Several months ago I received a pitch for a book that featured “a unique collection of toe-curling tales that satisfy the need for well-written erotica with substance.” That hooked me. So I emailed reading BFF Kelly and got her involved in the review too. We both read a lot of romance/erotica books that wind up being trite, lackluster, and frankly seem written for shock value. The idea that a group of writers got together to write erotica that would appeal to our minds as well as our bodies? Yes please!
Forget poorly written prose and clichéd love scenes: Book Lovers answers the call for sexy literature with substance. This collection of toe-curling tales written by and for word-worshipers offers well-crafted fiction and creative nonfiction that connects literature to libido. From a Vonnegut-inspired tryst to an imaginary ménage à trois with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, the book encompasses a veritable buffet of literary fantasies.
Whether they’re conjuring Junot Díaz between the sheets or dreaming of a modern-day enactment of Wuthering Heights—this time refusing Edgar in favor of lusty, bodice-ripping nights with Heathcliff—the stories in Book Lovers are designed for readers’ brains and bodies.
Kelly: Honestly, it should have been a warning sign that the book was being pitched as “intelligent” erotica. Any time you have to tell people that you’re smart, well… It’s either evident or it isn’t.
Anyway, we were intrigued by the promise of erotica heavy on the literary references and did not give sufficient side-eye to a blurb that begins with a clichéd attack on the genre.
Kim: Since this is a book of short stories, Kelly and I figured we’d discuss a few separately.
First up was my favorite (and possibly Kelly’s too) A to Z by Kristina Wright.
Kelly: It’s the first story in the collection, and it’s definitely the best of the bunch.
Kim: Quick synopsis: two women, Amy and Zoe, meet in a library. Every two weeks Zoe gives Amy a new book to read. The authors’ names take her through the entire alphabet (A is for Austen, B is for Bronte, etc.)
Kelly: All lady authors, too. It’s actually a really neat trip down the alley of women’s literature.
Kim: By the time they hit “N” Amy is craving more from Zoe than just her literary recommendations.
Kelly: Because “N” is for “Nin.”
Kim: I loved this story not only for its women’s literature suggestions, but for the fact that the women get turned on by literature. It’s completely cliché to say, but reading is so sexy. Hearing (or being part of) conversations about books is so hot. It doesn’t matter the genre, the author, the story – just hearing someone’s passion for a book is stimulating and sensual.
Kelly: Yes, that part of this story was just lovely. Mainly, though, I loved the story because it worked so well as a short story. It gave me enough information about the characters for me to care about them, but was mysterious enough that I was perfectly content to leave them be after 12 pages. The story also does a great job of balancing fantasy (meeting a sexy stranger in the library and bonding over a yearlong course in women’s literature) and reality (the end). And, although this story was a little bit strange (all short stories are, right?), it was perhaps the least strange of the bunch.
Kim: Strange was definitely the overarching theme of this collection. The closing story of the collection, The Wolf by Amy Halloran, takes the cake for “strangest thing I’ve ever read.”
Kelly: Yeah, that one is special. Kim was texting me while she read the stories (she got to it before I did), and when she hit that one… Well, let’s just say those were some fancy texts. I’ll let her tell you about it.
Kim: I could not formulate words to even express how odd the story was. Think of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Basically in this version, Red has to write the beginning and middle of multiple stories for the Wolf, who has eaten her grandmother (literally.) They then finish the stories together. He waits for her in grandma’s nightgown, all fur and paws. What she has written will determine how he pleases her. As she gets to Granny’s house and begins telling her story, Wolf begins transforming from beast to man. Once he’s transformed she has to feed him her mother’s soup….also known as “the cure.”
Kelly: I’m pretty sure that’s a euphemism.
Kim: Once the cure is given and he can touch her, they begin their sexual coupling. All the while feeling guilty because grandma is in his stomach. After the Wolf comes, Grandma explodes out of him and the Wolf leaves Granny’s house. WHUT?
Kelly: I’m going to start using the term “sexual coupling” on the regular. That’s my favorite, ever. Especially because the wolf is wearing grandma’s nightgown.
Kim: I’m glad you enjoyed that term. 😉
I’d like to say that strange stories don’t always bother me. I’m ok when authors take risks and it pays off. But this story….well there isn’t a payoff. What is the point of it? Maybe in a full length novel these characters and their relationship could be explored more, but for a short story…there is just no point.
Kelly: Oh, god. No. Please no full-length novels exploring the sexuality of Little Red and the Wolf (and Grandma).
Kim: Oh I’m not asking for one by any means. Just trying to figure out HOW this story could have ever worked.
Kelly: OK, OK. I had a little panic, there. *breathing*
Kim: I think the whole Grandma in Wolf’s belly while he has sex with Red was the strangest part. The fact that it’s actively discussed is what’s SO weird. Here, some excerpts about Granny:
“We have been here before, at the corner of want and tell. I write as if I’ll change things while Grandma sits in his belly, dissolving, grinding inside him, an achy, ouchy thing.”
“In his belly she kind of smiles. She does not hate our intersections. Though brittle, she has loved. I think she likes to be near us.”
“Inside him, Granny is swimming laps in soup. She likes this, too.”
Kelly: So effing strange… but, then, I found many of the stories in the collection very strange. And the ones that weren’t (with the exception of the first story, which I really did like and Inked, which was also rather good) they were straight up forgettable. That’s not to say that I didn’t like some of the strange stories… The Thrillhammer Orgasmatron (for reals) was interesting and funny in addition to being incredibly strange.
Kim: I’ll give the book credit for all the literary love. There were stories that were inspired by Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Ulysses by James Joyce, and The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe. Stories that revolved around love for authors Junot Diaz, Anais Nin, e.e. cummings, Henry Miller, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. There was definitely a variety of inspiration to say the least. If this book inspires other readers to read new authors (alive or dead) then I have to pat it on the back.
Kelly: But keep in mind that it’s fucking strange.
Kim: SUPER strange.
Kim’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Kelly’s Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers Edited by Shawna Kenney
Avalon Publishing Group (2014)
Paperback: 240 pages
Special thanks to Seal Press for our review copies!