I just finished reading a novel about sexy plants and I feel as horny as a female sensimillia. (More about that in a minute.) If you can’t find the time to read in August, when can you? Vacation or no, revel in stolen hours in your bed or on the sofa, a cool drink at your side, with a few books that have the power to take you outside your own life.
I grew up in a family of readers; and books have always been important to me. The summer I was 13, I was knocked out by Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, the story of a black man who dies for a murder he didn’t commit in Apartheid South Africa. (I’ve been reading about Africa ever since.) My mother handed me Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the story of a black man falsely accused in the Jim Crow South and arguably one of the great American novels, with the comment, “This is an American version of that story.” Those books exposing the many layers of racism (and so many other books on many topics) are an integral part of me. They helped shape what I believe and who I am. Life without books? Impossible!
Here are the first of my August book picks:
Hot House Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire, a first novel by Margot Berwin, (Pantheon), is a fantasy ride from the plant booths in Union Square green market in New York City to a lush jungle in Mexico where the scorpions, snakes and exotic plants grow in wild and scary profusion. In her quest for the nine plants, the heroine Lila Nova makes some of the same mistakes other female characters do in novels: Sleeps with a man who betrays her, becomes sexually obsessed with an exotic lover who just won’t get to the penetrative act, mistakenly poisons him while feeding him an aphrodisiac. But nothing about this well-written escapist novel is prosaic.
I love the way Berwin writes about plants in sensual and sexual terms. Orchids in a New York brownstone “feel outdoorsy and very sexual” in the right light. The female sensimillia (marijuana) plant grows sticky and heavy in maturity and “She’ll do anything to get laid.” I’m going out to buy a bromeliad as soon as I finish writing.
The Bolter by Frances Osborne (Knopf) is the true story of Idina Sackville, (cousin of the author Vita Sackville-West) a wild and beautiful woman of the type then called “headstrong” who fled her husband, children and London’s high society to become the high priestess of excess in Kenya’s scandalous Happy Valley Set, wealthy ex-pats noted for their consumption of booze and drugs, practice of adultery and kinky sex and finally for murder. Frances, her great-granddaughter, writes:
“Thirty years after her death, Idina entered my life like a bolt of electricity. Spread across the top half of the front page of the Review section of the Sunday Times was a photograph of a woman standing encircled by a pair of elephant tusks, the tips almost touching above her head….I wanted to join her on the hot, dry African dust, still stainingly rich red in this black-and-white photograph.”
Frances was only 13 years old then, but her literary course was set. Her grandmother’s story has been told in pieces before—including in the film “White Mischief”—but never as fully as it is here. The Bolter and the supporting cast of characters in London and Kenya are brought to life from the dusty pages of history. By the way, Idina’s nickname, The Bolter, comes from a character based on her in Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Portrait of Love, another great read.
Idina might not have bolted from her first husband (and love of her life) if she’d understood Nan Wise’s theory of The Desire Curve (which you can read at length in The Sex Bile For Women) : In every new relationship, desire curves up, peaks and trends downward. She might have stayed married, had her affairs, railed at his—and kept the passion in her marriage through continual fighting. But we wouldn’t have this book.
A thirty year old man wakes up one morning beside his beautiful wife in his nice L.A. home and thinks: I settled down too soon. Thus begins the story of Alan Wieder who embarks in his newly purchased vintage Porsche upon a great sexual journey in Year of the Cock (Grand Central Publishing). Don’t hate or envy him because he is soon brought down by his own insecurities [“My penis is woefully small…”] and a string of sexual “mis-adventures,” i.e., bad sex.
He tells his tale unapologetically, with more than a small penis size of wit, sprinkling celebrity penis facts/myths into his own narrative. He spends a fair amount of time looking at his dick in the mirror—and not in a good way—before inching his way back home. Does it end happily? How does a man with penis envy define “happy”?
He was an insatiable bisexual Adonis—with a clubfoot and mother issues. In Byron In Love (Norton), celebrated novelist Edna O’Brien takes on the love life of Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. Born in 1788, long before People magazine and “Entertainment Tonight”, he led a life that would refute the claim of any young generation thinking itself the most deliciously decadent. Highlights include: drunkenness, infidelity, bankruptcy, syphilis and incest. Yet still he had time to write:
“She walked in beauty like the night,
“Of cloudless climes and starry skies.
“And all that’s best of dark and bright
“Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”
No wonder the women fell for him, including his half-sister with whom he reputedly fathered a child. “You know that all my loves go crazy and make a scene,” he wrote to her. A barrier had to be put around his casket to protect his body from throngs of mourners. O’Brien sets the poetry criticism aside and gives us the juicy parts of his life. Larry King (CNN talk show host) would have devoted as many shows to Byron’s death as he has to Michael Jackson’s.
Are you inspired to read? I hope so. Sometimes a book is the place to go when there is no other place to go. Remember that.
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