One-handed reading

Salon's resident sexpert picks five books that taught her what "dirty" meant.

By Susie Bright
Published November 29, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

This was the first book I was ever handed by another person and told, "This is dirty." A whole crew of little girls in my eighth-grade class in Edmonton, Alberta, were circulating it, and it wasn't because of their interest in the Mafia -- it was because of the book's lurid description of the Godfather's son's huge cock and the woman he meets who has a cunt big enough to accept and enjoy it. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to the "big cock" meme. I was sheltered enough that I had no idea that bigger was supposed to be better, and I found this enormously titillating.

A Garden of Sand by Earl Thompson

Another book placed directly in my lap by a girlfriend who said, "I don't like that prissy erotica stuff -- this is something that actually gets you off." While "The Godfather" was violent, it didn't mix violence with sex. "Garden of Sand" had anger, guilt, violence and sex all mixed in one pot and sometimes in a few brutal paragraphs. Two characters really shocked me -- a mother who has an incestuous relationship with her son and a furious dwarf who wreaks revenge on a prostitute -- but I couldn't get those scenes out of my head. This time, I didn't like having my friend know that I was turned on by the same things she was. I refused to talk to her about the book afterward. I was ashamed of myself for enjoying it and pissed at her for knowing I would.

Notes of a Dirty Old Man by Charles Bukowski

Is this what men really think about women? I found this on my father's bookshelf, at the height of Bukowski's reign as the drunken bard of the L.A. Free Press. I'd never heard someone be such a bastard in print before, but he was so damn eloquent about it. Made me wonder how the women in his life would tell the same story.

Don Juan in the Village by Jane DeLynn

These were the notes of a dirty old dyke and one of the first unrepentant ones at that. Jane De Lynn wrote about what it's like to love ugly, to love reckless, to be absolutely hateful and sopping wet all at the same time. I cheered because she'd broken the dreadful lesbian romance canon, and then later I realized that there just weren't any women authors talking about sex hunger like this, and precious few men, either.

Goin' Down With Janis by Peggy Caserta

I love Janis Joplin and I love trashy celebrity biographies, but it's rare to find a lesbian love affair that can tie the two together. This book was ghost-written to be grotesque, yet I was touched by the tenderness that escaped the editor's cheese machine. Peggy and Janis loved each other, and that made me listen to Janis' blues with a new understanding.

Susie Bright

Susie Bright is the author of the new book "Full Exposure" and many other books, and the editor of the "Best American Erotica" series. For more columns by Bright, visit her website.

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