It’s a nonfictionpalooza this week!
Best Sex Writing 2013: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Cleis Press)
If the only sex-related pieces you’ve read lately–or, gasp, ever–were about Fifty Shades of Grey, you’ve got some catching up to do! Start with this annual anthology, which brings together the best essays about sexuality and sexual culture. Judged by Dr. Carol Queen and edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel–two rad women who know from sex writing–this collection looks thought-provoking and fun. Variety being the spice of life, it presents a wide range of topics and perspectives; you might not like them all, but you’re bound to love something. While I haven’t read this year’s collection just yet (reviewers, too, must sometimes wait for actual publication dates), I’ve found the previous installments to do be thoroughly satisfying and filled with “Oh, I never thought of that!” moments.
I was first alerted to this book when fellow Rioter Kim featured it in a list of books about friendship last month. She recommended it for “science nerds, fans of narrative nonfiction, living room sociologists,” and I thought, “I am all of those things!” If you are too, take note.
It seems we’re in a season of books about friendship–I’ve recently read and adored Julie Klam’s Friendkeeping [reviewed here] and Susanna Sonnenberg’s memoir-in-friendships She Matters [reviewed here]–and Carlin Flora adds depth the personal stories by presenting a scientific look at why we have friends and how they influence our personalities and behaviors. This is my favorite kind of nonfiction; it’s engaging, not stuffy, and directly related to things we all experience in our daily lives. Oh, and it will give you tons of fun facts to spout off at dinner parties, or the next time you need to drive your partner mad with a case of the Did-You-Knows.
Their relationship began in 1981. It began with a contract. She suggested it, agreeing to provide her lover with housekeeping, companionship, and sexual services, while He agreed to give her a separate home (he was married, living with his wife and children at the time they began) and cover her expenses. Their affair continue through several decades, as they recorded themselves discussing their relationship and the shifting power and sexual dynamics that defined it.
This book presents the transcripts of those conversations, and they are nothing short of fascinating. She and He quarrel about her reluctance to tell him what she wants in bed. They wonder if their relationship is revolutionary, or really quite traditional. The talk about feminism, and choice, and how this arrangement of theirs is something other than prostitution. They love each other. They age together. They are tender and passionate in private, careful to be discreet in public. They know they have chosen to do something that most consider wrong, and many wouldn’t consider at all, and with this memoir, they attempt to put it in context.
This is a challenging and provocative read that raises more questions than it answers. It sheds light on one unconventional relationship, affording readers the opportunity to consider how changes they might make (or dream of making) in their own and inviting deeper deliberation about the organization, construction, and restrictions of committed relationships in today’s society. I loved this when I first read it in 2011, and I appreciated it even more upon rereading. Highly recommended.