Friday, August 07, 2015

Booknote: Best Sex Writing of the Year, Volume 1

Jon Pressick, ed., Best Sex Writing of the Year, Volume 1: On Consent, BDSM, Porn, Race, Sex Work, and More. Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781627780865.

Want to buy it? You can get it from the publisher here (which also has links to buy as e-book if preferred). 
Want to borrow it? Find it in your local library via WorldCat.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: LGBTQIA, Gender Studies, essay, relationships, sexual politics
Format: trade paperback
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

"We all still censor ourselves when we talk about sex--a bad habit we need to break" (20), --Epiphora, "What Should We Call Sex Toys?", from the book Best Sex Writing of the Year, Volume 1

This is a nonfiction collection of essays and other pieces on various topics somehow related to sex. What makes this a great read and a solid collection is the diversity of topics presented. Some of the topics included are:

  • consent and disability
  • sex work, in various forms
  • sex toys
  • sex education
  • BDSM and sobriety
The book opens with a foreword by porn actress and activist Belle Knox that serves to put the book in context.  She reminds us of our fascination with sex, but just as people are fascinated they also have a complex reactions to sex ranging from curiosity, acceptance, and enjoyment to suppression and repression. Sex can be a polarizing topic. It is also something that has a myriad of expressions and forms. Way I see it, sex can be this fantastic voyage into a land of many experiences, forms, shapes, and expressions, and even a taboo or two. As Knox writes,

"It's easy to forget that outside of our own, seemingly normal sex lives, the world has thousands of different stories and experiences to share with we may not otherwise have imagined" (ix). 

The book provides a small but very good sampling of those different stories and experiences we may have not even considered. I also believe after reading it the book may provide validation and reassurance to some regarding their experiences and feelings.

After the foreword, editor Jon Pressick writes an introduction where he tells a bit about the state of sex writing and media. Sex is not as hidden as it used to be, and yes, the Internet's expansion has had a role in that. This book reflects that. The selections come from books and magazines, and they also come from various online sources. This is how Pressick describes it:

"Sure, magazines and books are still tremendous sources of content about the wild world of sex. But more and more, those blogs, information sites, daily digests and much more are becoming the must reads. Which is why the writers and curators of online content figure so significantly in this collection" (xiii-xiv). 

Both as librarian and reader, I know that to be true. When it comes to sex, erotica, some porn even, I read and acquire some books, magazines, and media. I also read and follow regularly various blogs and sites, many of them via my RSS feed reader, to stay informed and entertained. And these days you can find a lot from educational material to porn and erotica for every niche to essays and personal pieces. As a librarian, one of my skills is evaluating and curating content. I can certainly appreciate the hard work Pressick must have done in selecting the pieces for this volume given so many choices. He has done an excellent job selecting great nonfiction on sex with pieces that are timely, informative, moving at times, and accessible. If you have not done much reading of nonfiction sex writing, or you have not read it at all, this book is a great introduction to the genre.

It is a very accessible book, and that is strength. Some other nonfiction books on sex I've felt that you already have to be "in the know," be part of the club, clique, collective, whatever you wish to call it. Not here. Whether you are a beginner satisfying your curiosity or an advanced reader checking out what is the best on the topic, there is something here for you. There are 29 essays of varying length addressing a broad range of topics and issues. You can certainly read the book cover to cover, but you can also browse and pick and choose what to read and in what order to read it.

You will also find a range of emotions in the readings. Some pieces are light, even humorous. One or two may upset you, and some may even move you, maybe even make you shed a tear or two. That's because the writers here are exposing deep parts of their souls; they are very often opening themselves, making themselves vulnerable so that we may learn from their experiences, so that we may open our minds to many possibilities and experiences. Often it is so we may see life as it is, the reality behind the fantasy. These are all brave writers, and I am grateful they have chosen to share their worlds and experiences. Many of them are explorers who go out to the edge then return to tell us about it. In some instances, maybe you feel like you are doing a little exploring as well. As Pressick writes in his introduction, and this is something I agree with, "after reading these works, maybe you'll open a few doors of your own" (xv).

Overall, this is an excellent book. Most anthologies vary in quality with some pieces better than others. Here I can safely say the majority of selections are great, and you can't really go wrong here. There really is something for every reader. Though I got this copy for review, I would say this is one I would have been happy to get for my collection. I will probably reread parts of it here and there.

I do recommend it for libraries, both public and academic. It can be a risque book, so for public libraries you will have to assess how open minded or not your community is. For academic libraries, especially if you have strong women and gender studies programs and/or health and sexual education programs, this is one you should have. I'd certainly consider it for my library.

I am definitely recommending and talking about it with others. I noticed this is volume one. I certainly hope there will be a volume two, three, so on.

5 out of 5 stars.

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Let me take a moment and highlight some of the selections. There are many choices I could have made here, but I am choosing a few to keep this part of the post brief. Plus, I do want you to read the book and find your own favorites:

  • Fiona Helmsley's "Captain Save-A-Ho" is a good opening piece. It is both moving and humorous. You may smile, but it will be bittersweet. 
  • Ember Swift frankly discusses a topic many women and couples often try to hide or avoid in "Pregger Libido." It is a short, concise piece that can serve as a conversation starter for many folks out there. 
  • For me, Joan Price's "Sharing Body Heat" was one of the most moving pieces in this anthology. As someone who has been married for many years, it spoke to me. Also, it reminded me of my father's pain when my mother, the love of his life, passed. This was the essay that made me hold back a tear. 
  • Rachel Kramer Bussel's piece, "Kinky, Sober, and Free; BDSM in Recovery" is a must read, whether BDSM is your interest or not. She provides an honest and revealing look at the BDSM world. It is not always pretty and glamorous, given the presence of drugs and alcohol in many places where it may well be taken for granted. But in the end, you can (and probably should) navigate and enjoy this world sober and safe. After all, safe is part of "safe, sane, and consensual." 
  • Finally, I cannot wrap up without mentioning Lynn Comella's account of the failures of sex education in Nevada high schools. If this does not outrage you, you are either one of those willfully repressed and ignorant people part of the problem or just plain blind. The author highlights high school students' own stories, often filled with a sense of betrayal because educators and parents failed them and neglected to give them the essential health and sexuality information they needed. This is a solid piece of reporting folks in other school districts ought to read. 

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This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:


Joan Price said...

Thank you so much for mentioning my essay in your terrific review. Thanks for alerting me to this review! I feel honored. It makes such a difference to writers to know that something we wrote moved a reader or made someone think differently.

Angel Rivera said...

Joan: Thank you for being so open and brave in sharing it. It truly was a moving piece.

P.S. I have your recent book to read soon. Looking forward to it.

Best, and keep on writing.