Here's a question: How filthy do you like your leisure reading? Does anything more than a meaningful look inspire squirming discomfort and blushes? Or do you routinely read novels with detailed descriptions of the act of coitus? I'll go first: I like 'em raunchy.
I'll be painfully honest: The root of this preference lies in my hitting puberty before the rise of ubiquitous Internet porn. I spent a fair bit of my adolescence looking for books with literally any details about sex. You spent enough time lurking in book-filled rooms and you develop a sixth sense for reads with the goods.
Over time, this combined with a love of page-turner plots to create a lifelong fondness for romance novels. But specifically the explicit ones. Sex is interesting! It's fun! Especially in a book that promises entertainment — what, you're going to include a makeover scene but skip the naughty bits? For shame. It's got to be competently written, of course—nothing's worse than a writer who manages to make fucking boring. But whenever possible, I want those love scenes at least three degrees more obvious than "Drunk In Love." Victoria Holt is all well and good when you're 13, but fade-to-black rapidly becomes boring.
But obviously, not everyone is quite so prurient, or Amish romance wouldn't be such a cash cow. My brief forays into chick lit have made the genre seem comparatively tame, ditto the rest of commercial fiction, while literary fiction writers often seem embarrassed by the whole business. Seems like some people just don't know that the raunchy stuff is out there: Once in college, I took a class on the romance novel (women's studies, of course) and was surprised at everyone else's surprise when we were assigned to read a modern romance and they discovered how frank those grocery-store Harlequins were. I've found the reaction to Fifty Shades of Grey and Outlander similarly fascinating — enthusiasts seem so shocked and delighted at the explicitness. What, you thought Nora Roberts wrote about Sunday school?
That said, erotica does zilch for me. Obviously plenty of ladies love it (have you cruised the seamy side of Amazon lately? damn), but the sex has to be yoked to the purposes of plot or it leaves me cold. It all gets a little mechanical, after a while. Wangs aren't that magical.
And lately I've been picking up retro romances from the 80s and early 90s, which are less explicit than the average modern read, and I've been enjoying the throwback—the gender politics are wildly dated and the clothes are Lord-have-mercy bad, but it's actually pretty fun reading descriptions of panting lust that predate Sex and the City and public conversations about vibrators. From Judith McNaught's 1991 classic about dueling corporate types, Paradise:
He tore his mouth from hers, and she moaned in protest at the loss, then shivered in delight as he kissed her ear, sliding his lips down her neck, then over her breasts, until they closed hard on her nipples. Lost in the dark, silent wanting, she felt his hand slide to the triangle between her legs, seeking and finding every hot, damp place, touching and caressing, until she writhed against him.
So purple! So perfect!
So I'll open up the floor: What is your comfort-level, raunch-wise? Do you prefer mainstream novels with just a teasing hint of the racy? Do you like 'em trashy, but sans marriage plot? Do you have a secret store of dirty ebooks on your iPad? Inquiring minds want to know!
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