Reading Past the Good Parts

by | April 15, 2018 | General | 6 comments


There was a time, not too long ago, when people would share books, furtively, often without any intention to read the entire book. In fact, they perhaps had gone to some surreptitious lengths to acquire and share with a small number of friends a book containing one or two passages, perhaps no more than a page or two in length. The readers didn’t care if it was literature, they just wanted to get off on an account of a sexual act. Kids in high school and proper housewives both got wind of such passages in works with D.H. Lawrence’s name on it. Word would get out, chapter and page. Screw the rest of the book, although, perhaps it might pique their curiosity enough to give the novel a go … just to work out the context.

For anyone born on the cusp of the century it must be near impossible to imagine such a time, when they live in a world in which hard-core porn is as easily available as the daily weather report.

I think of the lengths people went to to get their thrills from a snippet of literary erotica back in the day. After all, reading and possessing such books were once illegal, and even when the courts had thrown out the bans, a proper household could still be embarrassed if such a tome were found within its walls.

I got to thinking about that around the same time I realized I had begun to read past the good parts. It’s true. The last few erotica stories I read were written so well that I hurried past the sex scenes. I was really into the story, the plot, the characters, and I couldn’t bother slowing down for the sex. Of course, that got me to thinking why I even bothered to read a piece of erotica, if it wasn’t for the good parts. I even began to think that in some way I had let down that gaggle of high school kids gathered under someone’s back porch back in the dark old days arguing over which page contained the nasties.

I guess a good story is a good story, no matter what label you put on it. Maybe labeling a good story as erotica fetters it in a way a so-called mainstream story can’t be, no matter how many depictions of sex it contains. Maybe we should do away with labels and genres and … oh boy, my head’s beginning to swim.

Yeah, I think I think too much.

Robert Buckley

Bob's stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including multiple editions of Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica.


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    “Maybe labeling a good story as erotica fetters it in a way a so-called mainstream story can’t be, no matter how many depictions of sex it contains. Maybe we should do away with labels and genres”.

    I often feel this way as well. At the same time, I do think that erotica is different from a story with sex. My definition of erotica is fiction focused on the experience of sexual desire. The sexual charge isn’t a side issue in erotica. It’s a core thematic element.

    When I was in high school, we used to pass around James Bond novels in study hall, with the “good parts” marked. Those novels couldn’t be called erotica (even if they’d been more explicit than they were). However, my *reaction* to those novels would be a fine starting point for an erotica story.

    • Bob Buckley

      I agree erotica is about desire, but it isn’t always about sex per se. See, now I’ve added another conundrum to my existence..

  2. shiloh

    My dad came of age when banned books were unbanned, and, being fanatically anti-censorship, he bought a lot of them, which I started reading around puberty (Durrell’s THE BLACK BOOK, which Durrell had sheepishly mailed to Henry Miller with the request that Miller destroy it after reading it; Genet’s NOTRE DAME DES FLEURS, which he wrote twice, after his gaolers discovered and destroyed his first manuscript; de Sade’s JUSTINE, which needs no introduction; and others). Later, I saw an interview with Maurice Girodias who, when asked what merits he saw in HISTOIRE D’O, cited the extremely high literacy of the language. That’s something that always stuck with me. The only thing that matters in writing is writing artfully. In the end, that’s the only label worth having.

    • Bob Buckley

      I suspected you were a bit of an autodidact, Shiloh. Nice of your dad to leave those books lying around for you. My dad would have torn them up or tossed them in the furnace.

  3. Tig

    Good point, well-made! I find myself sometimes hampered by anxiety; my stories and books are more like romcoms with the bedroom door left open than what you would expect from an erotic romance. I do worry a LOT about the plot-sex ratio, and whether I’m dooming myself to fit in neither camp. I would love to think that the whole book is the ‘good part’ (well, I can hope), but the gentler inclusion of sex scenes does make me fret.

    • Bob Buckley

      I don’t suppose there’s a right or wrong and a good story is still a good story, but writing sex scenes can be, as Betelgeuse would say, like stereo instructions

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