Classy, non-amateur erotic literature?
August 7, 2009 9:03 AM   Subscribe

Having recently discovered Anais Nin's Delta of Venus and Little Birds, I'm looking for classy, somewhat highbrow, non-amateur, published erotic literature along the same lines.

I appreciate the languid, lingering, sensual atmosphere of the stories, and that they provoke thought about bedroom politics.

I tried looking on my own, but it seems I have unearthed a whole new underworld of fiction and the selection is overwhelming! There seems to be a lot of amateur erotic stories designed to quickly and deliberately assist the reader in getting off, sorted by taboo subject, and usually told in crude language. I do not wish to get off on these stories. I'm also not interested in romance novels, fan fiction, or deceptively highbrow-sounding florid prose featuring non-humans. (NOTE: I searched previous AskMe questions about erotica, but the askers' tastes differ from mine.)

I'd like to read more stories like Anais Nin's. Bonus points if they're literary and thought-provoking. Extra bonus points of they're classic, and published, as I will likely be reading them in waiting areas or on the train. Extra extra bonus points if they outdo Nin.

Any recommendations?
posted by Lush to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
A Sport And A Pastime by James Salter.
posted by ninebelow at 9:14 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've not read any Henry Miller but his work - starting with Tropic Of Cancer - is often talked of in the same breath as Nin.
posted by ninebelow at 9:17 AM on August 7, 2009

Michel Houllebecq's novels 'The Elementary Particles' and 'Lanzarote' are oozing with sex, and he is a very gifted writer. I assume his other novels are the same.

Though I haven't read it, James Salter's 'A Sport and A Pastime' is, I understand, centered around sex and sexuality. If it is half as good as his short fiction, you'll do well to read it. Highly excellent writer.

Along with incredible everything else, there are many incredible sex scenes scattered throughout Roberto Bolano's 'The Savage Detectives.'

Jim Harrison's 'True North' has a whole lot of excellently written sex in it, and is a fucking great book as well.

None of these novels are out-and-out self-proclaimed erotica---but they are very erotic, very often.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:22 AM on August 7, 2009

I've not read any Henry Miller but his work - starting with Tropic Of Cancer - is often talked of in the same breath as Nin.

Not sure Miller's work would be similar to Nin's, in anything but general literary quality. It'd be an interesting contrast, however -- sort of like Miller would be the yang to Nin's yin. (Say "Nin's yin" ten times fast!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Houellebecq, rather.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:23 AM on August 7, 2009

None of Miller's published work is exclusively erotica in the same manner as 'Little Birds' or 'Delta of Venus'. How about Georges Bataille, 'Story of the Eye'?
posted by zemblamatic at 9:37 AM on August 7, 2009

I had an Anais Nin erotica phase. From there I went the Miller way (since the Nin stories were pimped by him to some horny client) and it's like reading her evil twin brother. It's kinda funny you mention "quickly and deliberately assist the reader in getting off" since apparently that client found that Nin's stories weren't sexy enough and so failed the obvious goal which I sincerely believe she was somehow naively aiming at.

I went for the obvious choice afterward: D.H. Lawrence of whom Nin was a fan but it doesn't get as explicit although it's closer to her writing and imagination. Alberto Moravia's Erotic tales are fun and well written but a bit outdated. And then I tried Appolinaire, Bataille, Sade, Pauline Réage and all the obvious ones and so forth but nope. Nothing.

Having said that, the only book I found a few years later that could match and in many ways surpass Nin - in complexity of plot and characters at least - is Edith Templeton's Gordon. It has definitely that more feminine view that most erotica lacks (or gets too fluffy about and becomes simply the explicit bodice ripper type). It still doesn't have that whimsical, erotic fairytale quality to it but I found it definitely good literature.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Story of O, Pauline Reaga (aka Anne Declos), 1954

and a fun book from a totally different genre

The Fermata, Nicholson Baker (Vox fame), 1995
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pauline Reage, that is. sorry.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 10:08 AM on August 7, 2009

How about Georges Bataille, 'Story of the Eye'?

My book club read this book a few years ago. Just to warn you, it takes sexuality into realms that many people would consider quite uncomfortable. The title is not about eye contact, batting of lashes, etc. Instead, eyeballs are sexual objects.

I do think the book cultivated an overall atmosphere of sensuality similar to what you said you were looking for. It's just that the focus of that sensuality is pretty far outside the norm of what most people would find sensuous. While nobody in my book club was horrified enough to stop reading the book, we all found it uncomfortable to read.
posted by vytae at 10:24 AM on August 7, 2009

How about Georges Bataille, 'Story of the Eye'?

Seconding vytae's comments. Bataille is a second-rate De Sade looking to push boundaries rather than titillate. It's also very poorly written IMHO.

You might enjoy Lost Girls by Alan Moore. The hardcover is quite nice but definitely not something you can read on a bus:

The work voices an impassioned defense of artistic freedom that stresses that fiction and fantasies aren't the same as actual events and behavior. "Only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them," one character proclaims.
posted by benzenedream at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2009

No one is going to outdo Nin.

Try the Best American Erotica versions whatever. I always seem them secondhand (not sure if that grosses you out or not) so you can normally score a couple for very cheap. Not all the stories are good but some are very good and you can find a lot of great erotica authors that way.

I second D.H. Lawrence - Lady Chatterley's Lover is very interesting.

Lolita (Nabokov) can be very disturbing but is often described as erotica. It is an incredibly good book, if you can stomach lusty descriptions of nine-year-olds.

Miller's much less sensual than Nin. He goes for the gut. She goes for the throat. 'Story of the Eye' is far weirder, but also good.

My suggestion is going to take you past sensual into explicit but it's very well-written and really explores the genre: The Sleeping Beauty series by A.N. Roquelaure (none other than Anne Rice). Sleeping Beauty is awakened not with a tender kiss but instead by rape. The S&M continues from there. Not for the faint of heart but definitely literature. As I remember, the covers are not too embarrassing and the titles start with The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty.
posted by AquaAmber at 11:40 AM on August 7, 2009

My suggestion is going to take you past sensual into explicit but it's very well-written and really explores the genre: The Sleeping Beauty series by A.N. Roquelaure (none other than Anne Rice).

Hmm. The first book in that series got....monotonous for me after a while. Sure, the explicit nature of the text was titllating for the first few chapters, but it just went on and on with the whipping and the spanking and the bondage and went to higher and higher flights of fancy just reached a point, for me, at which it went too far and started sounding out-and-out silly. I got to the end of it, shrugged, and simply wasn't curious enough to pick up the next book.

However, I tend to prefer something that's got some kind of inherant core of realism in the characters (not necessarily the plot -- I've read some great stuff that's pretty out-there in terms of sex with extraterrestrial beings and the like), so it may have been a matter of taste. Your mileage may vary.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A Sport And A Pastime and The Fermata look really promising, based on the book descriptions. Lost Girls, even if it's a graphic novel, looks really fascinating. I really appreciate all the suggestions so far.

Funnily enough, Houllebecq was mentioned in the murder-suicide thread, which likened George Sodini to one of his characters. I'm not sure if I want to go there.

apparently that client found that Nin's stories weren't sexy enough and so failed the obvious goal which I sincerely believe she was somehow naively aiming at.

Yes, exactly! According to the preface of Delta of Venus, she wrote to the collector when he kept insisting that she leave out the analysis, the philosophy, the poetry:
"You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of aspects which are the fuel that ignites it. Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.

If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity, passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.

How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of distinct and never repeated wonders? No two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; no two odors, but if we expand on this you cry Cut the poetry. No two skins with the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore."
All I can say is - yes!

On preview: I loved Lolita, I think it's a masterpiece. I'm not sure if Anne Rice or S&M is my thing, but I'll definitely try DH Lawrence.
posted by Lush at 11:53 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Toni Bentley's The Surrender isn't quite of Nin's quality, but is still quite good. And there are a lot of novels in recent years, like Susanna Moore's In the Cut (skip the movie version, just as you should skip the movie versions of Nin) that while not being primarily erotica, are deep and provocative explorations of sexuality. I'd also include books like The Ages of Lulu and other suggestions from this previous AskMe.

(As an aside, I think that Anne Rice's novels are real dividers by taste. I found them stultifyingly samey; plenty of people find that they rock their world. The point is, I think, to read broadly and let your taste guide you, rather than relying on that of others.)
posted by Forktine at 1:21 PM on August 7, 2009

''The butcher'' by Alina Reyes

''The lover'' by Marguerite Duras

''Putain'' by Nelly Arcand (not sure if translated yet)

''The sexual life of Catherine M.'' by Catherine Millet

All very different writers but all these works were written in french less then 30 years ago.
posted by Ahhhnouck at 8:57 AM on August 8, 2009

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