Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex

Sex SEXXXX sex sex SEXY-SEX! Do we have that out of our systems now? Or maybe it was just me with that in my system. Whatever.

Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex first came to my attention when Natasha mentioned it over on her blog. I wasn't immediately interested in reading it, but when I saw it on BarnesandNoble.com and it was $2.99, my interest increased! I downloaded it, I read it on my new Nook in two days flat (over the holidays!!!), and the rest is history. Good history.

First, let's just get this right out of the way -- it's not sensational, it's not grodey (much), it's thoughtful, provocative essays, short stories, and there's even an illustrated comic and dramatic dialogey thing thrown in (waves at Eve Ensler). If sex makes you uncomfortable, you may squirm a little (lot) reading it, and if you're not uncomfortable, it might still make you squirm from time to time. But it'll also make you think, ponder, and take a minute to reflect on your own experiences, attitudes, and how they came to be what they are.

The pieces in this edited collection really do run the gamut of content, though I think I can safely say the quality of the writing is always high. I spent a good deal of time highlighting passages so I could remember all of the great moments I knew I'd want to remember for this review. I wish I could include them all, but it would be a book-long review.

There are a few things worth mentioning before I hop into commentary on the essays and stories themselves. I've seen on a couple of blogs when I was reading reviews of this collection, that readers were troubled by the inclusion of fiction within this collection. I get the sense that some readers felt the subtitle: "Real Women Write About Real Sex" created some weirdness with the inclusion of fiction. Having connected to some very real emotions through fiction in my lifetime, this aspect of the book was absolutely NOT a problem for me. Some of the moments I found to be personally truthful, touching, or even troubling came from the fictional pieces.

In fact, the first story that comes to mind when I think of this collection is Margot Magowan's "Light Me Up." Juliet is a new mother, married to Henry, and struggling with her sexuality in light of being a new mom. She feels ugly, used up, exhausted, confused, hormonal, empowered, embittered, and a host of other swirling emotions. The confusion in this story and the struggle between the two main characters rang so true to life, I was quick to start highlighting. However, I think it was ultimately Juliet's mental change of attitude about sex that really spoke volumes in this story.
There were other differences I noticed in myself. Sex, or even just blatant sexuality, on TV disgusted me--watching reality shows' horny drunks or all those women shaking their asses in videos. Previously, even when I didn't like something that was on, I often got sucked in, fascinated, curious, analyzing, trying to figure it all out. Now it was just gross. 
I was really pulling for Juliet as she worked through her feelings post-baby and I felt really sorry for her at times, triumphant for her at others. Magowan did a good job injecting a lot of meaning and eliciting an emotional response with the content of this story.

Another favorite in the collection was an essay by New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, called "Worst Sex" about how growing up in a Catholic school molded her young mind on the topic of sex. There was one particularly funny passage I could relate to growing up in a very conservative community and it goes like this...
If sinning took place, it was definitely going to be our responsibility. Boys were not much more than little sex robots, and they could not be held responsible for their actions. Once, we were all called to assembly to hear Charles Keating, the head of the Citizens for Decent Literature (and future star of a huge savings-and-loan scandal), who told us the story of a young mother who went walking down the road with her two small children while she was wearing shorts. The sight of her naked legs so overwhelmed a passing motorist that he swerved off the road and killed both the kids. And it was all their mother's fault. We were then asked to sign a pledge never to wear any kind of shorts, including the long Bermuda ones.
 And while I never experienced anything quite that extreme growing up, it's also not that far off the mark for Southern Baptists.

So what's the real draw to a book like Sugar in My Bowl? For me, I just find sex interesting. It's a basic human experience, but it's something we're all quite edgy about from time to time. I think Erica Jong expressed it nicely in her introduction to the book...
Because my contributors span the generations, we read about the great range of sexuality--subtle and overt. Sex has changed a lot, and it hasn't. Sex is more about imagination than friction. Most of these efforts are psychological rather than explicit. 
Overall, I would say this is a thinking woman's (or man's) book about sex. It's not stuffy and it's not sensational. It's not too straight laced or tight lipped but it's also not indulgently graphic. It's populated by self-proclaimed prudes and some free lovers. It's got a little bit for everyone and a whole lot of deep thought. Is it for the faint of heart or of stomach? No, probably not. There are some overt, graphic moments, but I never felt like they were for cheap thrills or pornographic.

I've mentioned in previous posts--mostly recently the review of The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories--that I have mixed feelings about explaining books in terms of other books, but in this case, I'm just going to take the plunge! If you enjoyed The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, I think you stand a really good chance of enjoying this collection as well. I could not be happier to cap off 2011 with a book like this one that leaves me pondering into the new year.

Rating:
Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: June 2011
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Format: E-book
ISBN-13: 9780062092205
Source: Purchased by me.

18 comments:

  1. I just bought this after reading in your review that it was on sale at Barnes and Noble. I had been wanting to read it for a long time, but I couldn't pass it up at that price! I think that the books sounds really interesting, and I am not troubled at all by the fact that there is some fiction in it as well. Great review on this today! I am so excited to start this one!

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  2. Heather, I can't WAIT to find out what you think of it. I hope you have as much luck with it as I did. :D

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  3. I love what Jong says in the intro. Sounds like a fascinating anthology!

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  4. This is not one I would usually pick up, but now you have me interested. Sounds like an interesting anthology, one I'm sure I'll find something in to relate to, think about.

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  5. That sounds really interesting! I can relate to the story about the mother! I can also relate to the "sex in a conservative community context." When I lost my virginity at 16 my mom was mad, but when I told her I used protection she was LIVID. That meant I had "intentionally sinned" and it hadn't been that I was preyed upon or caught up in the moment. As much as I would like for Hope to wait until she is in college, I would be thrilled to know that a sexually active teen daughter was practicing safe sex. I'll have to throw this book onto my HUGE TBR pile.

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  6. It is, Ana! I was surprised. I need to read more of Jong's work now, too. I like her perspective.

    Carol, it was maybe my biggest surprise of the year. I was impressed!

    Amanda, definitely throw it on the pile! I love your story, and while my mom did not have that same reaction (thank goodness), I can see how many in my neck of the woods would react EXACTLY that way!!!

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  7. This sounds like a thoughtful book. I don't think the inclusion of fiction would bother me either - fiction is often more truthful.

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  8. Kathy, I think on a subject like this one, it's often advantageous to include fiction, because you're exactly right...there is often more truth in fiction! It can be effective to work out issues it's difficult to approach in non-fiction or even face-to-face conversation through characters instead.

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  9. This sounds fascinating and a good anti-dote to some media images and stereotypes that are out there. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  10. Definitely sounds like an interesting read -- and I can appreciate a good anthology from time to time!

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  11. So glad you loved this one! I heartily agree re: variety of content and consistency of quality. One of my favorites of the year.

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  12. My Southern Baptist background makes me feel guilty for even considering reading this book. Since I'm not Baptist anymore, I will read it just to spite my childhood religion :p Seriously though, just the thought of me possibly having sex before I was married sent my mother into spasms...and I'm not exaggerating. I have purposely taught my daughters very differently but what's most interesting to me is even though my ideas of sex are very different from my mother's, I still feel that unconscious weirdness that she (accidentally) taught me from time to time. Does that make sense?

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  13. I have been interested in this one since I first started reading reviews on it. Sounds interesting.

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  14. I'm another who would not have picked this up based on the title, but you have me interested. Whatever our moral/religious stance on the subject of sex, honest, non-prurient discussion benefits everyone. Thanks for the rec.

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  15. I have read several positive reviews of this book and I think that I would really enjoy delving in to it. Sex is one of those things that deserves to be discussed and thought about. And it sounds like this books does a really good job of thinking about issues surrounding sex.

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  16. Definitely one I will be adding to my list!

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  17. Your glowing review + Nook sitting three inches away = book bought and downloaded before I finished reading your review. Thanks for sharing this with us! It sounds fantastic.

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  18. I bought this book because of this post and it was awesome! Thank you.

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