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Sex In Bookstores

New York- Porn stars may not keep many things hidden, but whatever secrets they had are now on the shelf at the local bookstore.

A wave of confessionals and self-help guides written by current or former stars of pornographic films is flooding bookstores this year, accompanied by erotic novels, racy sexual-instruction guides, histories of sexual particulars and photographic treatments of the world of pornography. While many bookstores have long maintained sections devoted to erotica or sexuality, rarely have those books been as prominently positioned as some of the current crop, which have been elbowing their way onto display tables at the front of the major chain bookstores.

Every generation has a book or two that sets pulses quickening and generates frantic debate about pornography, community standards and the lowering of the bar for what is acceptable. But the latest flurry of sex books, coming at a time when sexual images already dominate advertising, entertainment and the Internet, is clearly finding a wide audience.

Publishers, for their part, insist they are not simply churning out dirty books.

“I don’t publish pornography,” said Judith Regan, president and publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins. “I publish smart books about sex. A lot of people try to imitate what I do but they don’t do it well.”

Ms. Regan’s most recent offering is “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale,” a memoir by Jenna Jameson, probably the most successful woman ever in the adult-film business, written with Neil Strauss, a former reporter and music critic for The New York Times.

The book, which is already climbing the best-seller lists, is long (579 pages), graphic (with clinical descriptions of a smorgasbord of sex acts) and bulging with color photos of a mostly nude Ms. Jameson (which led some stores, including Wal-Mart, to refuse to stock it).

Also headed for stores this fall is “XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits” (Bullfinch Press) by the photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, with an introduction by Gore Vidal and essays on the intersection of pornography and culture by Salman Rushdie, Nancy Friday, John Malkovich and others.

For history buffs there is “The Intimate History of the Orgasm” (Grove Press), as well as histories of prostitution (Grove) and the pornographic film industry (ReganBooks), all currently in stores or coming soon. Atria Books has just issued “Star,” a novel by Pamela Anderson with a reversible book jacket that contains a nude pinup of the author on the inside.

“100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed” (Grove), the sexual memoir of a teenage Italian girl, and “The Surrender” (ReganBooks), a former ballet dancer’s account of her spiritual awakening through anal sex, are also on the way. Even some mainstream novels are drawing attention for their sexual content, like Tom Wolfe’s forthcoming chronicle of the sex-and-beer obsessions of the college crowd, “I Am Charlotte Simmons” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

“Sex is what is selling these days,” said Judith Curr, publisher of Atria Books and Washington Square Press, imprints of Simon & Schuster that publish Zane (who will not disclose her real name), one of the industry’s top-selling authors of erotica. “When publishers see that, everybody wants to get into the market.”

The current crop of books was spawned by the success two years ago of “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” by Catherine Millet, a French art critic. The book, published by Grove Press, received mediocre reviews but spent nine weeks on the Times best-seller list, bringing a new air of respectability to the genre.

Bob Wietrak, vice president for merchandising at Barnes & Noble, said that while erotica had been around for years, a big difference now was that it was written by name-brand authors rather than by the ubiquitous Anonymous.

“What we’re seeing now in novels is that they’re sexy, but they’re very sophisticated,” Mr. Wietrak said. That sophistication has brought greater acceptance, he said, and demand has generated better placement in stores.

Ms. Jameson’s book is featured at the front of most bookstores. ReganBooks is also promoting “How to Have a XXX Sex Life,” by the Vivid Girls, stars of pornographic films produced by Vivid Entertainment.

The key to her assertion that Ms. Jameson’s book is smart, Ms. Regan said, is in the subtitle. “This is a cautionary tale for this culture,” she said, referring to the book’s frank descriptions of Ms. Jameson’s rape by a relative of her boyfriend, her drug addiction and other trials.

“It’s the story of what she aspired to and what she’s become, and the price she paid for it,” Ms. Regan said. “You cannot live a life like this and not pay a price.”

Last week, the book appeared among the top 20 titles on the best-seller list. It also showed up at No. 27 on the extended best-seller list of The Times for the week ended Aug. 14, which is notable because the book did not officially go on sale until Aug. 17. (The extended list of 30 best sellers appears at; the top 15 of those appear in The Times Book Review on Sundays, about two weeks after the list date.)

A different kind of sexual awakening is the subject of “100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.” When it was published in Italy last year, the author was identified only as Melissa P., and she would not pose for photographs that showed her face because, she said, she was not yet 18.

The book itself is hardly as demure, relating such tales as the author’s 16th birthday, when a lover goaded her into having sex with five men at once. The book sold more than 500,000 copies in Italy alone, and its success has spread across Europe. The author has helped her fame by revealing herself as Melissa Panarello. In interviews, she insists that the book mirrors her own experiences, although she stretched into two years events that actually took place in one.

Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic, said he believes the book will endure alongside previous erotic best sellers published by Grove, including “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

While he acknowledged that a chronicle of an adolescent’s sexual experiences “is probably not a book that is appropriate for every market,” Mr. Entrekin said the book was neither exploitative nor pornographic. “Pornography, for me, comes from intent, and I just don’t think there’s that intent here,” he said.

Malaika Adero, a senior editor at Atria, concurred, saying that erotica like Zane’s “Sex Chronicles,” “Addicted” and, most recently, “Skyscraper” have sold more than a million copies not because they are exploitative but because they are intelligently written.

“These books are not subtle or coy or sentimental,” Ms. Adero said. “They express their sexuality with a humor and a confidence that is reflective of today’s woman. That is a cultural change that I don’t think is going to reverse itself.”

Some others clearly agree, including Harlequin Enterprises, publisher of the famed Harlequin Romance novels. In recent years Harlequin has introduced several book series that take a distinctly modern – that is, explicit – view of sex. In one series, called Blaze, the authors Lori and Tony Karayianni, writing as Tori Carrington, address a letter to readers in which they claimed to have surprised themselves at how far into “the shadowy side of sex” they go.

Harlequin romances, of course, can be bought at Wal-Mart, one of the biggest sellers of books today. But Wal-Mart shoppers looking for Ms. Jameson’s memoir will be disappointed: the chain decided against carrying the book, Ms. Regan said. (Wal-Mart officials did not respond to inquiries seeking comment.)

Wal-Mart shoppers can, however, buy Ms. Anderson’s novel, “Star,” though with a difference. To accommodate Wal-Mart and other mass retailers, Atria issued about one-quarter of the 135,000 copies of the novel in print so far with a plain pink cover, instead of the jacket featuring a nude Ms. Anderson – a sort of modern equivalent of the plain brown wrapper.



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