Library porn

We didn’t have a lot of books in the house growing up. Some Sidney Sheldon’s, a few hardcover ‘book of the month club’ classics, and of course the requisite WWII/ spy/ military junk that my father read at a snails pace. As a teen, I seem to remember we had maybe 40 books, most of which seemed too tedious to even crack the covers of. One page of ‘Gunsmoke’ was more than enough, and don’t get me started on ‘Catch 22’. At the age of 8, 50 pages in no-one was throwing or catching much of anything. Bor-ing.

My mother was a firm believer in the village library and once I was old enough to travel the mile and back on my bike, I maxed out my lending privileges. Every Saturday found me clutching my 4 returns and chomping for new worlds to dive into.
The library had two rooms – kids and everyone else. Once I’d exhausted the delights of Hardy Boys and CS Lewis, I quickly wandered over to the adults room The librarian raised her eyebrows , but I guess she thought an Agatha Christie wasn’t going to kill me. I started with the stuff I knew from compendiums – Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Somerset Maugham – but gobbling up 4 books every week meant I was quickly down to the last Agatha Christie on the shelf. In desperate need of another 3 books, I grabbed the books with the gaudiest covers, Virginia Andrews, ‘Flowers in the Attic’, Shirley Conrans ‘Lace’ and Jilly Coopers ‘Riders’. Lets just say, it got really weird, really fast. 

At the age of 11, lying on my bed on a rainy afternoon with ‘Riders’ I expected some kind of ‘Black Beauty’ type tale. Instead I found myself reading a half page description about a ladies nipples and something called an areola. Was that a planet? Suddenly ladies were being shaved, riding crops were being used and there seemed to be a lot of dampness in between her thighs, (had she pee’d herself?). After the shaving, there was sucking and licking and .. good lord…. really?
Not being aware of any bees or birds, I was entranced. What was going on here? Whatever it was very exciting.  And not in a Hercule Poirot sense. No murder in the drawing room was ever quite this interesting or made me feel quite so breathless.

Those three books were devoured in a day, day and a half tops.  A whole new world opened up – men chasing women, women chasing men, brothers chasing sisters, everyone rolling around with everyone else, and I think there was a story in there too. Not that I really noticed. The sex scenes were where it was at.  Still fuzzy on what went where, and without any actual diagrams, I kind of figured that rubbing was taking place, and being wet seemed to be an important thing .. but the rest??? What was a ‘throbbing manhood’? Why was she ‘cresting a wave’? (was there surfing involved?), and why were nipples so damn important all of a sudden? Mine had never done much except get sore when I boogy boarded too long. But according to Shirley and Jilly, they were the portal to a whole other world. A whole world of nasty.

I returned to the library the following Saturday, red cheeked and with my eyes downcast. The librarian didn’t even look at me as I meekly slid ‘Scruples’ (Judith Krantz), ‘Goodbye Janette’ (Harold Robbins) and a very well worn Sidney Sheldon across the counter (deftly hidden by a compendium of Roald Dahl stories).  I flew home on my bike that day. I don’t think any kid has ever been quite that enthusiastic to start a book.

I read trashy romance books aka ‘soft core porn’ every day for about 3 years. At one point I believe the librarian mentioned my reading habits to my mother (who was nonplussed that I was reading adult books) but she continued to stamp them out to me. Through the airport trash of Judith Kranz, Jackie Collins, Danielle Steel, Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robins onto the slightly better written (and way more pervy), Henry Miller, The Story of O and Anaïs Nin. By the time I actually received my sex ed class (age 14), and learned what went where and how, I was actually surprised that they didn’t cover oral or anal.  And nobody seemed too intent on shaving anyone or tying anyone to the bedpost. Clearly American sex must be different. 

Over dinner this weekend the topic of early reads came up with my girlfriend and we giggled about our shared history of erotic reading. The thrill of Judith Krantz, the audacity of Jackie Collins, the hours spend goggle eyed as ‘Candy’ stripped to her bikini bottoms or O was branded by her lover. I’m not sure if mothers the world over chose to ignore what was going on in our bedrooms as we ‘curled up with a book’, or whether they simply forgot about the rude bits in what we were reading. In the days before Kindle and Nook, it wasn’t that hard to notice that the book Rachael was reading had all the sex scenes marked with turned down page corners. But I guess there were other things to worry about like bills and jobs. And at least I was reading.. right?

Today my reading is a little more varied, and I can’t read trashy sex without mentally reconstructing sentences or laughing at descriptors (I’m not sure that throbbing is the only term one can use). I still like erotica and today a kinky read is just a click away from the comfort of my bed. But I miss the raised eyebrows of the librarian, the daring thrill of finding ‘The Bicycle Rider’ (sex and cycling??) and trying to slip something I knew was a bit too ‘adult’ in between ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and ‘The Shining’.  Wondering if today would be the day that the librarian would purse her lips and pick up the phone to my mother. But she never did and I thank her for that.

My librarian gave me, indirectly, my sex education. An early notion that sex was fun (and joyous, kinky and sometimes very very strange), and to be viewed with pleasure and excitement. Once I learned was actually going on, I was more than a little scared of the process, but my books had cemented the idea that it would, eventually, be fun. The library gave me the education that is often forgotten today – that sex is fun for men and women – and gave it to me at a time when I could so easily have learned the opposite. Growing up with a mother who I’m still waiting to hear the sex talk from and a sister who enjoyed terrifying me, I’m grateful for Sidney and Judith. Even if I sometimes wonder where on earth they got some of their ideas.

So raise a glass to your local library. You never know what you’ll learn. 

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