Friday, November 4, 2011

"It Must Be Good in Bed"

As the daughter of two Brits, my mother was hardly a profane woman.  Nonetheless, she had an earthy explanation whenever she was introduced to a dubious candidate as boyfriend / fianc√© / husband of a female acquaintance: "He must be good in bed."

I love the philosophy imbedded in this. There was no intent to insult the woman's choice of man, even if his charms eluded my mother. Instead, she was respecting the fact that she couldn't know all his finer points, and that some of them might be quite personal indeed. We're not usually privy to the sex lives of our friends so we have to assume that both parties are making a fully informed choice for bed- and life-partners.

[And yes, the sentiment is rather lopsided with regard to gender. My mother was born in 1919. She had more experience with the concept of a woman discovering that a man was not good in bed than with the reverse.]

Two things happened recently to remind me of my mother's attitude.  First, I had a conversation with Janet W. about two highly-respected authors of historical romances.  Janet admitted that while she enjoyed the books of Author #1, she (Janet) had stopped reading recent releases as they came out. By contrast, she still read the books of Author #2 as soon as they hit bookstore shelves even if it's undeniable that Author #2's current work wasn't up to her best.

I took an opposite position. I do read Author #1's most recent releases even though I agree they aren't as good as her very best work. With respect to Author #2, I start each of her books - even the very famous ones - with a good bit of trepidation. A couple of her books rubbed me the wrong way - including one that Janet recommended very highly.

What followed was a spirited discussion along the lines of, "you've got to be crazy," at the end of which Janet and I just laughed and agreed that there's no point disagreeing with another reader's reaction to a book after the bedroom door is shut.  In other words, a book can strike me as a bad bet, but when I hear how much Janet loves it, I figure it must be the book equivalent of "good in bed."

The second incident had a friend asking on Twitter if any writers would like to write some fan fiction to expand a short story by Mary Jo Putney, "Sunshine for Christmas."  (She had no takers.) I had to find my copy of the anthology, Christmas Revels, in order to remember what the story was about. It's a sequel to The Rake, in which Lord Randolph Lennox travels to Italy in December to get away from the English weather. There he meets an English governess, Elizabeth Walker, who agrees to show him around Naples.

It's a charming story, and I enjoyed it, but it certainly doesn't leave me with a desire for more. Another story in that collection, "The Black Beast of Belleterre" does make me wish it were longer, even as I think it's actually perfect the way it is.

Ironically, the same friend on a separate occasion tweeted how much she loved about a story by Author #1 (the one I still read). I read that story and had to scratch my head. Again, as much as I love Author #1's writing, that particular work seems charmless to me, whereas I believe it's the only thing by Author #1 that my Twitter friend truly loves.

Now, obviously all of this is further evidence that we should allow people to like what they like for the reasons they like it. But there are times where it's perfectly reasonable to argue over plot points, characterization, prose style and the like. Nothing requires us to forgo the charms of discussing books.

Here's where the sentiment of "he must be good in bed" can be helpful. The love for a particular book is no less personal than the love for another human being. Even where a review points out its flaws, the reader may just love it. Once the discussion is at the level of "Why do I love it? I just do," then it's more polite to say, "well, it must be good in bed," and let each other love what we love.


  1. Barb here--
    Thank you for a nice articulation on how the worthiness (or do I mean 'lovableness'?) of each book is in the eyes of the reader!
    I have several dear friends with whom I share book reviews. I would say our tastes overlap quite a bit--but we always have titles/authors where We Do Not Agree! And that's great!! We don't argue. We never say--"You Liked That?!??!!!?" We always agree to disagree--and isn't that great?!

  2. Oh this is a good one...and as a guy I'd love to know the answer. What is it that tells you we're good in bed or do you have to actually wait for the event to happen?


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