Monday, December 23, 2013

Romance & Erotica Etiquette: What to do When an Old Lady Gives You Smut

Since the holiday season is in full swing, many of us have gifts on the mind. But what happens when that gift is a romance novel?

Just do it!
I'm not very knowledgeable about the genre, but it seems that I am surrounded by people who are ...And those people give me romance and erotica.

For example, when I was fifteen, my grandmother gave me a box of books she no longer wanted. I was thrilled until I opened the box to find that they were all romance novels from the early 1990s. I never read any of them... I sold them all at a garage sale a few years later. I felt kinda icky knowing that my grandmother had read these semi-erotic tales and found them good enough to pass on to another reader, but I also felt guilty knowing that she had given me books and I had snubbed them. Fortunately, she never asked what I had thought about them, but I still felt like I had done something wrong by not accepting a gift.

I'm not going to lie, I usually think I'm "better" than genre fiction, especially anything female-oriented or romantic. I was raised on classics and "literary fiction" (whatever that means) and am probably what many would consider to be a book snob.

Does it?
However, last summer when a boyfriend's mother left me in charge of watching her house when they went on vacation and she left me with some "books [I] should read to pass the time," I felt obligated to read whatever she left me. I was desperate to gain her affection and I really did appreciate the sentiment; she knew I was into books and wanted me to be comfortable in her home. But, you know where this is going... It was all erotica. It was weird stuff, too: Having sex with demons, making love to dead girls, rape, incest, bestiality, every fetish and taboo was covered, but I soldiered on. My sister and I decided to make a game of it and we took turns reading passages aloud. We still occasionally use the term "wet hot slit" in conversation. It was actually really fun to read these books and laugh about the raunchiness, but, the reality was unavoidable. My boyfriend's mother was a very proper, strict lady. She was terrified that I'd seduce her son. I wasn't allowed to sit on his bed and it was frowned down upon to be in the room together with the door shut (keep in mind that we were both well into our 20's...) I was really shocked that someone so concerned and tight-lipped (no pun intended) about sex would be reading such sexual novels. I was even more shocked that, even though she yelled at me weekly for being "too close" to her son, she would recommend those books to me.

That's not the end of it, though. One of the books she left looked particularly worn, and, inside the front cover, a page number was written... Yep... she had marked one of the hottest, wildest sex scenes in the whole book. And then had given that book to me.

I was mortified. How would I confront her upon her return? What if she asked about it? Was this all a trap?

It's a long way down.

Thankfully, when she came home, she didn't say anything about her books. I thanked her profusely for allowing me to stay in her home and she thanked me for watching it and everything was fine, but, I am still troubled about it to this day. I can't make any sense of it, but that may just be because I'm a stranger to the genre.

What is the proper etiquette when it comes to romance and erotica? Is there just some universal unspoken agreement in which you know that everyone everywhere has at least a passing interest in sex and it's cool if we read about it? Or is there a seedy underworld where people are buying and trading erotica in secret, pulling volumes out of hidden trench coat pockets in dark alleys?

Is it common practice to share "used" erotica?

I just don't know.


So, I've compiled an almost fool-proof guide on what to do if someone (most likely an old lady) gives you smut this holiday season:

Please note that this guide is intended for people like me who have no idea what to do with a romance novel or erotica and are too embarrassed to say, "Oh thank you, but this really isn't my thing!" 

1) Be grateful. Don't let that look of apprehension and shock sneak through when you see the half-naked man and cursive font on the cover. Say, "Thank you!" and smile.

2) Admit that you haven't read it yet, if asked. Even if it's a book I desperately want, I very rarely get the opportunity to start a book the moment I get it. Life is hectic, and they probably understand. I think that saying, "I really haven't had time to read it yet!" is more graceful than saying, "Yeah I didn't read it." And really, if you had unlimited time, you would probably read it, right? Right?

3) Don't pretend that you've read it if you haven't. You will easily be found out once Aunt Geraldine dives into the finer plot points and asks your opinion on why Rolphe would treat Amy so brutally.

4) Talk about the books you do like. There are plenty of ways to do this without sounding pretentious. Mention what you've been reading, what you plan to read, what your book club is reading that you enjoy, recent book-to-film adaptations that didn't do the book justice, anything! This doesn't have to happen immediately after the accursed erotica book has found its way into your arms. You can bring this up in the following weeks or months - just whenever. Eventually, the offending gift-giver will get a taste for what you like and don't like.

5) Just read the damn thing. Come on, how long can it be?

Images: Harlequin

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