"Read Books, Get Brain." The ad for a hip-hop clothing company that briefly adorned the sides of New York City buses—before the MTA learned that "brain," in this case, was slang for oral sex—seems a fitting metaphor for a year in which memoirs by porn stars and erotic novels by precocious young writers proved their bawdy appeal.
Call it a year of heated passions, both political and physical, as sex-themed tomes poured into bookstores, garnering off-the-book-page coverage and holding their ground against conservative coquette Ann Coulter (and other less mediagenic journalists and pundits) on some bestseller lists.
Judith Regan's imprint led the charge with Toni Bentley's lyrical exploration of anal sex, The Surrender; Jenna Jameson's appealingly raw, messy How to Make Love Like a Porn Star; and—representing the more average girl—Jennifer Lehr's confession of connubial discontent, Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex. S&S/Fireside gave adult film director Candida Royalle the chance to offer a professional's advice in How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do, while Paris Hilton, the unwitting star of her own amateur adult films, dished up Confessions of an Heiress, which was dull and G-rated, but somehow still seemed sexy. Maybe it's just all that money.
Burlesque studies and sexual histories, such as Rachel Shteir's Striptease (Oxford Univ.) and Jonathan Margolis's O: The Intimate History of the Orgasm (Grove), tempted a more scholarly audience, while those preferring to look at pictures more than words turned to art books like Missy Suicide's Suicide Girls (Feral House) and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders's XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits (Bulfinch).
Pamela Anderson's debut novel, Star (Atria), winningly followed the adventures of an Andersonesque heroine and included plenty of bed hopping ("Star was still having sex, but she no longer had any idea with who"), while Italian author Melissa P.'s fictionalized memoir, 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed (Grove/Black Cat), a scandalous international bestseller, saw healthy sales stateside. Veterans of erotic fiction presented steamy anthologies: Susie Bright delivered Three the Hard Way and the latest edition of her Best American Erotica, while Zane took a break from her bestselling novels to serve up Chocolate Flava, a gathering of stories from her Web site, Eroticanoir.com.
The romance market, steamy to start with, also turned up the heat this year. Even if the time-honored "clinch" cover is losing popularity, books like Beatrice Small's Satisfaction and Sensation (Kensington/ Brava); Christine Feehan's paranormal romance, Dark Destiny (Leisure); and Stephanie Laurens's hot historical, A Lady of His Own (Avon) saw promiscuous sales. Bestselling horror writer Laurell K. Hamilton has been winning new readers by raising the sex quotient in her Anita Blake vampire slayer series—this year's Incubus Dreams (Berkley) had more mating than murder—and her erotic fantasy Seduced by Moonlight (Ballantine) had a private eye and heir to the faerie throne, Merry Gentry, coupling (and tripling) with all sorts of immortal studs.
In short, "moral values" may have played a role in how this year's voters cast their ballots, but it didn't always have much to do with what publishers put on shelves.