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Checking Out

December 26, 2012 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Porn books and librarians have always had a passionate, mutually defining relationship—it was, in fact, a prudish French librarian in the early nineteenth century who coined the word pornography. So it comes as no surprise that the sexy librarian, a fixture of the pornographic imagination, is most at home in books. Each year, new titles are added to the librarian-porn bookshelf. This past season’s crop included additions like Hot for Librarian by Anastasia Carrera; Lucy the LibrarianDewey and His Decimal by John and Shauna Michaels; The Nympho Librarian and Other Stories by Chrissie Bentley and Jenny Swallows; A Librarian’s Desire by Ava Delaney, author of the Kinky Club series; and soft-core selections like Sweet Magik by Penny Watson. The conventions of the form—the dimly lit stacks, the librarian’s mask of thick glasses and hair tied into a bun, et cetera—are, of course, well known. Unlike video porn, where these conventions are typically used as a wholesale substitute for narrative, porn books still feel the compulsion to tell a story, to make the glasses and bun mean something. I was curious just what story these new books were telling. What does our most current version of the librarian fantasy say about us? To answer this question, I visited the library.

Almost immediately, I hit a snag. It is close to impossible to browse a serious library’s collection of porn and porn criticism without getting sucked into big, sexy historical theories. Within an hour of my visit to Harvard’s Widener Library, I was beginning to suspect that smut had been behind the rise of … everything. I discovered that pornos caused the French Revolution, and that the Renaissance really got going when images of hard-core, swan-on-guy action began to circulate among the people. Every pornographer of note, it seemed, was a pop philosopher; every philosopher, a closet pornographer. As for the rise of the novel, of literary realism, this, I learned, was linked to a certain eighteenth-century depiction of a ponytailed dude taking it from behind from another ponytailed dude while the first dude gets sucked off by a chick, who is also taking it from behind from yet a third ponytailed dude, all while another chick—who happens to be wearing a lovely Dormeuse-style cap—rides piggyback on the first dude, which positions her perfectly to flog the third dude, while being orally pleasured from behind by the second dude. The caption to this illustration reads, “A Typical Scene.” According to the pile of books I’d stacked onto my library desk, our story is nothing but the evolutionary history of the Porno sapiens.

Just as I was letting this thought settle in, I began to hear moaning sounds. At first, I dismissed these as some kind of auditory hallucination, an occupational hazard of reading too much porn. But then I looked around and determined that this particular moaning belonged to a real woman standing a few rows away. To be precise, she was in the process of being properly pinned to the bookshelf by a male companion. After a hasty glance, I retreated to my carrel but can report that the proceedings were, if not quite spirited, certainly forceful—a book fell from the shelf—and that they terminated in muffled resound and a swift escape.

I was alone again in the silence of the stacks. Never before had the questions of the library sex fantasy been so close at hand yet so elusive. What was the relationship between these library fuckers and what I had been reading? And what was the relationship between the library fuckers and what they had been reading? Wasn’t library sex all about harmonizing books with experience, about connecting our unruly and our rule-abiding selves? And, if so, why did I find that the stories told in last year’s library-porn books consistently painted a grim picture of twenty-first-century library sex? Why did many of the best sex scenes in today’s librarian porn take place outside of a library? Read More »

59 COMMENTS

Maurice Sendak on ‘Bumble-Ardy’

December 27, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Maurice Sendak. Photo by John Dugdale.

Maurice Sendak is set to publish his first full-production book since Outside Over There (1981). For the past thirty years, Sendak has been collaborating with other writers, illustrating old texts, designing sets and costumes for opera and ballet productions, creating advertisements and book and magazine covers, and making the occasional HBO cameo as an old-world rabbi. But with Bumble-Ardy, Sendak is reemerging in the form that he has, since 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are, come to define: childrens stories.

Bumble-Ardy is a pig, raised by an aunt, who is built like a house and who lives in a house that looks like a ruin. This aunt is doing her best with poor Bumble, a child who was orphaned when his parents “gorged and gained weight. / And got ate.” That tragic turn of events may have been for the best, as Bumble’s lousy parents never once got around to throwing the boy a birthday party (his birthday is June 10, the same as Sendak’s). So, on his ninth birthday, Bumble secretly invites over terrifying hordes of local swine, who arrive in disguise for a bacchanalia of “birthday cake and brine.” The party ends in hoggish chaos, in tears and threats of slaughter—and, finally, with a measure of forgiveness.

Why the decision to go with a pig? Why not a hedgehog?

I’ve always loved pigs: the shape of them, the look of them, and the fact that they are so intelligent. I think I like them more than I like little human boys. The prospect of drawing pigs was something I could look forward to, and I needed something to look forward to. This project was done under very difficult circumstances. Somebody very important to me was dying painfully, horribly, slowly, and it leaves you questioning everything. Read More »

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The Unlikely Event

November 28, 2011 | by

Because I do not want to die in the brawny arms of an industrial-kitchen-fixtures salesman from Tulsa—at least, not one I’ve only just met—I don’t much care for airline travel. During a recent trip from Salt Lake City, my Boeing 757 began to lurch and heave and make dreadful noises. At times we seemed to be in free fall. I caught the look on our veteran flight attendant’s face as she rushed by: it was genuine fear. During one particularly terrifying plunge, I felt the brawny fingers of that kitchen-fixtures salesman inching toward me, tugging at my sleeve. I needed an escape. I reached into the seat pocket in front of me.

At 33,000 feet, and falling, we are presented with roughly the same options as on earth. First, we get the in-flight magazine’s glossy parade of petit bourgeois distraction. But, face it, when your plane is going down, what good is a recipe for a quick and easy hake with hazelnuts and capers? For those seeking something more directly relevant, there’s the Sartre-esque barf bag. But for those of us who occupy that metaphysical middle ground between the in-flight magazine and the barf bag, there’s the airline safety card.

Read More »

64 COMMENTS

The Grand Map

October 5, 2011 | by

RV890, Norway 2011.

Toward the end of Lewis Carroll’s endlessly unfurling saga Sylvie & Bruno, we find the duo sitting at the feet of Mein Herr, an impish fellow endowed with a giant cranium. The quirky little man regales the children with stories about life on his mysterious home planet.

“And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!”
“Have you used it much?” I enquired.
“It has never been spread out, yet,” said Mein Herr. “The farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.”

Among Mein Herr’s many big ideas, none is as familiar to us as the Grand Map. We use it, or a version of it, on a daily basis. With Google Street View, which allows us to traverse instantly from a schematic road map into the tumult of the road itself, we boldly zoom from the map to the territory and back. As the Herr said, “we now use the country itself as its own map.” Read More »

22 COMMENTS

Dummy Land

July 25, 2011 | by

Photographs by Avi Steinberg.

I’m waiting for the elevator in a medieval-themed hotel in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, when the elevator doors open to reveal a heated exchange between a bald man in a Hawaiian shirt and a puppet shaped like a toucan. My presence brings an uncomfortable end to their private imbroglio. Both stare at me silently as I enter the elevator, and for five awkward floors I’m brought into direct contact with what George Bernard Shaw described as the “unvarying intensity of facial expression” of puppets, an attribute he believed makes them more compelling actors than humans.

I’m at the Vent Haven ConVENTion where, each July, hundreds of ventriloquists, or “vents,” as they call themselves, gather from all over the world. For four days, they attend lectures on the business, getting advice on AV equipment, scriptwriting, or creating an audience through social networking. They listen to a keynote address by Comedy Central’s ventriloquist-in-residence, Jeff Dunham, who exhorts his notoriously defensive colleagues to “quit complaining that people say we’re weird. We talk to dolls. We are weird, ok. Just own it.” They eat at a Denny’s off the highway and visit the creationist museum down the road. And they don’t go anywhere without the accompaniment of their alter egos.Read More »

20 COMMENTS

Letter from the West Bank

August 2, 2010 | by

A bar mitzvah outing—at a West Bank shooting range.

Photograph by Scott Pargett.

It’s not easy to get directions over the phone from someone who works at a shooting range. I was pretty sure Eran had said that Caliber-3 was accessible by public bus, but it was hard to hear him over the gunfire. So I took the bus into the West Bank, through various IDF checkpoints, down highway 60 with its anti-sniper barriers and razor wire, past the giant, snaking “Wall of Separation,” to a settler outpost, a pleasant little heavily-armed suburb.

“You are not in the right place,” Eran is now telling me on my cell. “You are in the wrong place.”

The right place, it turns out, is a forty-five minute walk to a remote hill. I embark on a cautious solo West Bank hike along a road where Hamas militants once tried to kidnap a friend of mine. Empty cans of power drinks labeled in Arabic line the road—when these turn into empty cans of power drinks labeled in Hebrew, I know I am close.

Caliber-3 is located on a dusty slope of a dusty hill, between the Jewish settlement of Migdal Oz and the Arab town of Bayt Fajar. It is part of a settler industrial park built on land that nearby Palestinian villages claim as their own. Each company housed in the industrial park seems to play a role in the Jewish settlement enterprise: contractors, a land development corporation, a real estate management agency, a shady outfit that calls itself “Google Ranking Experts,” and an even shadier outfit that calls itself “The Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud.”

I am here for a bar mitzvah outing. Since the party bus is late, I join three men sitting at a picnic table. They identify themselves as “French businessmen who live and work in China.” Why are they on the West Bank, at this shooting range? They are training for urban combat, they tell me. “We need it for work,” one of them explains.

Somehow this segues into an impassioned monologue. The lead Frenchman demands to know why the Americans get away with killing twenty-seven Iraqi civilians a day while the Israelis dispatch a few pirates and are roundly condemned. It’s an outrage! Under the table, I feel a foot cozy up to mine. I try to ignore this. The man, now pounding on the picnic table, continues to decry the hypocrisy of the international community; at the same time, he grows increasingly familiar with me under the table. He is now gently massaging the top of his foot over the top of my foot.

According to its website, Caliber-3 “works in close cooperation with the IDF in the field of counter-terrorism” and has “set up security installations in order to train both professionals and laymen in Israel as well as in Africa, Asia and Central America.” They also offer paintball to visitors who are willing to wear the required external jockstrap. Again, from its website, “[we] simulate urban combat using paintball. This is real fun for families and tourists and great entertainment for bar mitzvahs.”

At long last, the bar mitzvah bus arrives. It is a large group of men, women and children dressed for a day of golfing. Chinos, polo shirts, belted plaid shorts. Many are also wearing official bar mitzvah apparel: navy blue baseball caps and tote bags emblazoned with a giant Ralph Lauren Polo-brand logo over the words DAVID’S BAR MITZVAH. They are snacking. It is Friday. Today they shoot guns, real guns, not paintball; tonight they pray at the Western Wall, followed by a Sabbath buffet dinner; tomorrow, young David is called to the Torah. Read More »

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