Fifty Sexy Literary Alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey

Art, Books, Literature, Writers

I hate to be anti-book—any book, really, even awful ones—but Fifty Shades of Grey barely qualifies as a book, and it’s utterly dreadful to think that a Twilight knockoff that started as Twilight fanfiction (!) is now sold in bulk across the world when there are so many good books out there—salacious, sexy, erotic books at that. But, like I said, I hate to knock on something when it’s more productive to offer an alternative. So: a list.

This list is subjective, occasionally weird, and hardly complete (feel free to point out what I’ve left off). I’ve only included works that I’ve read in part or in whole. I’m clearly aware that certain stuff like D.H. Lawrence, much of Updike, and infamous classics like Walter’s My Secret Life are not on here—if it’s not on here, I haven’t read any of it. I vouch for everything else.

  1. Song of Songs (Old Testament)
  2. Juliette, Marquis de Sade
  3. Justine, Marquis de Sade
  4. The 120 Days of Sodom, Marquis de Sade
  5. The Pearl, William Lazenby (ed.)
  6. The Story of O, Pauline Réage
  7. Delta of Venus,  Anaïs Nin
  8. Little Birds, Anaïs Nin
  9. Lost Girls, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
  10. The Soft Machine, William Burroughs
  11. Story of the Eye, Georges Bataille
  12. The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway
  13. Ada, or Ador, Vladimir Nabokov
  14. Fanny Hill, John Cleland
  15. Poems of Sappho
  16. Crash, J.G. Ballard
  17. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  18. House of Holes, Nicolson Baker
  19. Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker
  20. Satyricon, Petronius Arbiter
  21. “Penelope”/Molly’s monologue from Ulysses, James Joyce
  22. “Nausicaa” from Ulysses, James Joyce
  23. “Circe” from Ulysses, James Joyce
  24. Boccaccio’s Decameron
  25. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
  26. Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller
  27. Women, Charles Bukowski
  28. Poems of Catullus
  29. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  30. Kama Sutra
  31. Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
  32. The Ways, Caracci and Aretino
  33. Vox, Nicholson Baker
  34. Ars Amatoria, Ovid
  35. A Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews
  36. Casanova’s letters and memoirs 
  37. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
  38. Snow White, Donald Barthelme
  39. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  40. Briar Rose, Robert Coover
  41. Frisk, Dennis Cooper
  42. Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
  43. Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa
  44. “Wild nights! Wild nights!”, Emily Dickinson
  45. Various selections of Robert Crumb
  46. Dream Story, Arthur Schnitzler
  47. A few choice passages from Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives
  48. Venus in Furs,  Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
  49. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
  50. “I started Early – Took my Dog -“, Emily Dickinson
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The Marquis de Sade: “You Need Only Have a Good Heart”

Books, Literature, philosophy, Writers

PRIEST – Then we should not shrink from the worst of all crimes.

DYING MAN – I say nothing of the kind. Let the evil deed be proscribed by law, let justice smite the criminal, that will be deterrent enough; but if by misfortune we do commit it even so, let’s not cry over spilled milk; remorse is inefficacious, since it does not stay us from crime, futile since it does not repair it, therefore it is absurd to beat one’s breast, more absurd still to dread being punished in another world if we have been lucky to escape it in this. God forbid that this be construed as encouragement to crime, no, we should avoid it as much as we can, but one must learn to shun it through reason and not through false fears which lead to naught and whose effects are so quickly overcome in any moderately steadfast soul. Reason, sir – yes, our reason alone should warn us that harm done our fellows can never bring happiness to us; and our heart, that contributing to their felicity is the greatest joy Nature has accorded us on earth; the entirety of human morals is contained in this one phrase: Render others as happy as one desires oneself to be, and never inflict more pain upon them than one would like to receive at their hands. There you are, my friend, those are the only principles we should observe, and you need neither god nor religion to appreciate and subscribe to them, you need only have a good heart. But I feel my strength ebbing away; preacher, put away your prejudices, unbend, be a man, be human, without fear and without hope forget your gods and your religions too: they are none of them good for anything but to set man at odds with man, and the mere name of these horrors has caused greater loss of life on earth than all other wars and all other plagues combined. Renounce the idea of another world; there is none, but do not renounce the pleasure of being happy and of making for happiness in this. Nature offers you no other way of doubling your existence, of extending it. – My friend, lewd pleasures were ever dearer to me than anything else, I have idolized tham all my life and my wish has been to end it in their bosom; my end draws near, six women lovelier than the light of day are waiting in the chamber adjoining, I have reserved them for this moment, partake of the feast with me, following my example embrace them instead of the vain sophistries of superstition, under their caresses strive for a little while to forget your hypocritical beliefs.

NOTE: The dying man rang, the women entered; and after he had been a little while in their arms the preacher became one whom Nature had corrupted, all because he had not succeeded in explaining what a corrupt nature is.

From the Marquis de Sade’s Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man (1782).

Books Acquired, 12.21.2011

Books, Literature, Writers

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So, obviously I can’t manage to do these “Books Acquired” posts in a timely fashion, let alone chronologically. Anyway, I’m certain of the date I picked up these four because I ended up writing this post about why novels make lousy gifts later that day. As always, the iPhone pic is a bit blurry. It’s tough work lighting books, believe it or not, and they’re usually different dimensions, etc., gripe, whine. Jeez. So these books are: The Crimes of Love by Marky de Sade, which I dunno, I’ve been compelled to read him lately; The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, which did you know is written entirely in questions? And did you know that Powell was (is) the big-time writer in res at my alma mater? And do you care? And why? The Dennis Cooper novel is Frisk. I always scour this particular bookshop for Cooper, but have never had any luck. So on this particular trip, of course someone has let go of his entire collection of Cooper, like six or seven novels (not God Jr. or the short story collection though, which seemed like good starting places). I picked Frisk sort of at random. I’ve been looking for Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual for a while too, so I was happy to pick it up. I consider it assigned reading in 2012.

I also picked up books as gifts that day, including some children’s books for my kids, and a first edition hardback copy of Brugo Partridge’s A History of Orgies. 

The Scriptural Sperm Can No Longer Flow: Sade the Eunuch

Books, Literature, Writers
The final section of Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert.

22. Any detention is a system: a bitter struggle exists within this system, not to get free of it (this was beyond Sade’s power), but to break through its constraints. A prisoner for some twenty-five years of his life, Sade in prison had two fixations: outdoor exercise and writing, which governors and ministers were continually allowing and taking away from him like a rattle from a baby. The need and the desire for outdoor exercise are easily understood (although Sade always linked its privation to a symbolic theme, obesity). The repression, obviously, as anyone can see, of writing is as good as censoring the book; what is poignant here, however, is that writing is forbidden in its physical form; Sade was denied “any use of pencil, ink, pen, and paper.” Censored are hand, muscle, blood. Castration is circumscribed, the scriptural sperm can no longer flow; detention becomes retention; without exercise, without a pen, Sade becomes bloated, becomes a eunuch.

Candide — Voltaire

Books, Literature, Reviews, Writers

I liked pretty much all of the assigned reading in high school (okay, I hated every page of Tess of the D’Ubervilles). Some of the books I left behind, metaphorically at least (Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye), and some books bewildered me, but I returned to them later, perhaps better equipped (Billy Budd; Leaves of Grass). No book stuck with me quite as much as Candide, Voltaire’s scathing satire of the Enlightenment.

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I remember being unenthusiastic when my 10th grade English teacher assigned the book—it was the cover, I suppose (I stole the book and still have it), but the novel quickly absorbed all of my attention. I devoured it. It was (is) surreal and harsh and violent and funny, a prolonged attack on all of the bullshit that my 15 year old self seemed to perceive everywhere: baseless optimism, can-do spirit, and the guiding thesis that “all is for the best.” The novel gelled immediately with the Kurt Vonnegut books I was gobbling up, seemed to antecede the Beat lit I was flirting with. And while the tone of the book certainly held my attention, its structure, pacing, and plot enthralled me. I’d never read a book so willing to kill off major characters (repeatedly), to upset and displace its characters, to shift their fortunes so erratically and drastically. Not only did Voltaire repeatedly shake up the fortunes of Candide and his not-so-merry band—Pangloss, the ignorant philosopher; Cunegonde, Candide’s love interest and raison d’etre and her maid the Old Woman; Candide’s valet Cacambo; Martin, his cynical adviser—but the author seemed to play by Marvel Comics rules, bringing dead characters back to life willy nilly. While most of the novels I had been reading (both on my own and those assigned) relied on plot arcs, grand themes, and character development, Candide was (is) a bizarre series of one-damn-thing-happening-after-another. Each chapter was its own little saga, an adventure writ in miniature, with attendant rises and falls. I loved it.

I reread Candide this weekend for no real reason in particular. I’ve read it a few times since high school, but it was never assigned again—not in college, not in grad school—which may or may not be a shame. I don’t know. In any case, the book still rings my bell; indeed, for me it’s the gold standard of picaresque novels, a genre I’ve come to dearly love. Perhaps I reread it with the bad taste of John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor still in my mouth. As I worked my way through that bloated mess, I just kept thinking, “Okay, Voltaire did it 200 years earlier, much better and much shorter.”

Revisiting Candide for the first time in years, I find that the book is richer, meaner, and far more violent than I’d realized. Even as a callow youth, I couldn’t miss Voltaire’s attack on the Age of Reason, sustained over a slim 120 pages or so. Through the lens of more experience (both life and reading), I see that Voltaire’s project in Candide is not just to satirize the Enlightenment’s ideals of rationality and the promise of progress, but also to actively destabilize those ideals through the structure of the narrative itself. Voltaire offers us a genuine adventure narrative and punctures it repeatedly, allowing only the barest slivers of heroism—and those only come from his innocent (i.e. ignorant) title character. Candide is topsy-turvy, steeped in both irony and violence.

As a youth, the more surreal aspects of the violence appealed to me. (An auto-da-fé! Man on monkey murder! Earthquakes! Piracy! Cannibalizing buttocks!). The sexy illustrations in the edition I stole from my school helped intrigue me as well—

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The self who read the book this weekend still loves a narrative steeped in violence—I can’t help it—Blood Meridian, 2666, the Marquis de Sade, Denis Johnson, etc.—but I realize now that, despite its occasional cartoonish distortions, Candide is achingly aware of the wars of Europe and the genocide underway in the New World. Voltaire by turns attacks rape and slavery, serfdom and warfare, always with a curdling contempt for the powers that be.

But perhaps I’ve gone too long though without quoting from this marvelous book, so here’s a passage from the last chapter that perhaps gives summary to Candide and his troupe’s rambling adventures: by way of context (and, honestly spoiling nothing), Candide and his friends find themselves eking out a living in boredom (although not despair) and finding war still raging around them (no shortage of heads on spikes); Candide’s Cunegonde is no longer fair but “growing uglier everyday” (and shrewish to boot!), Pangloss no longer believes that “it is the best of all worlds” they live in, yet he still preaches this philosophy, Martin finds little solace in the confirmation of his cynicism and misanthropy, and the Old Woman is withering away to death. The group finds their only entertainment comes from disputing abstract questions—

But when they were not arguing, their boredom became so oppressive that one day the old woman was driven to say, “I’d like to know which is worse: to be raped a hundred times by Negro pirates, to have one buttock cut off, to run the guantlet in the Bulgar army, to be whipped and hanged in an auto-da-fé, to be dissected, to be a galley slave—in short, to suffer all the miseries we’ve all gone through—or stay here and do nothing.

“That’s a hard question,” said Candide.

It’s amazing that over 200 years ago Voltaire posits boredom as an existential dilemma equal to violence; indeed, as its opposite. (I should stop and give credit here to Lowell Blair’s marvelous translation, which sheds much of the finicky verbiage you might find in other editions in favor of a dry, snappy deadpan, characterized in Candide’s rejoinder above). The book’s longevity might easily be attributed to its prescience, for Voltaire’s uncanny ability to swiftly and expertly assassinate all the rhetorical and philosophical veils by which civilization hides its inclinations to predation and straight up evil. But it’s more than that. Pointing out that humanity is ugly and nasty and hypocritical is perhaps easy enough, but few writers can do this in a way that is as entertaining as what we find in Candide. Beyond that entertainment factor, Candide earns its famous conclusion: “We must cultivate our garden,” young (or not so young now) Candide avers, a simple, declarative statement, one that points to the book’s grand thesis: we must work to overcome poverty, ignorance, and, yes, boredom. I’m sure, gentle, well-read reader, that you’ve read Candide before, but I’d humbly suggest to read it again.

Citizen Sade

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert.

20. A plurality of which Sade was well aware, since he laughs at it: in 1793, Citizen Sade was proposed as a juror in a common-law case (a matter of forged promissory notes): the dual hearing of the Sadian text (of which Sade’s life is a part): the apologist of crime and its judge are united in the same subject, as the Saussurian anagram is inscribed in a Vedic verse (but what remains of a subject that subjects itself with alacrity to a dual inscription?).

Sade’s Passion Was Theatrical, Not Erotic

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert.

19. Throughout his life, the Marquis de Sade’s passion was not erotic (eroticism is very different from passion); it was theatrical: youthful liaisons with several young ladies of the Opéra, engaging the actor Bourdais to play for six months at La Coste, and in his torment, one idea: to have his plays performed; barely out of prison (1790), repeated requests to the actors of the Comédie Française; and finally, of course, theater at Charenton.

Sade Loved His Big Pillow

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert.

18. Suddenly transferred from Vincennes to the Bastille, Sade made a great fuss because he had not been allowed to bring his big pillow, without which he was unable to sleep, since he slept with his head unusually high: “The barbarians!”.

It Is the Point One Is at that Makes a Thing Good or Bad, and Not the Thing Itself

Books, Literature

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert.

17. At Vincennes in 1783, the penitentiary administration forbade the prisoner’s receiving Rousseau’sConfessions. Sade comments: “They honor me in thinking that a deist author could be a bad book for me; I wish I were at that point… Understand, it is the point one is at that makes a thing good or bad, and not the thing itself… Start there, dear sirs, and by sending me the book I request, be sensible enough to understand that for died-in-the-wool bigots like yourselves, Rousseau can be a dangerous author, and that makes it an excellent book for me. For me, JeanJacques is what the Imitation of Christ is for you…” Censorship is abhorrent on two levels: because it is repressive, because it is stupid; so that we always have the contradictory urge to combat it and to teach it a lesson.

Sade Was Very Fond of Dogs

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

16. Sade was very fond of dogs, spaniels, and setters; he had them at Miolans, asked for them at Vincennes. Through what moral (or worse: virile) law should the greatest of subversions exclude minor affection, that for animals?

Sade, the Social Joker

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

15. In the social game of his time, doubly complicated because — rare in history — it was both synchronic and diachronic, displaying the (apparently immobile) tableau of classes under the Ancien Régime and class changes (under the Revolution), Sade was extremely mobile: a social joker, able to occupy any niche in the class system; Lord of LaCoste, he was supplanted in Mlle Colet’s affections by a bourgeois, a collector of rents, who presented the actress with a magnificent sultan (a dressing table); later, a member of the Piques sector, he assumes the socially neutral figure of a man of letters, a dramatist; struck from the list of émigrés and owing to a confusion of first names that exists today, he was able (or at least his family was) to appear as he wished according to the varied moments of History on this turnstile of social class. He honors the sociological notion of social mobility, but in a ludic sense; he moves up and down on the social scale like a bottle imp; a reflection, once again in the socio-economic meaning of the term, he makes this reflection not the imitation or product of a determination, but the unselfconscious game of a mirror. In this carrousel of roles, one fixed point: manners, way of life, which were always aristocratic.

Wig Fetishist

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

14. One of Sade’s principal persecutors, Police Lieutenant Sartine, suffered from a psychopathological condition which in a just (equal) society would have entailed his imprisonment on the same footing as his victim: he was a wig fetishist: “His library contained all kinds of wigs of all sizes: he put them on according to the circumstances; among others, he owned a good-luck wig (with five loosely hanging little curls) and a wig for interrogating criminals, a kind of snake headdress called the inexorable” (Lély, II, 90). Aware of the phallic value of the braid, we can imagine how Sade must have longed to clip the toupees of his hated cop.

Sade Had a Phobia: The Sea

Books, Literature, Writers

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

13. Sade had a phobia: the sea. What will be given schoolchildren to read: Baudelaire’s poem (“Free man, you will always cherish the sea…”) or Sade’s avowal (“I’ve always feared and immensely disliked the sea…”)?

Sade Is Constantly Bookkeeping: Classes of Subjects, Orgasms, Victims

Books

From Roland Barthes’ “Life of Sade,” a short biography of The Marquis de Sade. Translated from the French by Richard Miller.  Read the entire essay at Supervert (or here over the next few days, parceled out over 22 sections)—

12. In certain of the letters he received or wrote at Vincennes or in the Bastille, Sade discerned or inserted number utterances which he called signals. These signals helped him to imagine or even to read (supposing they were put there intentionally by his correspondent and had escaped the censor) the number of days between receipt and a visit from his wife, an authorization for outdoor recreation, or his freedom; these signals are for the most part malevolent (“The number system is working against me…”). The mania for numbers can be read at various levels; first, neurotic defense: in his fiction, Sade is constantly bookkeeping: classes of subjects, orgasms, victims, and, above all, like Ignatius Loyola, in a purely obsessive twist, he accounts for his own oversights, his errors in numbering; further, number, when it deranges a rational system (we may rather say made purposely to derange it), has the power to produce a surrealistic shock: “On the 18th at 9, the clock chimed 26 times,” Sade notes in his Journal; finally, number is the triumphant path of access to the signifier (here as a pun involving the similarity of pronunciation, in French, of the past tense of “to come,” vint, and the number “twenty,” vingt): (“The other day, because we needed a 24, a flunkey pretending to be M. le Noir [a police officer], and so that I might write to Monsieur Le Noir, came at 4 (vint le 4), thus 24 (vingtquatre).” Numeration is the beginning of writing, its liberating positioning: a connection apparently censured in the history of ideography, if we are to believe J.-L. Schefer’s current work on hieroglyphics and cuneiform: the phonological theory of language (Jakobson) unduly separates the linguist from writing; calculation will bring him closer.