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[whitespace] 'The Best American Erotica 2001' Love Letters

Ready for romance? Books can help! Really!

By Patrick Sullivan


AH, LOVE. Is any human endeavor more fraught with frustrating little mysteries? Was it Winston Churchill or Puff Daddy who called romance "a riddle wrapped inside an enigma smothered in secret sauce"? Both, probably: great minds think alike.

Chief among the puzzles: Why do we fall for people who don't love us back? Also, why do weird, icky people fall in love with us? And, perhaps most important, how can we find out whether our special someone wears boxers, briefs, or something pink and lacy?

News flash: books can help! They have the wisdom of the ages. They provide fresh insights from thoughtful minds. And, properly displayed, they make us look much more intelligent, thus activating that lusty little gene in our beloved that craves a brainy companion--check and mate, to quote the chess nerds.

But not just any books will do. Of the thousands of new volumes rolling off the presses at American publishing houses this year, roughly 97.5 percent offer how-to advice about love and sex. The remaining 2.5 percent serve up fiction about the same subjects.

Sure, you could roll around in this haystack until you felt the prick of the needle, but there's no need to waste time. Only two new books are indispensable for your bedside table: Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Lover (Plume; $13), edited by Arielle Ford; and The Best American Erotica 2001 (Touchstone; $13) edited by Susie Bright.

At first blush, of course, no two books could seem more different. Yes, they both contain love stories of a sort (and both cost $13), but that's where the resemblance ends--on the surface, anyway.

Arielle Ford has put together a romantic collection of tales about people (one man and one woman, inevitably) brought together in amazing ways by various higher powers. The stories--written by both ordinary folks and such spiritual superstars as rock singer Kenny Loggins--begin like this: "It finally occurred to me that angels might know more about love than I do." Or like this: "The first time I encountered Ken was somewhere on the astral plane--in a dream."

Sexpert and cultural provocateur Susie Bright has assembled a collection of short fiction about people (one man and one woman, two men, two women, two men and one woman, one man and a sex toy, and a few more creative combinations) brought together by another higher power--human lust.

THESE STORIES, authored by writers ranging from erotic website editor Cara Bruce to O'Henry Award-winning writer Nathan Englander, usually begin like this: "I work in a place 'nice girls' don't usually visit." Or like this: "What I love most about Jason's cock is not its size but its grace, in every sense."

In Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Lover, people learn the identity of their beloved from a psychic, an astrologer, a dream, or by looking closely at people's auras. In a fascinating foreword, spiritual adviser Deepak Chopra explains the concept of soul mates that helped inspire this book: "A soul mate would therefore be a perfect archetypal relationship that's vibrating at the same frequency of consciousness and evolving at the same rate as well."

Vibrations of a different sort are at work in Best American Erotica, where our heroes and heroines find their lovers by doing things like following them into the stall in a restaurant bathroom. In the introduction to this year's collection, Bright explains her own inspiration for sifting through the mountains of erotica to find these choice picks: "When I see the plethora of erotic books and Web sites, I say, 'Good for them.' Good for their initiative, their hard clits and wet pants."

But don't let these piddly differences throw you. Beneath the surface, these two books have a few important things in common. Yes, Hot Chocolate offers true stories that read like fiction, and Best American Erotica offers short fiction that often reads like the truth. But both books offer plenty of helpful advice on mastering the challenging art of love.

Want to know what to do if a disembodied voice suddenly commands you to go seek your soul mate at the New York Aquarium? Hot Chocolate answers that very question in "Happily Ever After," a story by Marcia Zina Mager. (And no, the solution is not to check yourself into a psychiatric hospital and start a vigorous course of antipsychotic medication.)

Need advice on the best lubricant to use if you're starting a vigorous love affair with your bathroom sink? Open up Best American Erotica 2001 and you'll see that Matt Bernstein explores the issue in his story "Sink."

Both books also use humor to make their points.

In ""You're Not Going to Like What We're About to Tell You, Said the Psychic," world-weary Hot Chocolate writer P. G. Osbourne offers some dating tips: "I selected my dates carefully, weeding out every astrological sign that had ever caused me grief. That essentially left the sign of Taurus."

In "Deflower," Best American Erotica writer Rosalind Christine Lloyd details a steamy encounter that begins when a woman attracts the narrator at a flower stand by doing something obscene to a hapless pink rose. After a bout of sadomasochistic lovemaking, the narrator leaves her newfound friend quivering and satisfied, commenting, "In hindsight, I think she learned a valuable lesson about disturbing flowers."

Finally, both books answer another question that probably occurs to most readers: Who are the people writing this stuff? In the author notes in the back of Hot Chocolate, we learn that Nicholas C. Newmont is "a clairvoyant, hypnotherapist, and expert in palmistry." He even gives a phone number!

Best American Erotica contributor Todd Belton, explains his author note, "knows the location and exact contents of every single fetish fiction page on the Web." But sorry, ladies: Belton provides no contact info, so you'll have to go elsewhere in search of your soul mate.

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From the February 8-14, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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