Transcribed Phone Sex, reviewed

“Do you think we talked enough about sex?”

Sex, obviously, is dirty and animal and dumb, and that’s all fine, but damn, can’t it be smart too? Like, just fucking interesting? It seems to me that we tend to screen off the bits of our heads that are most into sex, and regard them as not fully part of ourselves–as more brain chemistry than personality. But there’s a lot more going on behind that screen than just the brutish workings of your chosen sex hormone.

A few days ago, I finished reading Nicholson Baker’s Vox. The whole book is a single phone conversation between two strangers, nothing but dialogue. They meet on some sort of telephone hook-up sex line–their “wires cross”–and launch into one of the most engaging, intelligent, funny, sexy, true conversations I’ve ever read in a book.

No idea what the cup of tea is doing there. Pretty sure tea did not feature in the book.

The book gained some minor fame as a present given by Monica Lewinsky to Bill Clinton. Or so the back cover tells me. But I’m thinking that fame must have been very minor indeed compared to what we now witness in the huge, throbbing fame monster that is Fifty Shades of Beige or whatever. (Why does crap writing always sells the best lately? Is it only lately? Isn’t writing carefully and lovingly crafted supposed to make for better reading–that’s the whole idea, right? First Twilight, now this–just what the hell is going on around here?)

Actually, that bracketed bit might have to come out of brackets, because this whole quality question is pretty interesting. When it comes to erotica, there is probably a pretty obvious point to be made. And that is that a book like Vox just isn’t one-handed reading. Not really, not in the main. It’s sexy, but there’s just too much else going on. (Writing ‘sexy’ keeps making me feel like I’m forty and writing for a women’s magazine. I’m trying to work through this sensation.) I mean, I thought Vox was straight up a terrific novel. And why buy a terrific novel if you just want the verbs, as quickly as possible, with maybe a bit about the throbbing state of the nouns? As I said, probably a very obvious point, but I’m thinking the massive sales of this E.L. James erotic novel have a lot more to do with erotic than novel.

Nicholson Baker–could a man look any sexier?

Which just seems symptomatic of the sex/self split I started rambling to myself about at the top. The people reading that book (the fifty shades one, I mean) aren’t dumb, but the book definitely is. Smart and sexy are kept way apart, and sex gets the bad end of the deal. (Yes, writing ‘smart and sexy’ ratchets those women’s magazine feelings up to eleven).

But it doesn’t have to be this way! All I really wanted to say, instead of ranting about bad writing selling, was that this book called Vox has two terrifically realised characters, dialogue buzzing with moments and insights that just feel so true, a mood that I can only really describe as joyous, and oh yes, beautifully written sentences. It’s a terrific, intelligent, funny novel that is mostly about sex. Does it get any better than that?

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