The trouble with porn is the casting. Not so much the arousing, alienating women with bad shoes and dead eyes, but the boys. There are a couple of porn actresses that I’d love to hook up with in real life (are you reading, Jessie Andrews?) but I have yet to see a guy on screen that I would even drunkenly and desperately eye fuck at 4am on a night bus. And people fall over themselves to tell me that it’s a case of “knowing where to look” but I’m not choosing a fine burgundy or trying to source vintage furniture. I enjoy porn in the same way that I enjoy poor quality amphetamines and Big Macs smothered in barbecue sauce. You use it late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It’s instantly gratifying and in that same instant, regrettable. Porn makes me feel grimey. About three and a half minutes into a penetration shot I’m past the point of la petite mort and feeling a little mortified instead. This is why I’m a big fan of the dirty book. The printed word can be more powerful than a thousand penis pictures because the reader gets porn tailored to fit their imagination. It can be embellished, revised and revisited without any guys with bad tatts and beer guts spoiling the shot.
Here are some of my favourite titles. I’m sure people will rush to tell me that I left out Delta of Venus or L’histoire d’O, but I thought that anyone with an interest in erotica would know all about them already (also, I’m not such a big fan of O. All that kneeling reminded me of church.) I hope this list is useful, or at least interesting. Happy wanking!
The Ages of Lulu, Almudena Grandes
Lulu is fifteen when she is seduced by her big brother’s best friend. She goes on to seduce her teacher, a transvestite, a few gay men and her brother. Maybe it’s not the most familiar set up in the world but Grandes has given Lulu a singular and recognisable voice. Don Draper once said that good advertising was the billboard on the highway that tells you “you’re OK”, and Lulu’s insecurities are reassuring from the start. On the night she loses her virginity to the guy she has fancied forever, she agonises over her terrible coat and her terrible bra. Having thrown a pair of bad knickers out of the window before an unexpected encounter I could relate. Lulu spends the better part of the book having sex, but you see the context too - she lives in a politically unstable country, she worries about her friends and her daughter, she shops and she gets drunk. The novel opens as she is watching porn and fantasising about the desires and back stories of the actors in front of her. It’s as meta as a Kaufman movie.
I have yet to see a guy on screen that I would even drunkenly and desperately eye fuck at 4am on a night bus
Joy: Diary of a Sex Addict Anonymous
Joy is a myopic French model in possession of a sex drive that frequently gets her into trouble. She can’t leave a party without some stranger sticking their hand up her jumper or invite the neighbour over for a nice, quiet dinner that doesn’t end in bumming. It’s troubling from a feminist perspective as Joy’s consent is usually assumed rather than requested. And most of the scenarios are quite hot but he prose doesn’t always deliver. (In the obligatory lesbian chapter our heroine gets together with a woman who “lapped at me like a little dog.” I suspect that’s the line that stopped the author from putting their name to the novel. ) Still, not enough books start with a girl giving someone a hand job in a 2CV and end with that same girl peering through a different, spunk splattered windscreen. Excitingly, you can now buy the Kindle version for about a pound. Commuting just got awesome.
Riders, Jilly Cooper
This bookhas been the subject of many a fevered Twitter debate, with the participants eventually having to retire for a “pre sleep lie down”. If it was Dr Seuss who taught me how to read, it was Jilly Cooper who taught me how to read with only one hand. Riders was my entire sex education course - although that was partly because I was taught by nuns and never got to run around a laboratory pretending to be sperm like everyone else. Anyway, were it not for Billy Lloyd Foxe’s woodland seduction of journalist Janey I would not have acquired quite so many painful splinters during GCSE study leave. I learned that if you are having an affair with someone you must spend 95 per cent of your waking hours sixty nine-ing each other (although you have to call it soixant-neuf), that if you are having sex with someone you shouldn’t be, your best alibi is a Women’s Institute meeting and that Rupert Campbell Black (the Handsomest Man In England) would rather shag a tubby stable girl wearing wellies than a beautiful, neurotic woman trussed up in Janet Reger’s finest.
How To Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong
If you’ve ever wondered what could possibly be good about a hate shag, this is what you need to read. Protagonist Isadora discovers her husband Bennett has been unfaithful - and goes on to match every affair of his with about seven of her own. Like Jong’s first novel Fear of Flying this isn’t a straight up dirty book so much as a novel with lots of sex in it. Even though Isadora can be bloody irritating, you’re rooting for her from the first angry orgasm in the dark. It’s also very, very funny - the would be punk lesbian WASP who can only come when a pricey bottle of champagne is pushed up her womanly arena made me giggle.
Peyton Place, Grace Metalious
This was the success de scandale of the 1950s and even though there’s nothing here that would be exciting enough for RedTube, all the desire and repression shimmers off the page like heat haze. Everyone is constantly boning someone or thinking about it and there’s a LOT of incest going on, which is mostly disturbing but sometimes kind of hot. As a rule, the more judgemental a character is, the more bizarre their sex life. I wonder if this is a novel that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are familiar with...anyway, if you’re stuck for something to do next Saturday afternoon, make yourself a mint julep, draw your curtains and immerse yourself in a bit of vintage sleaze. Valley of the Dolls makes a good chaser.
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