In Book Swap, a Reader staffer recommends between two and five books and then asks a local wordsmith, literary enthusiast, or expert to do the same. In this installment, Reader deputy editor Kate Schmidt swaps book suggestions with Karen Yates, producer and host of Super Tasty, a monthly cabaret-talk show about sex, the second season of which opens Friday, March 15, at Constellation.
Kate Schmidt, Reader deputy editor
I'd been on medical leave and couchbound for weeks, and I was desperate for pleasure—a stay-up-all-night-reading-it thriller or at least a good page-turner. Instead, trying to repeat what for me was the magic of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, I wound up mired in A Place of Greater Safety (Fourth Estate, 1992), her 872-page novel about the French Revolution. While stuck there, though, I discovered that a while back New York Review Books had reissued Nancy Mitford's juicy 1952 popular history Voltaire in Love (New York Review Books Classics, 2012). The French playwright and polymath met more than his match in the brilliant countess Emilie du Chatelet, with whom he for years shared life, love, and work in a chateau equipped with astronomy and physics labs and a library of more than 21,000 books. Emilie's husband the count was copacetic with the arrangement, and both lovers had other amours of various sorts over time, openly and not, but eventually Emilie sought a menage a quartre too many. Mitford described the book to her own famous intimates as "a shriek from beginning to end."
But I still needed a thriller, preferably one with no guillotines or heads on pikes. In desperation, I asked my therapist, who smiled and said she'd just finished reading My Sister, the Serial Killer (Doubleday, 2018), Nigerian writer Oyinkan Braithwaite's first novel. Set in Lagos, it's a black comedy about a plain, steady nurse whose gorgeous sister, Korede, keeps calling on her to mop up after she, the irresistible one, stabs her dates to death. Or at least it seems so. It's a page-turner, all right—and short and brisk enough that you might get to bed before two.
Karen Yates, producer-host Super Tasty
One book I'm recommending in these days when nonmonogamy is having another moment is The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory by Dedeker Winston (Skyhorse Publishing, 2017). Winston, who grew up a conservative Christian then broke with fundamentalist conventions, provides both an engaging synopsis of the many types of consensual nonmonogamy and a level-headed account of her open-relationship journey. The book is laid out like a course, offering history, questions to ponder, homework, tips on the communication skills needed to be polyamorous, and lists of the pros and cons of nonmonagamy. I've read a few books on poly, and Winston delivers a comprehensive guide great for female- and male-identifying people.
The Gender Book by Mel Reiff Hill, Jay Mays, et al (2014), is a terrific illustrated 90-page volume written by members of a blended gender collective. If you want to understand the nuances of the gender galaxy—that is, how cis, trans, nonbinary, etc, are defined, and how gender identity can be quite fluid—this book is for you. Plus, when I finished I just wanted to hug everyone involved in its making. It's a feel-good read, for sure.
Do you know someone who loves her weekly orgy, or likes to be flogged or peed on, or anything else that freaks the crap out of you? Maybe you need to read When Someone You Love Is Kinky by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt (Greenery Press, 2000). This quick, nonsensationalistic read can be an aid to understanding why some people prefer and/or are predisposed to kinky sex rather than vanilla. It also comes with a handy glossary of terms.
Finally, Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the 21st Century by Barbara Carellas (Ten Speed Press, second edition, 2017). There's a reason this classic continues to turn up on lists of sex books worth your time and interest. It's damn good and dispenses with the masculine-feminine hetero model of tantra that leaves a bunch of folks out in the cold. Carellas gives excellent, straightforward exercises that focus on breathing, working with energy and intention, and how kink and tantra can work together. Try them solo or with a partner—or partners. v