I’ve loved reading books for as long as I can remember. As a child, I had a small collection of books. I had a few large picture books – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Night Before Christmas, and The Wizard of Oz. I had a children’s bible, a paperback of The Seven Chinese Brothers, and a little book called Childhood is a time of Innocence by Joan Walsh Anglund. It was from this collection that my father read to me each night, and I loved and knew these books backwards and forwards.
Although I had a small collection in my house, my mother also brought my sister and I to the library each week, where a whole world of books was available to me, for free. We went to a weekly story-time at the library, and each week my mother took out a stack of children’s books for me. As I grew older, the habit of visiting the library continued, and I was constantly finding new things to read. I remember choosing very carefully because there was a maximum limit of books that one could check out at a time. The library was a special, magical place for me as a child. And even now, I love walking through bookstores and libraries. There is something almost sacrosanct about the very structures that house books to me, and I feel, upon entering, the way the truly religious must feel when entering a house of worship.
I’ve often wondering where this love of reading and books came from. Neither of my parents were into reading. My mother brought me to the library because she knew I loved being there. My father read to me at night because it was his duty – since he worked so much, it was his job to read to my sister and I before he tucked us in at night. I remember how he would try to skip lines to finish faster, how he sometimes stumbled over certain words, how patient he was when I told him he missed a paragraph or pointed out his mistakes in pronunciation, how he would read “one more”, even though he was exhausted from working 12 hour shifts each day in the warehouse.
Trying to trace this love of reading, I found myself thinking about my great-Aunt Ella. Aunt Ella was my grandmother’s oldest sister by twenty years. She had come to America with her father and another sister to work and save money to send for the rest of the family in Italy. When I was a child, Aunt Ella was already a very old woman. She was under 5ft tall, and round, with wispy white hair. Her skin was very wrinkled and fell in loose folds on her small frame.
My mother brought my sister and I to visit her each week. Each visit would begin by putting on the black coffee (espresso) and allowing my sister and I to choose our favorite demitasse cups and small silver spoons. We were allowed half an inch of black coffee, and I remember putting nearly as much sugar into the cup because it was so bitter. As a child, I found these visits immensely boring. Aunt Ella weaved between past and present, watched television and told stories. Inevitably, she would break down in tears, my mother’s hand on her back, comforting her. A box of tissues was always on the corner table next to where she sat on the couch. Under the table and next to the couch were stacks and stacks of books – all Harlequin Romance novels.
My Aunt Ella learned to speak English by reading Harlequin Romances, she said. She nodded approvingly when I would take one of the books to read while nursing that strange brew of black coffee and sugar. “You like to read. Good. Very good.” She would say to me, then fall into memories, stories and tears, while the television played an afternoon of soap operas. I remember reading through these books very quietly, hopped up on caffeine and sugar, hoping my mother wouldn’t notice what I was reading, my child’s mind spinning with erotic words and stories. I also remember skimming through the books, looking for the “good parts”, the places where the language deviated from the standard plot, and became more suggestive, more passionate. These books opened up the world of erotic language to me.
Outside of Aunt Ella’s house, I didn’t read romance novels. In fact, for a long time, I wanted to read “serious” books. I haunted the library looking for serious literature, as well as non-fiction books on psychology, philosophy, science, history, etc. It wasn’t until I was working at a bookstore that I came across the genre of erotica. I felt that same strange thrill as when I was a child reading Aunt Ella’s romance books.
I wound up buying one of the erotica books by Anne Rice, the first in her Sleeping Beauty series. She had originally written erotica under a pseudonym, and then the authorship changed in subsequent editions to “Anne Rice writing as …” This was my first glimpse into an author claiming accountability for written work after initially writing under a secret name. It made me wonder why she didn’t claim accountability in the first place, which made me aware that erotica, as a genre, was not always accepted by the general reading public.
Since then, I’ve seen the reception to the genre change and evolve in many different ways. Today’s erotica writers are literate, poetic, and passionate about storytelling and the concept of the body engaging in sex as a story told in a different language. Our attempt is to translate this experience, this wordless language, into something that can be shared and understood in the context of a story. It is a complex process that goes beyond the physical, and is an exciting place to explore, to reveal, to discover – for both writers and readers.
Today, I wanted to share a video clip of me reading the very beginning of my erotic story “Wolf Moon.”
I want to offer this video as a way of sharing something a little different with readers; it is a different type of reveal. This is who I am. It is my way of saying thank you for reading what I write here. There are some people who read this website who I may never meet in person. Some people have written comments on my poems and stories and blogs, and I am always so touched to know that what I have written has reached another person. I am both happy and grateful to share who I am with you. Thank you. xo
Click here to see me reading a little excerpt from “Wolf Moon.”