This Week's Valentine's Day Reads

The Best You'll Ever Have: What Every Woman Should Know About Getting and Giving Knock-Your-Socks-Off Sex

Shannon Mullen with Valerie Frankel (Crown, $20) Hippies in need of sexual guidance have The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex. Hipsters looking to get busy can gaze upon other anorexic (naked) hipsters in The Big Bang: Nerve's Guide to the Sexual Universe. As for the shower-a-day, unpierced majority of the rutting world, you guys get The Best You'll Ever Have. By now I think we can safely assume there really isn't anything terribly new to learn about the horizontal mambo. Only the most doltish among us don't know where all the naughty bits are located. Yet, oddly, few of us are actually any good at getting down. The twist with TBYEH is that co-author Shannon Mullen is an entrepreneur who ditched the advertising rat race for the far more scintillating sex-toys biz. Mullen's business model for her company, Safina (www.safina.com), is similar to Avon and Mary Kay—hire reps to host small sales events in people's homes. At the "salons," guests are encouraged to talk about sex, ask questions about sex, and handle (and presumably purchase) toys that—you guessed it—are all about sex. But unlike sales soirees that shill lipstick and low self-esteem, these "fuckerware" parties serve a real market. Women need orgasms way more than they need concealer. Hell, if my mom had gone to a Safina Salon or two, I'm guessing my childhood would've been a whole lot more pleasant! Which brings me to my point. TBYEH is geared toward the woman who would never consider walking into her local sex shop—let alone plopping a big ol' dildo down at the register. In fact, one of the book's many charms is its authors' admitted initial squeamishness about certain things (butt sex!). Far from being a catalog, like Toys in Babeland's Sex Toys 101, TBYEH is full of useful information (I learned something I didn't know!) told sympathetically. And while always staying on point, the book avoids drifting over into hard-sell territory too often. JUDY McGUIRE The Dating Race: An Undercover Report from the Front-Lines of Modern-Day Romance

By Stacy Kravetz (Tarcher/Penguin, $14.95) Modern romance is a bitch. But it's even more of a bitch if you are trying to debunk it. Which is precisely what Los Angeles writer Stacy Kravetz attempts. She ventures undercover as just another dateless, romance-driven soul, then learns that regardless of recent technological advances, finding true love is never as simple as filling out an online profile and waiting for hits. She draws on numerous interviews with others who are grasping for a mate, and herself tries singles mixers, "lock and key" parties (men try their keys in women's locks until they find a match—hmm, that's not phallic at all), speed dating, online dating, and even a dating coach. The latter experiments prove pathetically humorous. But Kravetz's ability to make you giggle doesn't make this book worth the read. If people stopped reading books about dating, attending seminars about dating, and obsessing about dating, they might just stumble upon a date. MICHELLE REINDAL Universal Dating Regulations & Bylaws

By the American Dating Association, aka Jeff Wise (Fireside, $9.95) Though there really is an American Association for Single People (www.unmarriedamerica.org ), the American Dating Association is the puckish invention of (uncredited) author Jeff Wise. As satire, this pocket compendium of courtship conventions and factoids doesn't cover a lot of new ground. (The top female sexual fantasy, according to an ADA survey: "achieve orgasm.") It's unapologetically aimed at straight people—sorry, "traumatized unwed heterosexuals"—at a time when legal gay marriage seems imminent. Still, Wise's deadpan tone scores a few good laughs, each accompanied by a cringe of recognition. A set of "discussion points" follows each chapter. After the section on first dates, these include "What's the most intimate you've ever gotten with someone on a first date? Did you feel gross afterward? Do you think you'd do it again? Soon?" Anyone who, like me, emerged from college tragically ignorant of real-world dating rules—out here, splitting the bill on a first date isn't a sign of feminist solidarity, just cheapness—will appreciate Wise's irreverence toward the maze of unwritten laws that men and women must navigate as they date. NEAL SCHINDLER The Kinky Girl's Guide to Dating

By Luna Grey (Greenery Press, $16.95) Dating is difficult enough when your only requirements run along the lines of "should enjoy long walks on the beach" and "must be as comfortable in a pair of jeans as you are at a black-tie event." Just imagine how much harder things would get if you had to add caveats like "must enjoy nipple clamps and scat play" or "should be as comfortable in wrist restraints as you are in adult diapers." Sure, kinky men don't have an easy time of it either, but with us ladies, it's a whole 'nother ball of (hot, dripping) wax. Our personal safety comes into play. And sometimes when you're engaging in risky behavior—even with the most well- intentioned partner—bad stuff happens. Luna Grey describes one bottom's reaction after a session goes awry: "She collapses in giggles once the pain subsides and the realization of what happened sets in. Basically brutal anal rape, by accident. Hard to get terribly upset by it; after all, he meant well." And that's with someone she knew and trusted. Though a little clunky in its execution (I could've done without the seemingly faked letters from what are presumably her alter egos), Grey's book is practical and valuable, even for the most vanilla among us. Because, as the author wisely points out, "Real safety lies in abstinence." And that's a risk not all of us are willing to take. JUDY McGUIRE Always Talk to Strangers: Three Simple Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life

By David Wygant (Perigree, $12.95) Strangers is just another in a long line of bad advice books in a running tradition of poorly written self-help dating guides. It bluntly suggests that confidence is the key to meeting members of the opposite sex, but also encourages highly expensive surgery and unnecessary self-indulgence in the beauty and cosmetics department (both for men and women). The book suggests that men spend time getting pedicures, women spend even more time on their looks, and that if you don't meet the love of your life until you're 60—well, that's OK. (Many of those reading the book may wish for faster results.) The makeshift tell-how tome is complete with checklists and a guide to all the things you should change about yourself. It also covers many ways you can act like someone you're not and perpetuates those useful stereotypes that all women love chick flicks and have manicures twice a week. All of its major points can be summed up thusly: Have confidence (even if you have to fake it), look perfect at all times, go ridiculous places in the hopes of getting a date, and, beyond all else, keep your mouth running at any cost. ANIKA WILSON Dating After 50: Negotiating the Minefields of Midlife Romance

By Sharon Romm (Quill Driver, $12.95) Dating for dummies. Thirty-some years later, it's not just movies, milk shakes, and make-outs, even if this guide doesn't come bound in the familiar black-and-yellow cover. Dating After Fifty is in desperate need of an extreme makeover; I can't imagine any of my single friends—male or female—willing to stand in line holding a shocking-pink book with a photo of a Lisa Kudrow look-alike smiling on the cover. The back cover's litany of how-to advice reminded me of coaching wary children across a rickety log bridge—one wrong step could lead to death! And that's a shame because this is a helpful book for its intended audience, one that includes seniors and those widowed or divorced after decades or more with one partner. It also hits that demographic sweet spot of baby boomers scared of dating again, the ones who can be heard kvetching with their girlfriends around Green Lake or bitching to their pals in half-court basketball games. When I showed the book to a divorced friend in author Sharon Romm's demographic, she remarked, "I'd feel like a loser if anyone saw me with this book." Then she asked to borrow it. Romm makes frank and frequent references to freedom of choice, reassuring her readers that they don't have to retie the knot. There's also advice on what not to say on a first date (e.g., hemorrhoids), breaking off a relationship, how and when to bring up sex, preventing STDs, and treating erectile dysfunction with Viagra and its cousins. Of course, you get the latter information in your computer's daily spam, but the book—regardless of the cover—is a lot easier to carry around. MARILYN MEYER Sharon Romm will appear at University Book Store–Bellevue (990 102nd Ave., Bellevue, 425-462-4500), 7 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 10. Is Your Straight Man Gay Enough? The Ultimate Renovation Guide

By Nan Shipley and Jason Anthony (Chronicle, $14.95) Though guaranteed to horrify you with its blatant stereotypes and bore you with its trivial chatter, IYSMGE entertains with its funky drawings and pastel colors. A girls' handbook on how to make her man "gay-er" (which equals sexy, savvy, and smart), this satiric guide is both tongue-in-cheek and a gross prostitution of the metrosexual trend. IYSMGE essentially lays out a plan of attack for the "gay-over" of your straight beloved, beginning with the relentless search for a gay best friend (GBF), now apparently a commodity in the wake of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The book also contains flash cards that your man can use—should he revert to his Neanderthal ways. There's also a smattering of quizzes for him to take that are reminiscent of Teen magazine and that Carson Kressley would surely revile. Chapters like "From Slob to Suave: Conquering His Fear of Grooming" and a passage condemning clogs to only the feet of little Dutch boys (and fanny packs to the fiery furnaces of hell) are humorous. But the majority of the book verges between boring and annoying. The book is most likely correct about the appeal of gay men for straight women (I know I'm always a sucker for guys in tight shirts). Since we already have a TV show on the subject, however, that's more than enough. HEATHER LOGUE

 
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