Buying dirty books

The last thing you expect when you go to Old Orchard Beach in Maine on the long Labour Day weekend is to keep your sanity. The second-last thing you expect, among the tourists, souvenir shops, fried-everything stands and carnival rides, is a book store. But there it is, right on the strip. Granted, it’s full of remaindered books, and you have to dodge the caricaturist parked at the entrance, but it’s a little bit of paradise among the bikinis. Incidentally, if you’re looking for something called Paradise Among the Bikinis, you’re in the wrong kind of store.

But I did find a dirty book. Tucked into the row of fiction was a book by one of my favourite authors, Nicholson Baker. His novel, The Mezzanine, is particularly good. It’s set entirely during a ride up an escalator. Baker writes a type of fiction in which not much physical action takes place, which also describes my daily fitness regimen, by the way. Instead, he goes off on anecdotal tangents and random explorations, which also describes some work meetings I’ve sat through, but that’s enough of that.

Baker also writes smut. Or erotica. Or whatever they’re calling it these days. Porn without pictures, maybe. Whatever; it has a lot of sex in it.

It occurred to me how very little sex there is in most of the books I read, which is probably good because I started giggling when I wrote “little” just now. Characters in the books I read talk about sex or try to have sex and sometimes actually have sex but they never seem to enjoy it. In contemporary literature, sex is often code for “dissatisfaction,” which is fair warning if you ever decide to date a writer.

Every now and then, though, I’ll open a book, usually one of those “romances” aimed primarily at women readers, and I’ll go “Whoa!” That’s also a common safe word, by the way. The thrust of all this (I just said “thrust”) is that there seems to be some kind of double-standard at play regarding what constitutes smut, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. (Stop that!)

Anyway, it’s unusual for me to read a book that’s blatantly about sex. But there in the Old Orchard remaindered books store was Baker’s House of Holes, whose title essentially tells the tale. I’ve heard it described as “sexual magical realism,” but it’s smut. It’s literary, but it’s smut. It’s smutty literature. It’s smuterature.

It was also cheap: five bucks.

15058872The problem was not so much the content but the cover. The cover of the original edition was the graphic equivalent of a plain brown wrapper. This edition, however, featured lurid colours and funhouse letters, imposed on a lewd Pythonesque cartoon of a woman in a… pose.

Well, I couldn’t buy that and have it lying around the house. How do you explain that to kids? How do you explain why the word “of” is placed right there? “Don’t worry, children, it’s literary.” Kids don’t get rationalization. They just see boobies.

It’s the same reason we’ve kept a book of photographs called The Body way up on the very tip-top of our living room bookshelf, out of reach of the kids, unless they really want to get it and roll a chair from the kitchen, but other than that, foolproof! Every now and then we dust it for prints. Who am I kidding: every now and then we dust.

Coincidentally, that’s where we used to keep our Bible. Apparently the top shelf is the place for everything we’re uncomfortable with.

North Americans have a weird attitude towards sex, especially considering that each of us owes our very existence to sex and that sexuality is all around us like never before. The other day our 13-year-old showed my wife what twerking was by calling up a music video by Iggy Azalea, which turned out to be a video that should be placed on the tip-top shelf immediately! It should go right beside our daughter’s memory of her mother and me trying out this twerking business.

In the end, I put back the Baker book. I came to the conclusion that it’s not my kids but me who’s not mature enough to have such a book lying around, and I think this post proves my point. Instead, I bought Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee. It’s not sexy in the least, although a slow man is the way to go, am I right, ladies!


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
This entry was posted in It Really Did Happen!, Reading? Ugh! and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Buying dirty books

  1. pinklightsabre says:

    Hi friend– I like to come to this web site often. You raise some particulant points about life and the inter-net. The frequent are gentle attacks or tenderness, allergies, and bleeding.
    They understand what it will take to have you noticed.

    But, do not be you’ll or a kook bra go over the drops fer sure.

  2. This is my sole reason for owning a Kindle. We’re just dealing with nudes in Greek and Roman art here. Unfortunately, I giggle along with my 10 year old. It did make museum visits over the summer a lot more fun, though.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I steer clear of writing sex scenes in my fiction. Guess none of my books will end up on the shelves in Old Orchard Beach…

    Now we’re all waiting for the You Tube video of you and your wife twerking.

  4. Karen says:

    Hold on. Baker’s book, The Mezzanine, is set entirely on an escalator *and* there’s a lot of sex in it? I won’t be able to get those images out of my head and get any work done today.

  5. I have one extremely awkward sex scene in my book. It was hard (tee hee!) to write because all the language seemed so cheesy (tee hee!) My husband read it and his only comment was, “Make sure everyone knows it’s NOT based on your experience with me!” Sadly I don’t think it would rate a spot on your exclusive top shelf.

  6. Paul says:

    Sigh. Ross, why did you think the school system spent from grades 2- 9 teaching you how to make your own book covers? The creators of our school system knew we would need this knowledge later in life and made sure we had the skills to meet those needs. You would be doing your grade two teacher a dis-service were you to not buy a book because you had forgotten how to make a book cover. After all she did for you in those formative years, one would hope that you would recall at least the rudimentary skills taught – even if you didn’t know why you were learning them at the time.Remember – all books are good, even though some may need bookcovers. 😀 Ha!

    Oh, I did another guest post over at Cordelia’s Mom and I’d be delighted if you’d drop by.

    Great post Ross. Thank You.

  7. ksbeth says:

    you are right, and the title is a message in itself

  8. franhunne4u says:

    Not too fond of sex in literature myself. I prefer sex to be in real life … much more fun. It is rather inconvenient to read while – uhm – how to say it to a North American …
    So no, no sex scenes in books for me.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Now I’m curious how to say it to a German!

      • franhunne4u says:

        Oh, Germans are not shy. German is just not a very sexy language. Very harsh – and full of long, constructed nouns and winding sentences, developing word labyrinths in which the meaning gets somehow lost miraculously.
        I do not think German parents would hide a photo book about nudes from their children – unless the photos are about the action a lot of adults contemplate when seeing an attractive naked body. If it is just showing a few naked breasts or the one or the other non-erect penis – no “think of the children”-alert here. That is Germans for you.

  9. “Coincidentally, that’s where we used to keep our Bible. Apparently the top shelf is the place for everything we’re uncomfortable with.” I laughed out loud at that.

  10. byebyebeer says:

    When I was much younger, I borrowed The Happy Hooker from a friend and threw it away in an airport trashcan. I’m a prude and terrible friend, apparently, though really it was the cover and cowardice that made me do it. Now I want to read House of Holes and I also want a Kindle so I can hide all my dirty books on it.

  11. Perfect. You, sir, are a damn good writer. And now I’m going to buy that dirty book and hide it somewhere after reading it with while wearing gloves. Fingerprints…can’t be too careful.

  12. hehe “little.” Seconding all other commenters who asked for YouTube clips of the twerking!

  13. Diana says:

    HA! So very funny. My favorite quote: “Coincidentally, that’s where we used to keep our Bible. Apparently the top shelf is the place for everything we’re uncomfortable with.”
    I just found your blog the other day, but, rest assured, I will be returning.

  14. pieterk515 says:

    I used to subscribe to Men’s Health, before I realised it is the same articles in every issue, disguised by different headings. All about how to get a six-pack in seven minutes, have great random sex and how to look good in a suit three sizes to small.

    Anyhow, some of the articles, especially those about sex, have colourful pics that would ensure that men at least page through the book, thus enforcing fake reading. One day wife got bored and browsed through the magazine, lying on my bedside table.
    Upon seeing the soft porn, she suggested we move this particular book to the high shelf as well. Hence cracking up at your post, for here I was thinking we were the only ones with a high shelf…

    Dude was 11 at the time.

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