Opinion: Sex and the Best-Seller

You read a book and looked around the room to check if anyone is reading over your shoulder. Goootchaaa.  It will happen even though you know very well that you’re in the back seat of a bus, at home alone letting your dog out for a pee, or at an airport gate. It’s because you’re about to read a sex scene that you may or may not have been anticipating.

As you flip the page, there are all these words that are jumping off. Words that you somehow believe your sweet grandmother, who lives a solid eight hours away, will know that you are reading. You may be a strong and confident individual, and I would like to think that I am in at least some capacities of my life, but when it comes to sex and the written word I confess I can be a child at times. Almost every time. There is unfortunately some blushing and there is some speed reading when in public. I am pretty much a grown ass woman and I spot the word “fluttering” and I’m suddenly faint and screaming “CAN I GET THIS LATTE TO GO PLEASE?” at a poor barista. I wish I could tell you why I am this way. Well, we may actually know why we (ok, I’ll save you some face here and just say “I”), or I feel this way – it’s just some damn good writing.

It’s illogical, but I have convinced myself that an author has been paid to watch us from puberty, has bugged every car or setting you or I have been in, and has secret access to my mind. Or, better yet, has given now given up the key to someone else’s. It’s the awkward sex or brutally honest scenes on sex that make the most moving ones at times.  

Here are some recommendations that I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by. It is a small list of relatively recent best-sellers that are not necessarily “sex books”, i.e. you can still read them on a plane, but evoke that beauty in the honesty of some fumble-y smoochie smooch.

In no particular order (more based on recent memory than anything legitimate):

  • “Call Me By Your Name” – by André Aciman. The screenplay adaptation for this novel, by James Ivory, just won an Academy Award this past Oscar Sunday, for this first love film. The teetering of admiration and insecurity of new love is simultaneously gorgeous and heart-wrenching.  What goes through the lead’s mind, Elio, at times will make you feel a touch less creepy as the author is so candid about love and the physical experience. For example, when Elio asses the items that he once worshipped that his uncertain love possesses that he is trying to rid himself of, and he mentions the “Area between inner and outer elbow that I’d worshipped once: check”. I mean come on, that is so specific and is made accessible through absolute book magic.  If you don’t think love is love by the end of this novel then you should have to revoke your membership from the human species. Please and thank you, bye.  
  • “Crazy Heart” – by Thomas Cobb. Another film adaptation that caught lots of Oscar praise back in 2009. The love that the protagonist country western singer Bad Blake has for his women (including his multiple wives) and his perception of himself, and his aging body, is surprisingly charming. A single older man usually does not scream a go-to idyllic romantic read for university students, but his desperation for blunt admiration and his mix of lyricism is what establishes the timelessness of love and desire.
  • “Looking for Alaska” – by John Green. It has been a while since I have laid my eyes on these pages but what is so interesting in this young adult novel is the utter inexperience that the characters have and it has still stayed with me. It is at the polar end of the spectrum of experience to “Crazy Heart”, as Miles finds more eroticism in one kiss with one character over a more sexually demanding deed done by another character. A local Kentucky resident wrote to their newspaper to call this book “mental pornography” in hopes that it would not be taught in local schools. But what the reader may have been missing here is that Miles found deeper meaning in a kiss, than his extremely awkward other encounter – but, the reader gets to feel the rush and sympathy of some green second-hand embarrassment in the process. Second hand and first-hand embarrassment is what wakes me up in the morning, that, and a good old cup of joe.


Those recommendations may seem completely arbitrary and it might be because they are only based off my most recent reading experiences – but they undoubtedly stuck to my literary ribs. Aren’t the little details that leave more to the imagination harder to forget? No? Well, yeah, I mean films are good too but, again, those are harder to enjoy on a plane. For example, some reason I forgot about the 3-and-a-half-minute car wash scene in Cool Hand Luke, and I decided to commit to not changing or fast-forwarding the scene. Those are three and a half minutes I can’t get back.  

Anyways, even if you don’t read those, there are some sounds bites that will make you sound like more like an “authentic adult” and not some horny uni student. Hip hip hurray. Cheers.