MY LESS THAN SECRET LIFE: A Diary, Fiction, Essays

Jonathan Ames, Author . Avalon/Thunder's Mouth $14.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-56025-375-4

Brooklyn-based Ames's wild follow-up to What's Not to Love? is an entertaining salmagundi that tosses five short stories in among 42 essays, including past New York Press column installments, book reviews and e-zine contributions. A 1987 invitation to a nonexistent literary symposium sent Ames to a paranoid precipice, and his vivid, noir-style recollection of that mystery, "The Nista Affair," makes a fine centerpiece. But the author is a man of appetites—for sex, for self-examination, for performance, for weird experiences—and this makes his book irresistible. He's like the dirtiest, smartest kid on the playground—you might cringe, but you can't help being transfixed. In "Booty and the Beast," he waxes rhapsodic on waitress watching; "The Orgy" chronicles his failed attempts to attend one. With bodily functions and sexuality the dominant themes, Ames's "public diary"—his New York Press columns—often feels more like a pubic diary. When he meets Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues), they discuss the Mangina, a prosthetic vagina worn by performance artist Harry Chandler; Gear magazine assignments send him into a session with a female hypnotist specializing in penis enlargement and onto the set of a porn film. From recollections of prostitutes to reflections on an s&m support group, he documents numerous erotic encounters: "When it comes to sexual fetishes, I can't be pigeonholed." Ames lays his soul bare here, and those who are easily offended should stay away. But for readers who don't mind the occasional squirm for the sake of the frequent belly laugh, this hodgepodge of oddities is highly recommended. (July)