Last week, one of my fave BN.com peeps, admin Paul H, told here at UB the controversial tale of author Penelope Ashe, whose novel of liberated sexploration, "Naked Came the Stranger" was a NY Times bestseller back in the late 1960s. At the time, readers learned Ashe actually was nomme de plume of award-winning Newsday reporter Mike McGrady and 24 colleagues who set out to punk consumers, then eventually came clean when guilt set in over the scads of bucks they were making off the unsuspecting.
It's not clear whether massive sales can be attributed to the book's content or the high-profile dupe, but even so, the Penelope Ashe sitch is celebrated as, gosh, just one of the best hoaxes ever. BN.com synopsizes on the product page the storyline of "Naked" as follows: "In 1969, a group of reporters at Long Island Newsday decided to have some fun. They were appalled at the poor writing in the then-current best-sellers. They decided to have a contest to see who could write on an even lower level of tawdriness."
Check the editorial review on the same page to scare up plot deets and Library Journal covers synopsis by stating -- oh, goodness -- "The plot? Who cares? With a story like this [hoax], you have to buy it."
I suspect a lot of folks cared, and perhaps "Naked" spoke to emotional as well as sexual needs women and men in our country were just starting to get comfy with. "Bad" or" good," books like "Naked," "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask)," "Fear of Flying," "The Sensuous Woman," etc., offered a glimmer of hope that consistent info might be in the offing about sexuality/sexual fantasy which hadn't widely been available to grown-up nice girls and boys.
I'd like to give props to anybody who coughed up bucks for those "tawdry" books, and anyone still braving the condescension of folks like "Penelope Ashe," eager to equate the erotic in genre fiction with a) even poorer writing than one "generally expects" from mass-market novels, and b) low-brow tastes among readers and the authors who enjoy reading/writing respectively prose containing unambiguous sexual imagery and explicitly sexual dialogue.
Today, the quality of writing and storytelling in lots of erotic romance might please even fairly high sticklers, were they willing to give it an objective gander. For example, in Deanna Ashford's exquisitely arousing reissue, "Doctor's Orders," sexual awakening in the form of the heroine's journeying toward emotional commitment is featured as we meet Dr. Helen Dawson, who's noted something debauched seems to permeate the very air at Princess Beatrice private hospital, where she's new on staff. Yet when she's tempted by - and takes tastes of - various colleagues, she's pleasantly surprised by the experiences.
When Helen begins an affair with a patient, a good-guy action-film star who seems interested in more than simply her admittedly keen sexual talent, both note something amiss at Princess Beatrice that's far more insidious than the predilections of one particularly bent, tatted and ball-bearinged pathologist. How they wade through danger - and 11 highly sexed players who form approximately 13 combos of hook ups - is what makes this novel move from fabulous fun for body and spirit to edge-of-the-seat suspenseful entertainment.
And that's the thing about genre fiction: It's always been about unpretentious, escapist fun - at the expense of nobody in particular and to the benefit of whomever chooses to read it.
Were you a fan of the 1960s/70 sexual-awakening genre fiction? Why do you think readers today are more comfortable with depictions of sexuality? Or, do you think readers remain uncomfortable?
Dr. Helen's action hero may turn out to be even better "in love" than he is in bed. Check out what Eloisa James has to say about romance heroes who are good guys from the get-go in her November BN Review column, "In Praise of Decent Men."