Freedom has made the shortlist for the annual Bad Sex in fiction award, always one of year’s most entertaining literary prizes. The Guardian has more on the dubious honor for Jonathan Franzen’s novel, which landed its author on the cover of Time but not on the dais at last night’s National Book Awards ceremony. Given by the U.K.-based Literary Review, the Bad Sex award went last year to Jonathan Littell, who defeated Philip Roth, Paul Theroux and others.
November 18, 2010
February 25, 2010
November 30, 2009
Is it a coincidence that the winner of annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award is typically named in England at about the time Americans are thinking of turkeys? If so, the judges aren’t saying, but the Literary Review in the U.K. announced today that Jonathan Littell has taken top honors this year for a passage from The Kindly Ones, which defeated work by Philip Roth, Paul Theroux, Amos Oz and others. You can read Littell’s winner and all the shortlisted passages here.
November 18, 2009
Philips Roth Makes 2009 Bad Sex Award Shortlist for ‘The Humbling’ – Jonathan Lethem’s ‘Chronic City’ Is Spared
An aging actor converts a lesbian to heterosexuality in a finalist by the author of Portnoy’s Complaint
An “eye-watering” scene that involves a green dildo won Philip Roth a spot on the shortlist for the 2009 Bad Sex in fiction award, given by Great Britain’s Literary Review. The prize is intended to draw attention to and discourage “the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description” in books other than pornography and erotica.
A Guardian story about the shortlist said:
“The Pulitzer prize-winning Roth makes the line-up for The Humbling, in which the ageing actor Simon converts Pegeen, a lesbian, to heterosexuality. The Literary Review singled out a scene in which Simon and Pegeen pick up a girl from a bar and convince her to take part in a threesome. Simon looks on as Pegeen uses her green dildo to great effect.”
The Guardian story has the names of all the finalists, who include Paul Theroux for A Dead Hand and Amos Oz for Rhyming Life and Death. Oz is an Israeli novelist who was widely seen as a frontrunner for the 2009 Nobel Prize. The judges spared the latest novel by Jonathan Lethem, the subject of an earlier post (“Is Jonathan Lethem Courting a 2009 Bad Sex Award With These Lines From Chronic City?“). The winner of the prize will be announced on Nov. 30 at London’s In & Out Club.
November 6, 2009
Later this month the Literary Review will announce the winner of its annual Bad Sex award, intended to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description … and to discourage it” in modern literary novels. Last year the judges gave the main prize to Rachel Johnson’s Shire Hell and a lifetime achievement award to John Updike.
Who will win the Bad Sex Award this year? Perhaps Jonathan Lethem for the following lines from Chronic City, a novel of New York during a financial – but not necessarily sexual — crisis. The excerpt below omits a half dozen lines, marked by ellipses, that might not cross the spam filters at libraries. You can find the missing lines by using the “Search Inside” tool on Amazon.com or another site to search for “Richard’s crotch throbbed.”
“At two that same morning he’d had Georgina swinging in a rope chair she’d had installed at his whimsical suggestion, hung from a bolted hook on her ceiling, her legs spilling over the sides of the mesh seat in which her splendid bottom lay helpless to his savage ministrations. The situation was wildly odd and erotic. …
“Remembering it, Richard’s crotch throbbed, grew hotter, the itching more intense.”
Are these lines purple enough to win a Bad Sex Award? If you can’t decide, you may want to compare them with past winners or read some of my comments on the longlisting of Ian McEwan for the 2007 Bad Sex Award. My review of Chronic City appeared yesterday.
October 26, 2009
October 25, 2009
October 11, 2009
‘His Massive Sex Organ Bore the Tattooed Symbols of His Destiny’ — A Review of Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ Tomorrow
“His massive sex organ bore the tattooed symbols of his destiny” … but did he know how to use it? Find out tomorrow when One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review of the novel in which that line appears, Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.
July 29, 2009
Diana Athill’s memoir Somewhere Towards the End has many apt observations on youth and age, all written from the perspective of a former editor in her 90s. A few I didn’t quote in the review posted earlier today:
On love: “… a broken heart mends much faster from a conclusive blow than it does from slow strangulation.”
On being over 60: “All through my sixties I felt I was still within hailing distance of middle age, not safe on its shores, perhaps, but navigating its coastal waters. My seventieth birthday failed to change this because I managed scarcely to notice it, but my seventy-first did change it. Being ‘over seventy’ is being old: suddenly I was aground on that fact and saw that the time had come to size it up.”
On her waning interest in sex in old age: “An important aspect of the ebbing of sex was that other things became more interesting. Sex obliterates the individuality of young women more often than it does that of young men, because so much more of a woman than of a man is used by sex. I have tried to believe that most of this difference comes from conditioning, but can’t do so. Conditioning reinforces it, but essentially it is a matter of biological function. There is no reason why a man shouldn’t turn and walk away from any act of sex he performs, whereas every act of sex performed by a woman has the potential of changing her mode of being for the rest of her life. He simply triggers the existence of another human being; she has to build it out of her own physical substance, carry it inside her, bond with it whether she likes it or not – and to say that she has been freed from this by the pill is nonsense. She can prevent it, but only by drastic chemical intervention which throws her body’s natural behavior out of gear.”
An editor in her 90s writes about the end of her sex life and more
Somewhere Towards the End. By Diana Athill. Norton, 182 pp., $24.95.
By Janice Harayda
Diana Athill has mastered that bittersweet negotiation with old age that the poet Elizabeth Bishop called “the art of losing.” Born in 1917, Athill worked for decades at an esteemed London publishing firm, where she edited the Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul and others, and she has had a vibrant life that included an affair with the playwright Barry Reckord. In her new memoir, she writes eloquently of life after her retirement at the age of 75 – the ebbing of sexual desire, the deaths of friends, the pleasures of gardening and driving a car when the padding on the soles of her feet has grown so thin she is hard put to walk a hundred yards.
Somewhere Towards the End won a major British award for biography and reflects a keenly English sensibility rooted in the values of the world that existed before Starbucks moved into Victoria Station. Athill is by no means morbid. But neither does she lecture or assault you, as so many American authors do, with cloying euphemisms like “aging” – a word that, as Katha Pollitt has noted, applies to all of us: “A 50-year-old is aging at the same rate as a baby or a tree or a bottle of wine, exactly one second per second.”
Athill is matter-of-fact but discreet about events such as a miscarriage that nearly killed her and about the prostate troubles suffered by Reckord, with whom she lives. But her natural tact doesn’t preclude astute observations on life. In her last chapter, Athill avoids reaching for tidy lessons and observes instead that “most lives are a matter of ups and downs rather than of a conclusive plunge into an extreme, whether fortunate or unfortunate, and quite a lot of them come to rest not far from where they started, as though the starting point provided a norm, always there to be returned to.”
Best line: As a student at Oxford in the 1930s, Athill told a man named Duncan that she had fallen away from the Christianity of her youth: “ … I said that though I was unable to believe in the god I had been taught to believe in, I supposed that some kind of First Cause had to be accepted. To which Duncan replied ‘Why? Might it not be that beginnings and endings are things we think in terms of simply because our minds are too primitive to conceive of anything else?’”
Worst Line: Athill writes of a 103-year-old woman who had a “positive attitude” (and, a page later, a “positive outlook”), a rare descent into cliché.
Recommendation? Somewhere Towards the End is more cohesive than the Nora Ephron’s entertaining but disjointed I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, and reading groups might like to compare the two books.
Published: January 2009 (first American edition).
Furthermore: Somewhere Towards the End won the 2008 Costa Award for biography. Athill also wrote Stet: An Editor’s Life, a memoir of her years in book publishing. Other quotes from Somewhere Towards the End appeared on this site on July 17.
Janice Harayda is a novelist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
More quotes from Somewhere Towards the End will be posted later today.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.