Are attitudes changing? Are opinions of what makes “legitimate” literature shifting? Looks like “sexy” themes, usually relegated to chick lit or Harlequin Romance, are becoming fashionable and being taken more seriously as literature in the world of CanLit.
This spring saw the release of Tamara Faith Berger’s Maidenhead, published by Coach House, one of the “most anticipated books of 2012” by the National Post. The novel is as literary as it is steamy, with Berger’s teenaged protagonist bursting with lusty thoughts and having one sex-fuelled fantasy (or experience) after another. This has long been regarded as a difficult feat to pull off. Anaïs Nin did it; Henry Miller did it. D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, written in the twenties, famously combined the two. In Canada, however, it seems that although sex is written about, there’s still a streak of rebelliousness in the act of writing it. Other recent sexually charged novels include: Tightrope Books’ Mount Royal by Basil Papademos (launching this spring), Stacey May Fowles’s Be Good (which has already been optioned for a film), and Danila Botha’s Got No Secrets.
Beyond the erotic terrain of CanLit, booksellers are gushing over the recent success of Fifty Shades of Grey by American author E.L. James, the first in a trilogy centering on a BDSM relationship. The book’s been a wholesale audience success, if not a critical sensation. Think Twilight for a new generation of horny and curious women, mixed in with a little old-fashioned Jacqueline Susann.
Poet friends confide in me, “Oh, I have a sexy poem in my third collection, well just one, but I never read it in public. I’d just be too embarrassed.” Others hide their sexiness in their nature poetry, with a bee poking in the sticky stamen of a flower. There’s been a reluctance, shall we say, to consider sex in literature to be a valid choice or a substantive theme. Let’s hope the erotic zeitgeist continues to heat up and flourish as we plow through this summer reading season.
Myna Wallin is a Toronto author and editor whose book Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar has been called “an act of bravery” by the Globe and Mail. She is teaching a course in erotic writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, beginning May 3, 2012.