I read erotica for several reasons. One of them is political. Accusations of pornography are thrown around when pushing back against the (small) gains in representation made by BIPOC and queer authors. Side note, a friend told me the parent group at her kids’ school had to argue with someone who claimed the description of a child eating a mango was pornographic. The reasonable parents prevailed, but in too many communities the unreasonable people are succeeding. I’m happy to frustrate a bigot by supporting my local and not so local authors who write about people enjoying their bodies.
Another reason is much more personal. A long time ago, I was having my last visit with my cousin Marny (who was dying) when she said, “I regret every salad I ate when I wanted fried chicken.” I’ve thought about that for almost 20 years. While I was grieving her death, a friend gave me a copy of Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. Over the years I’ve forged a link between my cousin’s salad regrets and Oliver’s animal body, reminding me that bodies are not separate from minds.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
I spent decades trying to subdue the soft animal of my body. Now, I regret every time I pushed through the pain when I was injured or sick, every nap I skipped when I was exhausted, every piece of cheese I didn’t eat, every time I sat at my desk instead of going outside, and every time I failed to see that I and my body are one creature. Reading erotica reminds me to let myself love what I love.
Rachel Kramer Bussel has again put together a fantastic anthology in Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 8. This year’s organizing theme is Play. Playing music, role play, sex games, and cyborgs allow authors to play with play. The stories that most made think of that passage from “Wild Geese” were Noor Juman’s “Embracing Against the Rules” and Fiona Zedde’s “Whenever You Need Me.” Juman’s story glories in sensation. One night a month, unmarried women have anonymous sex with a stranger, but Itika has her eye on a visitor and arranges that her anonymous partner won’t be so anonymous. It’s pure joy in the body’s experience of sensation. Zedde’s story, in contrast, is full of complicated grief. The Scientist built a cyborg for her wife and imbued it with part of herself. Grief and sex share space, with two beings sharing a moment knowing they are motivated by different drives.
I really enjoyed stories by a couple of familiar authors. I’m always excited to see an offering from Ruby Lang. Her long distance lovers making some major changes to their relationship was all the Ruby Lang goodness I was looking for. Eva Leigh’s strong willed widow and the Cavalier who challenges her make the theater sexy.
I also love discovering new to me authors. P. Stormcrow, Brynne Blackmoore, and Dena Hankins are all authors from whom I’ll be looking for more. They explored play in different ways with different intents that I found so intriguing.
What we find erotic is going to be so personal. I can’t promise any particular story will rev your engine, but all of them are written well and with a distinct point of view.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Cleis Press and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.