There is usually a book or two sitting on my nightstand and, up until now, they have been inconspicuous. Long novels whose covers are adorned with people on horses and flaming swords are a favourite (currently I am trying to finish a Robert Jordan novel but it’s been rough going; I look forward to finish Weis and Hickman’s Death Gate Series next). After all, I have loved fantasy for years. In the recent months, I have enjoyed Absolute Sandman 1 and 2 which are some impressive looking pieces by Gaiman (rest assured that his writing rivals, if not surpasses, the look of these books); these re-releases of his comics are extra large, colour-corrected, faux-leather bound, slipcased collection which weigh in at a whopping seven and one half pounds. I am no stranger to beautiful books. And books are no stranger to my bedroom, even erotic ones. But I’ve never had a book quite like X: The Erotic Treasury, grace my nightstand before. Chances are, neither have you.
On the surface, X shares some characteristics of other books I’ve turned to before bed. Like the Ultimate Sandman, it is hardcover and slip-cased, a reprinting of previously published works. Like 5 Minute Erotica, it is a volume of quality erotic writings from two dozen authors and it will most certainly turn you on. But that fact that it is like both of those books really makes it something else entirely. I don’t think anyone in the business of producing racy reading material has ever gone this route and I think this gives both the editor (Susie Bright) and the publisher (Chronicle Books) an edge over the competition. Quite simply, they did it first.
What is it that they did, exactly? They published a book of the best of the best, with a sexual twist. Susie Bright compiled two dozen stories, many of which were previously published in collections like Best American Erotica or Best Women’s Erotica, to tease and please us. With over 300 pages of erotic content, there is simply a lot more to this collection than others I have written. There’s really not much of a comparison.
On top of the quality stories, the powers that be also decided to make X a book that was also pleasing to the eyes. Slightly larger than most erotica, this hard cover book is encased in red fabric featuring a floral-esque motif in a not-quite black pattern. The font and back covers are bare and I’ve opened the book upside down a time or two but this is not something about which I am overly concerned. On the spine of the book, you will find the name of both the editor and anthology in a very complimentary gold tone. The book fits comfortably in a slipcase which features the same floral design, with colours switched (the not-quite-black is more predominant). On the front of the slipcase, the letter X has been cut so the cover of the book itself will show through. It’s really quite impressive.
Ms. Bright did a wonderful job editing – I noticed no typos or other publishing errors – as well as picking the stories/authors to publish. The caliber of writing in this book is extremely high. It makes me ashamed when I think my writing is any good. The pieces showcased in X are by talented, articulate wordsmiths who are not afraid to express themselves. You can start from the beginning or end or anywhere in between and find yourself immersed in great story telling.
The stories are of varying subjects, some of which may be considered taboo. They are not your run-of-the-mill erotica written by a bored housewife; they are each truly unique stories. Some are scenarios more creative than my fantasies will ever be, while others are the result of creative minds, skillfully retelling stories, familiar to us all, in ways that seem refreshed. If I have any criticisms of X, is it not about quality of stories.
As a testament to the quality of these pieces, I can tell you that I found myself being aroused, more than once, by situations which I do not necessarily consider erotic because the writer is simply that good. This is the case with Michael Dorsey whose story “Milk” revolves aruond a Ukrainian engineer living in Russia, following a harsh winter when milk is in high demand. After searching the entire day for the elusive liquid to sate his thirst. He finds his salvation, close to home, and suckles from a mother’s breast. I have never been a fan of this scenario. Even as I write, I do not like it. Yet, when I read it, Mr. Dorsey’s words turned me on.
Of course, there were plenty of scenes which are more typically arousing for me, and proved to be in this book. One piece “The Man Who Are Women,” chronicles a night of drunken debauchery in which a young man accepts a dare to perform oral on random women, while blindfolded. Oral sex is always a winner for me and this story was no exception.
I also enjoyed Peggy Munson’s “Fairgrounds” which touched on disability and gender play as well as “Red Light, Green Light” by Shanna Germain whose words paint a picture of a women partaking in traditional activities in Amsterdam’s red light district (with a twist, of course).
Of course, I didn’t expect to like every story in this book. I wasn’t nearly as fond of a few works like “Must Bite” which included a bit of bestiality or “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” by one Robert Olen Butler. Although both of these were sexual, I just didn’t find them sexy, especially the former which took an awful long time to get to the point.
I think these examples illustrate, quite well, what I see as the biggest faults of this collection. First, unlike 5 Minute Erotica, these pieces are not necessarily short. Some are short (for better or worse) but most are longer. This isn’t a problem if I like the content or at least the style of writing but a long piece which I do not like, as compared to a short one, seems that much worse. Even pieces which contained arousing parts sometimes took too long to get to the “good stuff” for my taste. I suppose I just like my erotica quick.
Secondly, because these are simply outstanding pieces, some of them simply are not erotic to me. I followed some of them with interest because the story teller was gifted and the story itself was interesting but I thought to myself, more than once “Well, it’s good but it’s not turning me on.” This was the case with a futuristic story about some sort of cyborg who got off to computerized women in the form of software (“The Portable Girlfriend”). Another story involved the coming of age of a man who has spent his life with a pair of women who embodied every teenager boy’s fantasy (think classic cheerleader), after being granted a wish (“Wish Girls”). I liked the story and was interested in what happened to the main character. Yet, it was written in such a way that something I would normally find erotic just wasn’t.
The high quality writing contained within these pages sometimes seems to lack the down and dirty sexuality of most erotica. However, these common ideas can be the most arousing. Occasionally, I would find myself wondering if high quality writing and erotica were not mutually exclusive. It seemed like some of the authors preferred hinting at the sex or writing a story which involved sex but was not necessarily about it. I know this is not always the case, as X: The Erotic Treasury contained many well written pieces which did involve blatant sexuality; yet others made me wonder why they were chosen with this book.
I suppose it must take just as skillful a writer to take something I would generally consider erotic and turn it into something simply interesting, as it does to take the mundane or anti-erotic and make it arousing. Rest assured, all of the authors who have had work included in X: The Erotic Treasury have written pieces worth reading (as is this collection worth perusing). I’m just not sure all of them belong in an anthology of erotica.