Here in the middle of February, it seems like the whole world is ever-so-slightly over-attuned to sex: having it, not having it, having too much or not enough or exactly the right amount. It’s cold and dreary, we’re in need of comfort, and indoor activities look more appealing than ever. And then there’s the collective exhalation post-Valentine’s Day, whether of relief or satisfaction doesn’t really matter.
So it’s no accident that this week Jessica Probus, one of The Rumpus’ Funny Women, is wondering about sex in relation to books—not which writer you’d most like to sleep with, or even which literary character, but which book itself does it for you, and how?
This is one of those blog memes that’s either interesting or annoying, depending on your mood. But if you can get over the level of whimsy, it’s valid. Readers have feelings for their books that go way beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t”—generally not sexual ones, which is what makes the question funny, but definitely sensual and holistic. Once a book has been read, or reread, its personality emerges independent of plot or characters.
This kind of question is yet another layer of what I think of as Internet reveal, a step or two beyond someone’s Facebook status or how many stars they give something on GoodReads. It’s a level of engagement or nosiness—again, according to how you feel at any given time—that’s unique to online conversation. Once upon a time we had limited ways to get into each other’s heads other than earnest conversation or those goofy questionnaires we used to pass around in study hall: “What’s your favorite color? Who’s your favorite band? What would you eat for your last meal?” And, for those of us of a certain age, Slam Books: “Who would you go to second base with? Who has the best hair? Who has the best boobs?” No wonder Neil Genzlinger is feeling so played out on memoir—sometimes it really does feel like we’re living in each other’s heads. This is the age of the perpetual Slam Book.
But OK—if you’ve read this far, tell me: What book would you sleep with, if you were to reveal such a thing about yourself, or at least go to second base with? Probus notes some good ones, my favorite probably being Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style:
There’s a first time for everyone. Sometimes it’s with two dudes. They say all the right things, and for a moment you think that everything is going too smoothly, according to plan and schedule. Before you get a chance to think too hard about how no one else will ever be as effortlessly serene, it’s time for the post-coital embrace pose. You struggle to think of the exact right thing to say.
And, as expected, there are some excellent contributions in the comments section. Ayn Rand puts in an appearance, and William Faulkner, and Georges Bataille. Rumpus writer Isaac Fitzgerald says, “Sex with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter would be sad and rough. It would be filled with multiple storylines and 1,000 cigarette breaks.” Commenter Gary volunteers that “Amy Hempel’s Reasons to Live and I would have to elope first and she would still leave her shirt on. The dog would probably be watching.” And I think the Rumpus’ resident wise woman, advice columnist Sugar, says it all:
I’d fuck anything by Raymond Carver or Mary Gaitskill.
But I’d call Alice Munro in the morning.
Me, I’m thinking it depends on what I’m looking for. If it’s friends with benefits, something with a little edge of uncertainty and fever, I’d have an on-again, off-again thing with Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree. But if we’re talking a more committed relationship that would stay fresh, but with a little padding of security, that would be Wolf Hall. Then again I could probably settle down with The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg for the long term, just so long as we have a big enough place. Ah, the confessional impulse runs deep.
What do you say, Like Fire readers? I know you’re a literate and sexy crowd.