Went to a reading with my sis Thursday night at Women and Children First, which is conveniently located about a block and a half away. For those of you not familiar with 'em:
We are one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, stocking more than 30,000 books by and about women, children's books for all ages, and the best of lesbian and gay fiction and non-fiction. Anything we don't have in stock we can usually get in a few days' time, even if it's a title outside our specialty. We also carry music, videos, magazines and pride products.
And they do mail order. And offer Independent Bookstore National Gift Certificates, "redeemable at over 1200 independent bookstores across the country," if you're into that supporting local businesses thing. And there's an Affiliate Program, which I suppose I should actually look into at some point. . .
Um, end of plug. Except for mentioning that the home page of their site currently features Inga Muscio's Cunt: A Declaration of Independence (with an introduction by Betty Dodson) and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, both of which I really intend to read some day.
Right, the reading. The featured author was Jill Nelson, the book was Sexual Healing. That link takes you to the Agate Publishing site; this is their debut release, as well as Nelson's first novel. Which may explain some of the production errors my sister has mentioned running into in the book, but she's probably just being cranky. Good thing I missed out on that family trait, boy. Haven't read the book yet myself, but there's a excerpt up at NiaOnline.
(Actually, the Star-Tribune Review by David Haynes also mentions, "The only thing that will spoil the fantasy for the picky reader is some truly sloppy writing and editing here and there, but, hey, literature ain't what this trip is about." So it's not just her, but that comment seems a tad, I dunno, condescending, but whether that's towards the author or the [presumed] intended audience or the subject matter is up for debate. End parenthetical, moving on. . .)
I'm not going to write anything vaguely resembling a review based on that and the chapter she read Thursday night. That would be silly.
I'm also not sure about discussing the issues raised in the book -- anyone here challenged by the notion of women taking control of their sexuality? Distressed at the thought of written depictions of sex? I thought not.
Mind you, the novel (from what I've read about it, I caution) tosses in notions of race, class, age and (towards the end) orientation, along with religion, organized and otherwise.
Any road up, this bit (from the NiaOnline excerpt) introduces what the Ebony Magazine reviewer called the "unique and controversial premise" of the novel. I'm going to hope my babbling brings this in under Fair Use:
"Me and my best friend Acey, we're going to open a full-service spa for sisters, and we're looking for people to work there," I say tentatively. Odell raises his eyebrows, the same ones I kissed the night before.
"I work out, but I'm not an aerobics instructor or anything like that," he laughs. "I know you told me last night I had great hands, but I'm not a certified masseuse either." Now it's my turn to laugh.
"Not a spa like that. I mean, yes, a spa like that, but much more. In addition to exercise, massage, herbal wraps, and yoga, we plan to offer other, more personalized services."
"Oh, you mean like personal training?" And because there is no delicate way to say it, and because after last night there surely shouldn't be anything sexual I couldn't say to this man, 'cause there sure ain't nothing sexual I wouldn't do with him, I cut the coy bullshit.
"No. I mean like sex."
"You remember, S-E-X?" I spell it out. "What we've been doing for the last eight hours?" Odell's smile fades and he looks at me intently. "We plan to open a spa in Nevada, a deluxe retreat where sisters can avail themselves of the whole gamut of customary spa services, with one important addition: fantastic, orgasmic, safe sex. What I'm looking for are sex workers, men who enjoy giving women pleasure and can deliver that sexual healing to the needy masses." I spit this all out in a rush, before I can get embarrassed or intimidated and cop out.
"Sex?" Odell repeats. He says it as if he's never heard the word before, I guess because the context is so new. I laugh.
(Oddly, they'd edited "bullshit" to "bull," enclosing the end of the word in a comment tag, i.e. <!--shit-->. Which, given the context, is weird. And seems like a very odd way of removing the expletive. This is more babbling, obviously.)
Again, relying on what I've heard/read about the novel (some of this from the author at the reading), there's discussion of sex work, safe(r?) sex practices, and helpful tips for male readers. None of this seemed unique or controversial to the audience, but it consisted mostly of women. Possibly mostly queer women, but only two of the questioners identified as such, from what I remember, and the rest I'm just guessing about. But this was in Andersonville, after all.
There were some questions about reactions -- from older women, from men -- and about the suitability of the book for teen readers. The response to which touched on the language used by younger (and possibly not-so-younger) people when talking about sex, and there was a bit about the depiction of women in music videos, or at least parts of women. Again, no surprises here.
Ok, now I'm worried that I'm sounding jaded and slightly bitchy.
Which is why I'm avoiding mentioning that the sex scene in the chapter she read didn't seem particularly explicit or arousing. I do give points for using the term "honeypot," showing that Jill Nelson f<!--uck-->ing represents the Old School.
I may just have a particularly idiosyncratic take on all this, though, and should probably just shut the hell up.
Update: added a link to excerpts from Cunt, courtesy of Lauren in the comments. And one for Persepolis, so the entry would look balanced, not to mention fair.