with Cleis Press since approximately 2007. Another association that caught my eye? For five years Rachel hosted the In The Flesh Erotic Reading Series in New York City, which featured several authors from the strip and burlesque communities such as Lily Burana (Strip City: A Stripper’s Farewell Journey Across America), Jillian Lauren (Some Girls: My Life in A Harem), and New York School Of Burlesque Headmistress and BurlyCon Co-founder Jo Weldon (author of The Burlesque Handbook, who I previously interviewed HERE.)
This summer and fall, I read three books edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel: Best Sex Writing 2012: the State of Today’s Sexual Culture, Going Down: Oral Sex Stories, and Suite Encounters: Hotel Sex Stories. Lucky for the reading public – particularly those with a penchant for sexy stories or exploring sexuality as the ultimate form of self-expression in a sometimes contradictory culture – Rachel’s curiosity is as boundless as her cultivated literary eye.
For starters, the Best Sex Writing series is a nonfiction-loving sex journalism nerd’s dream. Since the series began in 2006, the collections have gathered the very best features covering everything from the origin of SlutWalks, to the tangled web of age of consent laws, and on to the weird world of female orgasm workshops. You never know what you’ll get from year to year; it’s fascinating just looking back at what topics were foremost in the media at a given point in time. In “An Unfortunate Discharge Early in My Navel Career” Tim Elhajj recounts some youthful experimentation and the unexpected venom he encountered when caught with another officer. Hugo Schwyzer’s essay “I Want You to Want Me” contemplates body shame and self-image from the often less verbalized (but no less damaged) male standpoint. “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” by Roxane Gay exposes the appalling story of a brutal small town rape and how the New York Times so carelessly wrote about the violence that an ugly situation became far uglier, and from a media source and culture we naively hoped would know better. In “Pottymouth”, Kevin Sampsell ruminates on ladies he’s loved and the unique language they used between the sheets.
As for the recreation provided by the pair of straight-up erotic collections Going Down and Suite Encounters (both also published by Cleis Press in 2012) – while traveling with these books tucked in my bag I began to contemplate the particular thrill that can be found in “reading your porn”, rather than watching it. Well-written erotic short stories are not only red hot reads, but often penetrate intimate places that visual stimulation alone takes some picking through to satisfy – your brain, and at times, your emotions. Contrary to current popular belief, contemporary erotica didn’t start with Anne Rice (aka A.N. Roquelaure) and then resurface with the poorly-written Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. There’s a lot of stellar sexy collections out there, and independent sex-positive publisher Cleis Press has been churning out an impressive library for over 30 years. Rachel Kramer Bussel’s witty introductions to Going Down and Suite Encounters set the stage for these two anthologies, and the rest is a rollercoaster ride through the limitless imaginations and sexual fantasies of writers from around the globe. Going Down, as the name implies, delivers over 20 explicit stories about the intricacies and pleasures of oral sex, but in ways that often unexpectedly get your imagination as well as your blood pumping. “The Perfect Shade” by Elizabeth Coldwell describes a woman giving her husband a thrill by leaving a lipstick mark where it counts; gum-chewing climax tale “Bubble Dance” is memorable for not only the bizarre scene, but for Jeremy Edwards’s clever use of language (“My erect cock floats as if it were a balloon animal’s tail.”). “Pretty Dull”, Going Down’s opener, wasn’t dull at all – but feverishly descriptive and oddly sweet.
From the microcosms of Going Down to the wide world of hotel sex – Suite Encounters is only a slightly less carnal collection that leans more toward the voyeuristic. What goes on behind closed doors may surprise you. The stories in Suite Encounters are satisfyingly steamy, while a few are touching for the loving relationships portrayed through the lens of a neutral playing field – the hotel room. A husband and wife arrange a situational lunch hour in “Selfish”. Lascivious strangers on a murder-mystery getaway in “An Inspector Comes” aren’t such perfect strangers after all. A male sex worker learns to be dominated from a desk clerk in “Night School”. There’s also the lush and dreamy language of hot little stories like “Air-Conditioning. Color TV. Live Mermaids” by Anna Meadows and the intriguing sexual proclivities of the writer known as Remittance Girl’s “Proof of Desire”. Suite Encounters is as lusty, varied, and complex as the relationships it visits. This is a book you’ll definitely want to take with you on your next trip- even if it’s just an overnighter with someone you love.
Sooth your post BurlyCon depression by dipping your toes into some new books over at Cleis Press and don’t forget to pay a visit to the titillating literary world of Rachel Kramer Bussel. The 2013 edition of Best Sex Writing will be out in January 2013.