Showing posts with label erotica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label erotica. Show all posts

Review: The Best American Erotica 2003

The Best American Erotica 2003 The Best American Erotica 2003 by Susie Bright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review is of both the book and the audiobook. Best American Erotica 2003 can best be described as a cornucopia (or rather pornucopia) of titillating and scrumptious stories from fantastic erotica writers across the country. The range of stories includes straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender sex with a variety of landscapes including Hollywood, a military base, a strip club, and the quintessential pool scene. This special 10th anniversary edition includes twenty-three new stories and several delicious additions.

Being the only Best American stories to be published for ten years straight without interruption, the book, first, takes a trip down memory lane. Acting editor for ten years, Susie Bright went through painstaking work to contact all prior writers for the Best American Erotica series and gave the readers highlights of what she had discovered about life after being published in this series. Through surveys in her 9th edition, Bright also reprints the five favorite stories of all time—making it a total of twenty-eight wonderful tales of sexual delight.

Like many Best American series, it can be hard to enjoy the book through its entirety because not all the stories are relatable to the reader. But particularly a book based on sexual content can have more trouble. Whereas a Best American Mysteries or Best American Travel Writing can feature a story the reader might not like, some stories in Best American Erotica may disturb the reader. The story could be disturbing due to its content or quite possibly, what erotic feelings, and questions it evokes in the reader. However, like other Best American series, it stays true to its purpose in providing the reader with a vast sampling of quality erotica writers. Therein also lies a benefit because while there will be stories that one does not like—there is bound to be a story for everyone. And be aware that your definition of erotic literature may not meet the same definition as Susie Bright and her band of writers. Many of the stories did not meet my interpretation of an erotic story but rather seemed to be erotic vignettes, which was just as entertaining.

Erotic literature is not the text version of porn and this book reaffirms that notion. While these stories do have “sex” in common—that’s not really the driving point of erotic literature. The act of arousing is what makes these stories so damn fascinating and enticing. In most pornography, it’s the sex itself that people are interested in but in this anthology, one finds that sex is not always the climax but the path taken to find sex which proves much more stimulating. A book like this makes the reader more aware of the vast panorama of what is and what can be sexual and enjoyable.

The only flaw in this gem of an audiobook was the introduction. While Susie Bright is great at hosting her show and decent at the stories she reads, her introduction lacked professional quality. She came across as bland or fake even when trying to sound exciting. She also had a few stumbles while reading the introduction, which should have been corrected. And yet, even the introduction was beneficial, learning about the history of Best American Erotica. From there, the book examines interviews with former and present writers in the series. Her questions range from typical (“What special awards did you receive” and “Did you attend college?”) to not so typical but certainly entertaining questions (“Any interesting felonies or misdemeanors you’d like to mention?” and “Has your work ever been banned in another country, expelled from a local library, or seized at Customs?”). What’s more amazing and funnier than the questions are the responses.

Listening to the Best American Erotica 2003 was a pure delight. Regardless of their arousal factor, these stories were exciting and interesting. One piece of advice when listening: Be careful where you listen to this audiobook; it proved quite distracting while listening to it at work, but was much easier to deal with in the car or at home. This audiobook has that rare ability to fully draw your attention and keep you from getting anything done, both a bane and an attribute to this book.

Open-minded listeners will enjoy this voyeuristic journey into various sex lives to observe sex both different and akin to their own experiences. While not every story will have you on the edge of your seat, ready to orgasm, it certainly will provoke your imagination and give you some superb ideas for your next sexual encounter. With 2004 right around the corner, I look forward to hearing next year’s edition.

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Of Bunnies and Logos: The Playboy Icon

My Informational Design and Visual Literacy course provided me with a challenge this week to explore and discuss a company's logo.  Basically, to break it down and explore how it captures the company's message and purpose.  After aimlessly googling company logos trying to find inspiration, I randomly thought of the Playboy logo and what follows is what I wrote.  I should warn you that several people who read an excerpt on Facebook said they wouldn't be able to look at the logo the same again.  So enjoy!
Image: Playboy Bunny.  Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a8/PlayboyLogo.svg/500px-PlayboyLogo.svg.png

There's lot to cover with this logo and the more I think about it, the more ingenious I find Playboy to be with their logo.  This logo conveys much without actually saying anything formal and much of what it suggests is more risque without having to be blatantly raunchy--something that Playboy aspires to over other entities like Hustler and the like.  Playboy is a multimedia empire that largely caters to men’s sexual interests. What started initially as a magazine has evolved into books, television, film, websites, events, and facilities (e.g. The Playboy Mansion). The key style that Playboy has employed for decades has been sex through the prism of sophistication; the equivalent contrast of an escort versus as street-level prostitute. Playboy is the escort, purportedly offering class and sophistication with its sexual steam.   Though the extremely sexually-conservative folk would see all elements of sexual capitalism vanquished, sexual moderates and liberals tend to view Playboy with much more acceptance or amusement (except when of course, one delves into the niche of feminism that claims that all pornography is exploitative of women and detrimental; I do not agree with this branch of thinking, though I can understand how one gets there).   While celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile people seek to avoid being “caught” with lower echelons of sexual capitalism, many regularly interact with Playboy and are comfortable with this association. As one of the best-paying magazines in the country, many popular and skillful writers have at some point published in Playboy magazine (those famous “articles” that no one reads).


Researching the logo can be a little tricky.  After all, each search is prefaced with "playboy" and that invites all things sex related--which only speaks to the prevalence and success of the company and its aforementioned logo.  However, it did yield some interesting sites such as this Tumblr site that presents cartoons from Playboy magazines throughout the years.  


The famous bunny logo balances the prestige and sophistication that Playboy as an organization has attempted to uphold while in subtle and sophisticated ways, communicates that sex is still the subject on hand.  For those that don't know, the Playboy bunny originated in an cartoon in an early issue of Playboy magazine by Art Paul.  It evolved into what has become the icon of Playboy fairly shortly after that.  



Time to explore the logo.  First, there is the singular contrast of black and white. This makes the logo bold and stick out; grabbing the viewer’s attention. Also the mixture of black and white could also be read through a moral lens in that despite the questionable elements of sexual capitalism (represented by the color black—a color traditionally meant to indicate the negative), there is purity mixed with impurity.  The black and white contrast also connects to the bow-tie and more strongly elicits the bow-tie's metaphor as a stand in for a full blown tuxedo.

The rabbit head silhouette is continually referred to as the Playboy “bunny.” This is a curious but impressive feat by Playboy because it plays out several themes simultaneously and across the sexual divide that’s worth acknowledging.  These ideas could be mutually exclusive if one thinks about it too much, but funny enough, no one ever does.  The bunny is used in many ways and thus the icon can be embraced by many.

  1. The icon “bunny” appears to be male (indicated by the tux—more about that later).
  2. The tux also invokes a sense of class and wealth.
  3. The “bunny” is a rabbit; well known for its proclivity for sex.  
  4. With these three consideration, the bunny embraces the "playboy" who is wealthy and looking to sexually score.
  5. Yet, a bunny is typically a young rabbit; as in, a newly born rabbit, not yet capable of reproducing.
  6. “Bunny” is the term referred to the women that work at the Playboy clubs and the term many refer to when talking about women who work for Playboy in some form of exhibition. 
  7. Taking three, five, and six, here again, we have an interesting presentation of women:  sexy but non-procreating exhibitionists.
  8. What about the bunny presented in side-profile. The bunny doesn't look forward which might be a direct invitation.  Instead, it looks to something the viewer can't see. Therefore, the viewer must ask what the bunny is looking at and must become the bunny to see what the bunny sees.
  9. But given that the only action permitted to the bunny is to look, we also discover the centerpiece of the Playboy industry.  The visual.  Looking at "bunnies".  It promises us nothing more.   Laura Mulvey would be proud.
Image:  Word cloud of this blogpost

So why is the tux important? Firstly, it indicates class and sophistication, a key element of Playboy. It also indicates that the icon we are looking at is a male (e.g. a sophisticated man).  Some would argue this is questionable, but given the bunny's origin as a male "playboy", it seems rather moot.   Since the icon is abstract (yet clearly male), it does encourage the viewer to project himself into the role of that bunny who is presented as looking (leftward). Thus, the image tells the male viewer that he too can see what this icon sees (an abundance of women in various states of undress). This idea of abstraction comes from Scott McCloud who discusses that abstraction enhances one’s tendency project himself or herself into the abstract. That is, the more abstract (to a certain point) a drawing is, the easier it is for people to picture themselves therein.

Of course, there are more sexual hints within this logo still. The bunny ears spread out in a way that they could simultaneously be considered phallic (from a state of flaccidness to an erect state) and yonic (the two ears forming the “V” of a woman’s legs as well as the “V” of the pubic mound). The curvature of the bunny in contrast to the straight-lines of the tuxedo tie also hints at a contrast between the constraint of the male viewer and the sexual abundance of the women within the Playboy establishment. And of course, the bunny’s face with its particular curve simulates a curvaceous buttocks or even a breast (supposing the bunny’s “eye” to be the nipple).

All in all, this logo does a fantastic job at capturing the tantalizing and complex sexual dynamic that Playboy represents.  The question of whether it is intentional or not (much like when the student says, "but did the Shakespeare mean all that stuff") isn't relevant.  The fact that it can be all found there makes think about the direct and indirect ways information is communicated.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words--and I blew past that a few paragraphs ago.  




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Vacation of the Mind Part 5: The Most Stimulating Airplane Ride Ever

As the trip came to a close, I became fixated on my next endeavor: prepping for a class on Love and Erotica.  To get to teach the class was pretty exciting; but I also had to think about solid and interesting material to use for the class that could effectively communicate the complex thought for a younger audience (read: first year students).  Like a variety of courses I teach (like comics and cultural diversity), it has the possibility of going drastically wrong.  So my mind reeled with ideas but being away, I had little material to directly depend upon.

The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin 

So I did what seems to be the best course of action to start the train of thought; I asked for recommendations from friends and colleagues on Facebook.  And got some good ones.  One, in particular, was Anais Nin.  I had heard (vaguely) of her but never explored her much; but then a few people highly recommended her.  I figured I had a good few leads for when I returned home.  But low and behold, on my second to last day, I happened upon a second hand store where The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin (in English—not Dutch) was staring me in the face.  It was a foregone conclusion that it was coming home with.

Fast-forward forty-eight hours.  I had finished The Jungle and decided I would start in on Nin’s book.  It’s a collection of erotic short stories that were largely composed during the 1940s as commissions from a benefactor who was highly desirous of such writing.  I had some idea of this but I don’t think I was quite prepared for the stories that followed.  After all, my literary vacation had taken me from a rural village in Italy to juvenile detention center in New York, to fantastical worlds of Lilluput and Brobdingnag to the early 20th century slums of Chicago; quite the diverse landscape.  But The Delta of Venus led me into more than a dozen bedrooms (and others places) for scintillating (and I love how that’s pronounced “SIN-tulating) sex that often bordered or walked boldly into the perverse.

And no, I’m no prude.  I’ve logged a hundred of hours listening to Susie Bright’s podcast; have several other erotica book (mostly Best American Erotica, also edited by Susie Bright) and other accouterments to illustrate that sexual discussion and expression are not something I shy from.  Yet, there I sat in the airport and on the plane with my ears reddening with the heat of the story.

That was the interesting part.  Nin writes most of these stories with irony that uses caricatures or mocks erotica and those vested in it; and yet, despite knowing and seeing this, her work can still function well as erotica.  Not all stories were equal and some stories were surprising in what occurred (sometimes even offensive to many people), but the overall collection is pretty enjoyable and impressive.

What sticks out most in my mind with it was just the looks from men and women alike, reading a book whose title and author are outstripped in size on the front and back cover with “EROTICA.”  It made for amusing responses, double glances, and curious staring by others in the airport and on plane.

It's interesting that with the overabundance of pornography out there in cyberland that erotica still manages to have be fairly popular enough for some publishers to release a decent amount of books annually.  Cleiss Press is one of the more well-established publishers for erotica and Sounds Publishing also has several lines of stories for aural consumption.  There is something to be said of the mind and it's role in all things sexual.  So much of the research and anecdotal evidence suggests that it is indeed the real "sex organ."  Hence why Viagra and other such drugs only seem to work if the person is aroused. 



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My Moment with Chopin

I got hooked on reading because Kate Chopin turned me on in a way that I’m still not sure I can talk about in public, not without my cheeks going red.  Keep in mind, Chopin, having been born in 1850, is about 110 years older than me, but she still knows how to press my buttons.

Stories have always been seductive to me.  I hate giving up on a story for fear that I will miss the opportunity for it to redeem itself in the last chapter, leaving me smiling, triumphant and looking for more.  This has of course led me to enjoy some rather questionable stories, graphic novels and TV series, as well as to feel abysmal for sticking to the end of some stories.  But the sinister moment that I knew I was forever fixed on stories—and books in particular—came at the end of Chapter 9 in Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.”

I was reading the book because someone recommended I incorporate it into my American Literature course.  Now, at face value (actually on pretty much every level), it would seem unlikely for me to fully appreciate it or to have such a deep intimate moment. The book is written by a woman over a hundred years ago about a class of people that are well-enough distant from my own experiences.  Chopin wasn’t writing for me or maybe, if she was, it was to say, “stupid privileged man; this is what your presumptions about the opposite sex lead to.”


It’s hard to say or fully know.  But needless to say, the idea that I would be moved so deeply by a passage from a text about a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage seemed unlikely.  Going into it, I figured this was the 19th century’s “chicklit” and I would appreciate it for its relevance to women’s literature, but not actually be moved by the story.  That dirty woman proved me wrong.


Struck by the Sound and the Fury

I didn’t see it coming, but by the end of Chapter 9, Kate Chopin would forever go down in my personal history as the woman who deflowered me in a literary sense.  In the scene, the main character, Edna, has been asked by the talented but clearly disliked Ms. Reisz to name a song for Reisz to play.  When Reisz takes to the piano, Edna is seized by the overwhelming and emotional power of the music (channeled by Reisz).  With imagery and titillating hints, Chopin builds and builds upon the scene, creating a strong and powerful tension that is tangible, “But the very passions themselves were aroused within her soul, swaying it, lashing it, as the waves daily beat upon her splendid body. She trembled, she was choking, and the tears blinded her.”

The scene is orgasmic; and while I did grow up in the Internet age, where pornography was a few clicks of a mouse away, I still get hot and bothered every time I re-read this scene.  Like the book’s title, “The Awakening,” I witnessed my own awakening upon reading this passage, and realized the power of words and subtext.  Stories are wonderful things, but what goes on below the surface (think Jaws) can be even more full of impact.


The impression didn’t end there; or rather, Chopin’s ability to open that door within me opened others.  The specific scene was my lightning rod for understanding how deeply and on what levels written works can operate.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be an ignition point for others.  The how and why I was triggered by Chopin’s musical orgy is still not clear to me, but I believe it’s a moment that so many of us can experience when we open ourselves to the words and moments writers try to capture.



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