As a kid who grew up in the '90s, I remember the last cassette tape I ever bought. It was Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette's angry sensation that made everyone — at least, everyone in my fifth grade class — use the word "ironic" all the time and look at Full House's Uncle Joey in a totally different light. I wasn't into alternative music, though, and, to be honest, I didn't much like Morissette's music at the time. So why does this purchase stick out in my memory?
Because I totally, unabashedly bought the album for the swears. The profanity. The parental advisory sticker.
The allure of the taboo or forbidden in art is addictive. How many of you watched A Clockwork Orange or Irreversible just to see what all the fuss was about, just to see how bad the violence or sex depicted really was? And how many of you readers did some compulsive reading just to get to the sex scenes?
My hand's up. One of the joys of reading is that it helps you become permissive, open-minded, and straight up aware of all kinds of people, places, and... perversions. Odds are you picked up these 10 titles to be, at least a little bit, titillated.
1. Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
The 15 stories in this collection are steamy, dreamy fairy tales by the 20th century empress of the erotic. Along the way, Nin, a poet and fascinating diarist, wields some wild descriptions of female anatomy, like this one from the book's first story, "The Hungarian Adventurer": "Her sex was like a giant hothouse flower."
2. The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway's last novel will make you want to eat soft boiled eggs, drink cold wine, frolic on the beach, and get your freak on. While on holiday in France, married couple Catherine and David Bourne fall into a love triangle — and engage in some female-to-male anal adventures.
3. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet
In the afterword to her memoir, Millet, a French art critic, observes, "having never attributed any sacred value to sex, I have never felt the need to shut it up in a tabernacle." In this chronicle of one woman's participation in everything from posh orgies to beach gang bangs, Millet's tone — both objective and searching — is a refreshing reminder that sexual experience is an essential component of your sense of self.
4. Endless Love by Scott Spencer
The movie adaptations are stagey and cheesy, but the novel is gorgeous — a searing portrait of young, obsessive love — and filled with sex scenes that span pages.
5. Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles
This autobiographical narrative by poet Eileen Myles is a dual coming-of-age story. Equal parts about growing into her identity as a writer and a lesbian, Myles' book barrels forward, even when she's not chronicling way unfiltered same sex encounters.
6. Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Humbert Humbert isn't the only character whose affections are misdirected. In Nutting's novel, middle-school teacher Celeste Price falls hard for the remote Jack Patrick, a student in one of her classes. The protagonist's desperation to satisfy her sexual appetites is definitely concerning, but it's a real meditation of lust and want.
7. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
A frightening number of this book's juiciest details are still floating around my brain, even 10 years after reading it. I attribute the staying power of this novel to Baker's wild, rollercoaster ride of an imagination — and his sense of humor, which will have you cracking up during the raunchiest bits. Bonus: Baker writes about phone sex in Vox (the book consists of only conversation — very, very racy conversation) and every possible coupling imaginable in his novel-in-stories House of Holes .
8. Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
A contemporary classic without a miss. And, while stories like "Secretary" (the basis for the 2002 film of the same title) teem with depravity, Gaitskill's technical prowess as a writer is always front and center stage.
9. Inside Madeline by Paula Bomer
If Mary Gaitskill and Anaïs Nin have a literary progenitor, it might be Paula Bomer. The stories in Inside Madeline explore some of the same erotic issues as Gaitskill's with a fable-istic quality reminiscent of Nin's but with a sense of wit and straightforwardness that is purely the author's own. The title story, by the way, is incredible, and it's one of the only works of fiction I've read where a character does some solo-stimulating with veggies.
Images: Pixabay; Goodreads (9)