So I volunteered to review a copy of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s latest anthology, Fast Girls: Erotica for Women. Because let’s fact it: who doesn’t want a free book of erotic short stories sent to them? I mean, I’m a bibliophile, a feminist, and a sex nerd. It really it wasn’t an option to say no!
The thing is, as soon as I’d said “Oh, yes, please! Send me a copy!” and the book was on its way, I remembered this thing that librarian Nancy Pearl once wrote about erotica: that one of the places to go when you’re in the mood for something steamy is the stories that someone else has identified as the worst erotica of all time (I’m paraphrasing here, because my copy of Book Lust is on a shelf in my parents’ house back in Michigan). Because for every person who thinks that story is the libido-killer of the century, there’s going to be another who thinks that it’s the hottest sex scene they’ve ever read, and they’ll drop it halfway through to go find their significant other(s) in order to get their temperature back down to normal.
I’m a relativist when it comes to arts and culture (not so much when it comes to ethics and human rights): “good” art? “good” writing? who says there’s one right way of doing it! And human sexuality, particularly, seems like an area ripe for radical democracy: the best way to create “good” erotica in my book is simply to create it. Which is why I’m a big fan of erotic fan fiction and other amateur outlets for lustful creativity.
Which is a long-winded way of saying: dilemma. How the fuck are you supposed to review a book of erotica in any sort of meaningful fashion when my favorite story is likely to be someone else’s worst nightmare — or I might overlook the one scene that, for someone out there, is likely to make the whole book worthwhile?
I realize this is a dilemma faced for the reviewer of any book. But it seems uniquely acute when it comes to reviewing porn. Maybe because porn is so particular. And maybe also because, well, to it’s hard to talk about without giving slightly more … intimate details as to your own particular tastes. “I really liked the scene in Tristan Taormino’s ‘Winter, Summer’ where the narrator gets felt up at a bar by a butch she’s just picked up at the pool table”? “I went fever-hot all over sitting in the subway reading the penultimate bondage scene in D.L. King’s ‘Let’s Dance'”? “I must have some serious power issues, ’cause Ms. Bussel’s ‘Whore Complex’ resulted in the need for a new pair of knickers”?
See? It’s all slightly embarrassing, a little too clit-on-your-sleeve for my taste. So rather than attempt to pass judgment on the book qua book I’ll simply offer this: I’m am happy to live in a world in which erotica for women, Fast Girls included, exists. It makes my feminist heart proud that right here, right now, we are part of a culture that — despite its many, many shortcomings — includes a space for women writers who want to write smut to write it. And to get published. It warms my heart (and other bits of my anatomy) that not only are we women writing and published erotic texts — that is, texts written explicitly for the purpose of arousal — we’re writing and publishing erotic texts in which women have sexual agency. In which women identify and court (or just plain come on to) the objects of their lust. In which women take charge of the sexual encounter. In which women feel free to choose partners of any sex and pursue them expressly for the purpose of sexual pleasure. In which, sometimes, women explicitly consent to relinquish control because chosen powerlessness. So I don’t really have a stake in what porn you read (or whether, really, you have any personal interest in porn at all). But I encourage you all to revel in the fact that we have such literature available to us, in all its myriad flavors.