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[whitespace] What Smut

There's Erotica for everyone in the wealth of new anthologies

By Davina Baum

The Hot Spots: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction
Edited by J.H. Blair
Berkley; 256 pages; $13 paper

Best Women's Erotica 2001
Edited by Marcy Sheiner
Cleis Press; 200 pages; $14.95 paper

Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica
Edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Carroll & Graf; 488 pages; $11.95 paper

Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction
Edited by Carol Taylor
Plume; 228 pages; $13 paper

Guilty Pleasures: True Tales of Erotic Indulgence
Edited by M. Christian
Black Books; 240 pages; $16 paper

THERE'S NO BETTER way to get away from it all than a good hard fuck.

Who said that?

You may prefer it soft and nice, quick and easy, dark and sordid. Or quick and soft. The sexual permutations are endless, but every permutation smacks (if you want) of the corporeal, the physical. There's no need for thought, no reason to mull over the issue, besides the very basics--consent, prophylactics, compatibility. And that's if you want a partner--solo sex provides the exact same benefits to a beleaguered mind and body. Freedom. Escape. Climax.

Sex has been written about for as long as there has been writing. What changes in erotica is not the sex, per se, but the packaging. A hot story is going to turn you on because it reaches you--touches you, perhaps--where you like to be reached. If you know where that special place is (in your brain, I mean in your brain), what it is that turns you on, then there are any number of specialized books--gay, straight, butch, femme, top, bottom, S/M, anal, fetish, sci-fi, fantasy--that will titillate. If you prefer a more general approach, a collection of varied stories will be your entry point, as it were.

The perfect-bound piece of smut (bound as in paper and glue), might be built around the following axes: anthologies of multiple authors, single-author story collections, novel-length works, graphic novels (i.e., illustrated). Within those phyla, the broadest classes might be straight, lesbian or gay-themed, BDSM-themed. Then you might want to consider genuses such as time period (Victorian sex, alien sex, truck-driver sex) or perversions outside the mainstream (rape fantasy, bestiality, Roger Ebert fantasy).

But choosing your means to an end need not be so complicated. Especially because Roger Ebert fantasies might not be very cross-referenced, and you might have to just settle for a gay-themed Victorian Roger Ebert illustrated book, even if you really wanted a gay-themed truck-driver Roger Ebert illustrated book, if that's all you can find.

The larger collections (Best Women's Erotica 2001; Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica; Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction) try to offer something for everyone, and as a result they can be really hit-or-miss--but they're a good starting point for a deeper exploration or instant satisfaction.

Erotica publishers and editors seem to be tirelessly in pursuit of the next collection. M Christian, the editor of the forthcoming Guilty Pleasures: True Tales of Erotic Indulgence has also put forth collections called Best S/M Erotica ($16, Black Books), Speaking Parts: Provocative Lesbian Erotica (Alyson Books) and Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex and Power (with Simon Sheppard, $13.95, Alyson Books).

He (or she?) is all over the erotica matrix. Guilty Pleasures aims to address the private shame that lies within erotica writers. The pieces range from anecdotally amusing sex (Marcy Sheiner's hilarious escape from dentist hell, "Open") to dirty revealing sex (Michael Hemmingson's "Fucking Ass," a paean to his very favorite hole). The style and sexual identification range among the stories; what ties the collection together is that the pieces are by erotica writers writing about themselves. Contributions by erotica mainstays like Sheiner, Pat Califia-Rice, Carol Queen and Jill Nagle ensure quality and familiarity.

The typical erotica collection, while probably competently written, will not win any Booker Prizes. The Hot Spots: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction might seem to be a shameless attempt at repackaging excerpts of popular literary fiction for profit (it is). But admirers of writers like Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem and Zoe Heller might be looking to get off at this station. While many of the entries are far softer than anything found between the covers of most erotica collections, the collection might serve as a nice gift to your 50-year-old aunt, who is recently single and likes to believe that she is experiencing a second sexual revolution but can't seem to stomach the idea of vibrators or sex shops. But she really likes Russell Banks and E.L. Doctorow, both of whom are represented in the collection. And it makes her feel sexy.

Other recent releases of note include Erotic Travel Tales (Mitzi Szereto, ed. Cleis Press, $14.95), an ode to wanderlust with stories by Maxim Jakubowski, Thomas S. Roche and M. Christian, among others, on erotic tales in exotic places; Noirotica 3: Stolen Kisses (Thomas S. Roche, ed. $16, Black Books), an exploration of the darker side of sex; and Set In Stone (Angela Brown, ed. $12.95, Alyson), a butch-on-butch collection. As far as how-to books, an entirely other beast, Marcy Sheiner's Sex for the Clueless ($12, Kensington Press) is of note because Sheiner is so prominent on the erotica scene. There are many, many more options; erotica is as ubiquitous as a high school boy's hard-on--and usually just as ephemeral.

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From the November 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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