Last week, one of my fave 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. 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."

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎11-06-2009 09:43 AM

Okay, wow nice way to start the day. My first cup of coffee and talking about sex on B&N.

First I was just a pup in the 60's and I graduated high school in the early 70's and wanted to read a book about as much as I wanted to go to the dentist. But now I'm a kinder gentler reader who in the autumn or late summer of her years sees nothing wrong with a little down and dirty between the pages of a steamy novel. As long as the encounter is between consenting adults and it's a necessity for the plot for the culmination of the romance of said partners. Now having said that I find it really hard to find a read that crosses the line from e-rom to just plain dirty talking whilst consummating the intimacies of the relationship. It takes an expert storyteller to take that dive that arouses our risque side without insulting us. For example Roxanne St. Claire and her Bullet Catchers series, now that's some sizzling romance but it works really well. Also JR Ward's series of her famous Black Dagger Brotherhood who sizzles the pages of her novels as well but doesn't offend my sense of right and wrong in romance.  Not that dirty talking upsets me seeing as I must be married to a sailor, ;-) happily for 30 years. 

So as I step off my soapbox I'll answer the question, I do think that the majority of readers today are comfortable with the depictions of sexuality.

Another revealing and excellent article Michelle.


by on ‎11-06-2009 02:29 PM

Scrolling the boards, and I ended up here!  Oh, my!  I must have been "board".....


Now on to the Sexual Convolution!


Debbie, you kill me!  I'm having my third cup of coffee, and it's lunch time.  A little "nooner" I guess, reading this article/blog by Michelle! 


I'm from the Payton Place convolution/revolution...pretty tame!  But, I agree with you, Deb, whatever is said between these "pages", has to appeal to our senses, whatever sizzling stages they may be in!  Now you've got me curious!  Does it come in a brown dust jacket?  :smileyhappy:

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎11-06-2009 03:22 PM

Hmm, Kathy I think I'll let you wonder about that.


by 1lovealways on ‎11-06-2009 11:21 PM

I was never interested in reading growing up.  As a child of the 60's there were too many other things going on.  Reading entered my life in high school.  By that time it was the 70's.  When I did start to read, the first book I read was Carrie by Stephen King.  It turned out horror was not my thing.  I had heard of the other books menitoned in your article, but I never read any of them.  I remember reading my mom's friends copies of True Story and True Confessions.  Sneaking to read them actually.  When my mom caught me and my sisters reading those, we were always in trouble.  I do recall my mouth gaping open and getting warm all over.  Such naiveté!


In the 70's I discovered Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.  A co-worker read at lunch and reawakened by interest in it.  Dark Fires by Ms. Rogers was the first romance I ever read.  Needless, to say, it was hot!  It was actually the second book in her Steve & Ginny saga.  Next was Sweet Savage Love.  That book blew my socks off!  I couldn't believe she wrote such descriptive things!  It was just incredible!  Not only hot love scenes, but a great book to boot.  That book was passed around by me and my friends until it was in tatters!


I think today readers are more comfortable with depictions of sexuality, because we are exposed more to sexual situations and sexual innuendo.  This can be found In movies, tv shows, commercials and reading.  As readers, I think we have become very comfortable with it because of the exposure. Some depictions are more descriptive than others.  I'd say this is more evident in erotic romance than any other.  Thankfully, we live in a society that gives us the right to pick and choose.  I enjoy authors like J.R. Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kresley Cole and Gena Showalter to name a few.  They write a great story along with good love scenes.  I have no problem with the steamy love scenes as long as it's in relation to the story and is not the only thing that is dwelled upon.  I don't want to turn page after page and read steamy love scene upon steamy love scene.  That's just the bones of the story to me.  I need the meaty part that leads up to this love scene and tells me something about the characters and involves the plot of the story.  I don't care for offensive sexual words, because I think there's no place for them in a romance novel.  That kind of language lends itself more to porn.  That literature that used to come in a brown paper wrapper.  If that ever happened, I'd drop romance novels in a New York minute.  Thank God for editors who know where to draw the line.  :smileyhappy:

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎11-08-2009 07:00 AM

I read all those books, plus Harold Robbins, Danielle Steele, Mary McCarthy (THE GROUP), Grace Metalious and all. None of them can compare with the books that are out today.

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎11-09-2009 05:08 PM

Sorry to say, but I am not of the generation of the 60s and 70s, hehe. Wasn't even born yet, but both generations shaped very  much our views of the world and ourselves, not to mention those wonderful romance novels we devour like candy, hehe. Props to those that were willing to push the envelope and say, especially to women 'it's ok to enjoy sex'. Something we sometimes take for granted now.

1love, you're stealing my speach, here,hehe

I agree wholeheartedly. We're exposed to sex so much now that it's no big deal to see it. But, that doesn't mean we don't like to enjoy reading about it. *grin* And I also agree with the whole as long as it's the bones of the story and not the entire book. I guess that's why I don't like erotic as well, there's just a lot of hanky panky. I like the characters, the plot, what's going on with them, more. Not that there's anything wrong with erotic, but I like my story to have a story,hehe. OH, and some of your fave authors are definatley some of mine, hehe. Kresley Cole and Nalini Singh! Yay!

Oh, and calling someone names is not cool, dude!

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