Posts Tagged ‘sex’

When I launched this blog in 2010, I knew that sex and motherhood were the showstoppers of the blogging world. I knew that if you combined the two, you’d end up with a book deal. So naturally, I decided to write about music. This helps explain why, though money and I sometimes fall into bed, money always leaves early the next morning.

(Notice how I worked in sex there. You can sometimes catch a glimpse of sex in this blog, but we’ll never come near motherhood unless my mother happens to be having a birthday – which she did last week. Good work, Mom.)

Today’s post is another guaranteed money-maker: Part I of what books I read in 2014. But stay with me and I’ll offer you the first-ever Run-DMSteve sex tip!

A few Decembers ago, when I made my resolutions for the new year, I decided to give myself a reading theme. That first theme was 19th-century U.S. novels. I got through all the Little Women books and a couple of others, and then I cheated on my theme. I confess that I cheated several times. Then I gave up my theme because I thought I’ve cheated so what was the point? This was sort of like quitting your diet because you accidentally ate all the chocolate chip cookies.

Now I want to accidentally eat all the chocolate chip cookies.

In December of 2013 I realized that this sort of neg-head downer thinking will never get me anywhere. So I cheat on my theme – so big deal. We’re all adults here. I can always go back to my theme. I resolved to try again in 2014, this time with biographies. I chose this theme because I had collected lots of them but I’d read very few. So here’s the first half of my report, now with 50% more sex!

Writing a biography and making a life come alive is tough work. You need an interesting subject, or a subject you can make interesting. Things get a lot tougher if you’re a bad writer. That’s what happened with our first contestant, Gordon F. Sander’s Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television’s Last Angry Man (1992).

Rod Serling created The Twilight Zone, thought up the iconic ending of Planet of the Apes, and was one of the best storytellers of television’s first golden age. Gordon F. Sander can tell a story, but not well. To be sure, he finds it almost impossible to begin a sentence without “To be sure.” Indeed, he can’t resist “Indeed,” either. Plus he’s the author of this immortal sentence, about the reaction of Serling’s future wife on meeting him when they were students at Antioch University:

At first, she admitted, she was as overwhelmed by the leather-jacketed kamikaze as the rest of the distaff Antiochans Serling had brought to ground.

If you loved The Twilight Zone and if you can absorb subpar prose without developing a rash, you’ll enjoy this book.

Rod Serling Fun Fact: Sander missed the boat on Alice Marble, Serling’s mistress in the early 1960s, whom he identifies as a former American tennis champion. What he doesn’t go into is that Marble was also a spy in WWII for the OSS (the agency that became the CIA). Also, Marble was 50 and Serling was 39 when they began their affair.

Bonus Fun Fact: CBS President Frank Stanton said that Serling “was the only writer I had ever met who looked like his work.”

What happens when you combine a bad writer with a bad person? You get Kenneth Silverman’s Houdini!!! The Career of Ehrich Weiss (1997). Harry Houdini (born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest in 1874) was intelligent, ingenious, fearless, the hardest working man in show biz, and one of the greatest athletes of his time. He was also paranoid, a liar, hobbled by sentimentality and a fear of death, a guy who always had to be right, and a relentless self-promoter. When he was invited to write the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on “conjuring” he turned in an essay on himself.

Having read this book, I know everything about Houdini, except why I should care. I’m not sure Silverman even likes Houdini. The author’s one-fact-at-a-time account makes for slow reading, but the book jumps to attention when Houdini survives 90 minutes in a coffin underwater. To be sure, that episode was hair-raising! Indeed, I’m not sorry I read Houdini!!!, but it could’ve been a lot better.

Houdini Fun Fact: Houdini contributed many articles to the newspapers of his day. One of his ghostwriters was H.P. Lovecraft.

Even when the writing is passable you can’t do much with a boring subject, as Herbert R. Lottman discovers in Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography (1996).

How did Jules Verne transform himself from a writer of light romantic comedies for the Paris stage and a part-time stockbroker into “the first writer to welcome change and to proclaim that scientific discovery could be the most wonderful of adventures” (Arthur C. Clarke)? We’re not going to find out from this book. Verne was dull, a man who read widely but didn’t like to leave home. But he could grind out the words! I could learn a lesson from that.

Jules Verne is interesting for a while, but Lottman is eventually reduced to recounting plots of melodramatic books and that became a chore for this reader. The book did induce me to reread From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. They’re OK for kids. In the words of critic Kingsley Amis, “In its literary aspect [Verne’s] work is, of course, of poor quality, a feature certainly reproduced with great fidelity by most of his successors.”

Jules Verne Fun Fact: There are no Jules Verne fun facts.

One last example of how not to do it: Robert Calder’s Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham  (1989).

W. Somerset Maugham wrote The Razor’s Edge, Of Human Bondage, and The Moon and Sixpence. I don’t think he’s much read today, and this book did not turn back the clock. Calder methodically lays out his facts, but he doesn’t understand Maugham’s bisexuality. Does he enjoy Maugham’s books? I can’t tell. Calder will never be noted for his lyrical style…though Maugham wasn’t, either. I kept reading because Maugham’s life was fascinating (he was a British spy in WWI and probably came back for an encore in WWII) and that life glimmered through the pedestrian prose.

Maugham lived to be 91. He knew everyone. Calder notes every dinner guest, house guest, bridge partner, and traveling companion, but only occasionally gives you some context. There are five googleable names on every page; those I looked up reminded me of how fleeting is fame. Authors of 20, 40, even 60 books regularly enter these pages – names that have left barely a ripple in the fabric of space-time.

Because of Willie I finally read “Miss Sadie Thompson,” better known as “Rain.” Wow.

Maugham Fun Fact: Maugham was the highest-paid writer in the world in the 1930s. His competition was Hugh Walpole, another writer who has disappeared. If Walpole is known for anything today, it’s his mention in Monty Python’s “Cheese Shop” sketch.

In our next exciting episode I’ll present the winners in the biography sweepstakes. Now you get the first-ever Run-DMSteve sex tip: Read A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts is one of the many books I cheated with in 2014. The book’s premise is simple: Reverse-engineer human sexuality based on what humanity searches for online. The results are eye-popping. Approach this book with an open mind or be ready to skim lots of pages. Do you ever think about sex? There are lots of people just like you! Give this book a try.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts Fun Fact: Straight men and gay men like all the same things in porn. It’s all about the dick. The only difference between the two genres is the presence or absence of a woman.

Bonus Fun Fact: There are no gay women in this book. Well then who is the audience for Adventures of a Lesbian Cowboy?

 

[Note: You’ll find the extended party remix of this post at The Nervous Breakdown. -Yours truly, RDMS]

There have been many crucial years in the forward lurch of humanity but I’d like to have a few words with you today about one of the biggest: 1971. For those of you who might argue for a showier year with zeroes in it or repeating decimals let me remind you that in 1971 Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven.”

I could stop right there and send you all home early, but 1971 was also the year that I learned how to drive. This knowledge was of considerable help to me in dealing with females of my species. But the point I am at last coming around to is this: In 1971, in my summer school English class, my favorite teacher suggested a way to read more books: Keep a list.

Roland had been keeping his own list of the books he’d read since the 1940s, and I’d like to think that the teacher who started Roland down this path had a list that stretched back to the 1920s, and that there was a teacher before him and one before him and so on and thenceforth until we’re back watching Gutenberg knock out his first bible.

Just when you thought no one could have this much fun
This year my list of all the books I’ve read celebrates its 40th anniversary, which will be duly recognized here at the Bureau with cake and ice cream. This milestone seems like the appropriate time to review some highlights from my reading history and see if we can learn what makes fiction worth staying up for till 2am. Fortunately, in the perpetual battle to decide who are the all-time greats in the heady world of novel-writing we have two useful yardsticks to work with:
1)      Music
2)      Sex

Applying these measures to my list uncovers questions that have long stumped the experts, so don’t expect any answers here. For example, why was it that F. Scott Fitzgerald, who chronicled the Jazz Age, never chronicled jazz? How did John O’Hara (Butterfield 8, Appointment in Samara) sneak all that illicit sex past the censors of his era? Why do Franz Kafka’s characters invariably play the accordion?

How many writers are on my list, you ask?
I’m not about to answer this question. I don’t know the answer to this question. I was planning on another 40 years of reading before I added it all up. (And if you think I’ve gone over the top with this particular hobby, I refer you to the gentleman behind What I Have Read Since 1974.)

Rest assured I am not about to embark on a survey of the entire list, primarily because I’d have to explain my early infatuation with Andre Norton. For the purpose of this review I am restricting myself to the writers I loved so much that I’ve read more books by them than anyone else.

The results of my studies surprised me, as music and sex in literature appear to be mutually exclusive, unlike in real life, where it’s been my observation that music often makes sex appear. In literature the one seems to drive out the other, except in those sorry cases where they both evaporate. An incisive examination of the five writers at the head of the class will show you what I mean.

My most read writer of all time: C.S. Forester
C. S. Forester was the creator of Captain Horatio Hornblower, The African Queen, and various other historical novels where something explodes, usually after being struck by a cannon ball. Capt. Hornblower could navigate a sloop through a monsoon with nothing more than a circus tent nailed to a broomstick and everyone on half rations and a spoonful of rum, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of music. He was tone deaf. Tone deafness is a terrible affliction that makes every song sound like Boney M’s “Rasputin.” This condition was not shared by Hornblower’s crew, who enjoyed a rousing hornpipe on their way into battle, just as I do on my way into a meeting.

With Forester’s musical credentials looking a bit thin you might hope instead for plenty of sex, but if you are I am withholding your rum. Hornblower and his girlfriend Lady Barbara are not my idea of a liaison dangereuse. The only sex scene I remember in the Forester books I’ve read appears in The African Queen, when Rosie and Mr. Allnut make love in a malarial swamp on a suicidal mission to torpedo a German gunboat. Only the most skilled writer can concoct an erotic scenario of such proportions.

While having sex, Rosie’s breasts grow bigger. I’d like to have a word with Forester about this.

2nd: Robert A. Heinlein
There’s no hiding it. Robert A. Heinlein’s books are a musical wasteland. I can confirm that there is a bad poet in “The Green Hills of Earth” who writes a syrupy little ballad called “The Green Hills of Earth” and then sings it. He is immediately killed by a blast of radiation from the Academy of American Poets.

However, when Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land he released his inner pornographer from the puritanical confinement of pulp fiction. From then on Heinlein’s books are fairly well swollen with sexual activity, and though most of it is only hinted at or happens off-stage or on the other side of the airlock I’m convinced that Bob blazed the trail for three other writers on my list: Philip Roth (Portnoy’s Complaint), Nicholson Baker (The Fermata), and Judy Blume (Forever).

3rd: Marge Piercy
Now we’re talking adult themes and situations. Marge Piercy wrote several novels set in the 1960s counterculture; the first three, Dance the Eagle to Sleep, Going Down Fast, and Small Changes, were written while the counterculture was happening. These books are packed with hungrily copulating hippies, but her characters are not motivated, captivated, or levitated by music. There is, however, a bad poet who writes a clichéd little ballad about New Jersey and then sings it. It lacks the punch of “The Green Hills of Earth.”

Piercy deserves applause and a government grant for her sex scenes, and Small Changes is so good on every page that it zaps me right back to Boston in 1973. But I must reluctantly mark her down for missing or ignoring the Summer of Love, the flowering of soul, Woodstock, Let It Be, Sticky Fingers, and the birth of funk and metal. (The absence of country rock works for me.)

4th: John Updike
I find it difficult to assess John Updike with the objectivity for which Run-DMSteve is famous, as Uppy is the only writer who ever died and left a hole in my heart. However, we can safely conclude that Mr. Updike is not shy about sex. The first Rabbit book (1960) prominently featured a sex act that’s so common today they have rooms set aside for it at airports but back then could’ve gotten him lynched in your more conservative precincts. If you’re looking for angst-ridden WASPs tangling in the wrong bedrooms, Updike’s the writer for you.

But while his style is musical, his characters are not. They rarely even turn on the radio, though I remember one story where the grownups at a suburban house party put The Beatles on the turntable and danced in their socks. This is charming but this is not a rave.

Rounding out the fabulous 5: Isaac Asimov
I started this list when I was a teenager so you can stop laughing right now. Hands up – how many of you couple the word “sex” with the word “Asimov”? Well that’s just disgusting. Yes I know who you are.

Asimov’s book of dirty limericks doesn’t count because I never read it. Let’s take a gander instead at the original Foundation trilogy. I loved those books just as much as the next teenage boy, but upon reflection I have to ask: Where did those trillions of babies come from? Zappos? And what did they listen to, besides the narrator?

We don’t read Asimov for music and sex, we read him for rockets and robots.

Mission: Impossible?
The harmonious blending of music and sex within the pages of one novel is an elusive goal but I’m here to tell you it can be done.  Exhibits A and B: Roddy Doyle (The Commitments) and Nick Hornby (High Fidelity). My more astute readers are probably wondering why I’m only mentioning them here at the end. There is a reason for this and it’s a simple one: I haven’t read them. I have however seen the movies and I even took Special D to a dance where the band from The Commitments played (“Do ye drink then? If ye don’t yer no good!”). Once I’ve finally bagged these two I’ll be able to determine if they are two of the best books ever written, not counting anything by Andre Norton.

Loyal Run-DMSteve readers are welcome to chime in with their own lists of music-and-sex books. Here at the Bureau we could always use some reading suggestions for the next 40 years!