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Hot & Heavy: The Best Books for a Risqué Quarantine

Too shy to pick up 50 Shades of Grey on your subway commute? Well, no one is looking over your shoulder these days. So let’s catch up with our hot reading list. 

Here are a few reads to start with, old and new, which will hopefully entice you into making 2020 somewhat of a pleasurable experience again. Grab a pen, take notes and maybe even start a new sex column, if that’s your thing. 

Good ol’ Sex Column

Speaking of that sex column, author and illustrator Maïa Mazaurette has two new books out:

Le Sexe selon Maïa by Maïa Mazaurette (Editions de la Martinière, 2020, with illustrations by Charlotte Molas)
Fifty of her columns published in Le Monde (one of the most read and commented on sections daily) are gathered in this cheeky collection. Mazaurette analyses our sexual practices, body representation and our collective psyche and invites us to experience an augmented sexuality freed from our old sense of culpability or shame. Only one credo: Sex should unite us not divide us. LINK

Sortir du trou, lever la tête by Maïa Mazaurette (Anne Carrière Editions, 2020)
Casting a light on our contemporary disenchanted sexuality in the time of the #metoo movement, unattainable injunctions, and an internationally libido crisis, Mazaurette proposes a practical and ambitious ars erotica centered on fantasy and ethics. LINK

Ahh… Boundless Passion

They Say Sarah by Pauline Delabroy-Allard (Minuit 2018 / Other Press, 2020 Tr. by Adriana Hunter)
In this poetic debut novel Sarah, a talented violinist casts a spell on a bored and lonely 30 something woman. The eccentric, boisterous and bubbly Sarah enters her life in a whirlwind and a steamy relation soon ensues. LINK

Swipe Right

Sex friends: Comment (bien) rater sa vie amoureuse à l’ère numérique by Richard Mèmeteau(Zone Books, 2020)
Dating apps trick us into believing in a forthcoming sexual and emotional bliss but they soon bring us back to our old frustrations. From the emotional desert we live in, emerges figures such as the friend with benefits: neither in love, nor cold-hearted, we’ve come to realize that sexuality can exist beyond the great love story and the meet up market. Philosopher Richard Mèmeteau offers an original take on contemporary sexual ethics. PODCAST LINK

Les nouvelles lois de l'amour : Sexualité, couple et rencontres au temps du numérique  by Marie Bergström (La découverte 2019)
In the online dating universe, developers say little about their product and critics proclaim our moral degradation with the commodification of love and sexuality. Undeniably, websites and apps have modified our experience with love and sexual encounters. In this essay, sociologist Marie Bergström challenges our ideas about sex, celibacy, social endogamy, couple, love at first site or separation…LINK

Bonus Podcast with Eval Illouz On Sexual Freedom and Capitalism

Philosophical Irreverence

The Seventh Function of Language: A Novel by Laurent Binet (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2017, Tr. by Sam Taylor)
A good story needs a plot—Paris, 1980, the literary critic Roland Barthes dies struck by a laundry van, but what if it wasn’t an accident?—bring in a few heroes, like Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Umberto Eco, and Julia Kristeva; throw in a dash of philosophy, and a healthy dose of mystery and sex. This wild and erudite comedy takes us into a whirl wind of orgies of a secret philosophical society and leaves us pondering what is fiction and what is reality. LINKExcerpt

Hate: A Romance by Tristan Garcia (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, Tr. by Marion Duvert & Lorin Stein)
The award-winning novel about the impact of AIDS in 1980s and the political changes that came with it. Tristan Garcia uses sex, friendships, and love affairs to show what happens to people when political ideals—Marxism, gay rights, sexual liberation, nationalism—come to an end. LINK

The Appeal of Banned Books 

Banned books have always piqued one’s interest if only for the fact that they are exactly that…banned. 

Thérèse And Isabelle by Violette Leduc (Feminist Press, 2015), In English
This boarding school romance was censored for half a century for its vivid depiction of female sexuality. This moving novella follows two young women in the obsessive and frightening throes of a first love affair. The protagonists sneak away from repressive boundaries to explore the limits of friendship and sexual pleasure. LINKExcerpt

Aline and Valcour by Marquis de Sade (Contra Mundum Press, 2019, Tr. by John Galbraith Simmons and Jocelyne Genevieve Barque) 
2019 saw the very first rendering of this book into English since its publication in 1795. Libertine yet not sexually explicit, it was banned in 1815. Set against the impending riptide of the French Revolution and composed while Sade was imprisoned in the Bastille, it embodies the multiple themes that would become the hallmark of Sade’s more sulfurous works. LINK

Punk Love, The Virginie Despentes Challenge

How about a little binge-reading? Turn off the internet and get your punk on.

King Kong Theory, Rape me, Apocalypse Baby, Vernon Subutex and Mordre au travers by Virginie Despentes
Start with the feminist manifesto King Kong Theory, it’s quick and punchy. Get your rage on with the controversial Rape MeNext get acquainted with the Hyena, the ruthless interrogator, and oversexed rock star in Apocalypse Babyonto the bold trilogy centered around the owner of a music shop in Paris spiraling out of control Vernon Subutex. For a night-cap? The short stories volume Mordre au Travers populated by violent desires, terrifying dreams, murderous madness and wild fantasies. LINK

Sex Never Gets Old

Some killjoys say sexuality is to be reserved to the young and beautiful. Guiraudie and Marienské think otherwise and bring us an entertaining feast while doing away with this taboo. 

Rhésus by Héléna Marienské  (P.O.L, 2006)
When a monkey breaks into a retirement home, the residents soon get attached. The police are unable to retrieve the animal, scandals erupt, families disapprove. What goes on between the walls of the nursing home is a fierce expression of the residents’ love and unbounded desires. LINK

Now the Night Begins by Alain Guiraudie (P.O.L, 2014 / Semiotext(e), 2018, Tr. by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Afterword by Bruce Hainley and Wayne Koestenbaum)
A winner of France’s prestigious Prix Sade, Now the Night Begins, carves a macabre path through the terrain of lust and death to question the limits of love. At the tail end of summer vacation, 40 years-old Gilles Heurtebise drifts between lazy afternoons and absentmindedly hooks up with old lovers. He soon befriends a ninety-year-old patriarch and soon enough a strange sexual bond grows between the two… LINK

Behind Closed Doors

Par le trou de la serrure : Une histoire de la pudeur publique, XIXe – XXIe siècle by Marcela Iacub (Fayard, 2008)
Marcela Iacub has penned a fascinating legal history of public modesty. She defines the contours of our public and private spaces and weigh in on what society and politics deem acceptable and what it feels is best kept under wraps. The jurist, frequently at odds with other feminists who at times questions the state of our sexual liberation, has a knack for making law an enthralling subject. LINK

Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani (Penguin, 2020)
While promoting Adèle in Morroco, a book about a woman addicted to sex, Slimani began meeting women who confided the dark secrets of their sexual lives. In Morocco, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, prostitution, and sex outside of marriage are all punishable by law. Sex and Lies examines what goes on in women’s intimate lives in Morocco. LINK

Writers Uncensored

Rose Desert by Violaine Huisman (Gallimard, 2019)
Crushed after a separation, Violaine embarked on a meditative crossing of the Moroccan and Senegalese desert. She reflects on feelings of loss and the powerful grip one has over another human being, and ponders on her relationship with men, love, violence and sexuality. A powerful read without taboos. LINK

Queer Zones La Trilogie by Sam Bourcier (Editions Amsterdam 2018)
The Queer Zone trilogy brings together essays which have given a boost to queer theory and politics in France. Evoking Wittig, Foucault, Butler, Despentes, Deleuze-Guattari, touching upon post-pornography, political, theoretical and personal exploration Bourcier mixes critical research, polemical articles and constructs a non-binary pro-sex feminism. LINK

BONUS PODCAST on Body and Politics with Paul Preciado

There is Always Foucault 

The history of Sexuality by Michel Foucault (2 volumes, Knopf, Doubleday, 1990)
Foucault explores the evolving social, economic, and political forces that have shaped our attitudes toward sex and describes how we are in the process of making a science of sex which is devoted to the analysis of desire rather than the increase of pleasure. The philosopher also ponders how is it that in the West sexual experience became a moral issue. LINK

Sex Work etc.

The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal: Days and Nights of an Anarchist Whore by Grisélidis Réal and Jean-Luc Hennig (Semiotext(e), 2009)
After an upper-class upbringing, virtuoso writer Grisélidis Réal chanced into prostitution. Serving clients from all walks of life, she applied the anarcho-Marxist dictum “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”, charging sliding-scale fees determined by her client's incomes and complexity of their sexual tastes. A champion of sexual freedom, Réal‘s Little Black Book is drawn from the logs she kept of her many clients. LINK

La maison by Emma Becker (Flammarion 2019)
Writer Emma Becker somewhat followed the same route. Becker wanted to know what prostitution does to a woman, her body and soul and decided to become one of them. In the Berlin brothel where she worked for two years, women felt they had the power she noted. And if prostitution can also be about exploitation, it turns out there is much more to the story. LINK


Poetic Eroticism

Hadriana in All my Dreams by René Depestre (Akashic Books, 2017, With a foreword by Edwidge Danticat. Tr. by Kaiama L. Glover)
During the 1938 Carnival in the Haitian village of Jacmel, Hadriana, about to marry a Haitian man from a prominent family, drinks a mysterious potion and collapses at the altar. Transformed into a zombie, she disappears into popular legend. A delightful erotically charged novel, recounted with delirious humor. LINK, Excerpt in Lit Hub and Carribean Beat

The Next Loves byStéphane Bouquet (Nightboat books, 2019, Tr. by Lindsay Turner)
An explicit reference to Ronsard’s Les AmoursThe Next Love revisits the amorous poetic tradition and proposes a contemporary and sensitive sequel to the genre. A unique take on homosexuality, desire, loneliness, and love in an era of global inequality. LINK

Les Œuvres de miséricorde by Mathieu Riboulet (Verdier, 2012)
The Works of Mercy, investigates the bruised history of the relationship between France and Germany and constant tradeoff between violence and mercy. His narrator decides to find answers to his questions in bodies, desired and touched, painted and filmed. What results is a mystic evocation of how loving and destructive relationships alike unite men and define the world. The winner of the Prix Décembre and a finalist for the Prix Sade, it is a contemporary masterpiece. LINK