I haven’t had sex in a while. It’s by choice, but it’s also because it’s too goddamn hard these days to find someone who isn’t racist or who doesn’t give off bad vibes to just fuck. I’m also too busy. It seems to be a valid excuse.
In a similar vein, I’ve only recently gotten back into reading. Reading books, that is—and reading for me, not for a review I’ve been asked to do. I try to use the ‘too busy’ excuse for this as well, but it doesn’t work. I feel guilty. Not only because I continue to acquire books in the meantime, but because I know I should be reading more. Nothing good will come of me walking around in circles in my own head. I need to read—to be a better writer, to be a better person.
I don’t know when I came across this comparison, or even how, but it’s dawned on me recently that sex is like reading, and reading is like sex. You’ve gotta know how to pick ’em, and you can’t necessarily judge them all by their covers.
I might not be reading regularly, but I’m still reading. It’s in drips and drabs, and sometimes I’m concerned I will have forgotten the story’s plot by the time I pick the book up again. It never happens, though—my memory’s not that bad. I feel that way about sex too, but with a little more trepidation. After all, I’ve been reading ever since I can remember. I’ve only had about six years of on-and-off sexual encounters.
So I’ve been reading, and interestingly, the books I’m reading each remind me of a different type of sex.
Breaking open Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is like welcoming someone home. It is the sex you have after you love someone and you’ve both been away for a while because of circumstances out of your control. It is slow and languorous and you don’t want to miss anything because you know if you go too fast you will miss something. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness leads you by the hand and tells you to savour each word and each sentence and each paragraph. It is sex I’m willing to take time out of my day for, even though I usually like it hard and fast (but not rushed). The Ministry of Utmost Happiness spans years, as well as the Indian subcontinent. It tells stories of Anjum and the old, old house that is Khwabgah, of Tilottama and her lovers. And it is a physical embodiment of the phrase ‘making love’, the type of ‘making love’ you see in old-timey romantic movies.
Toni Morrison’s Race, published as a part of the new Vintage Minis series, is the breakup sex you have that makes you get back together, even though you know it’s not the best idea. Race contains excerpts from Song of Solomon, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye, masterpieces I have read at least twice and still want to go back to. I am probably too aware of the fact that I will never be able to read all the books I want to read in my lifetime, so I tell myself I shouldn’t reread them. I shouldn’t, because I have so many other unread books waiting for me. And yet they call to me—Sula, too (probably my favourite Morrison novel). The themes of community and guilt and belonging—of trying to belong in a world that doesn’t necessarily want you in it—are intoxicating, especially considering the world we currently live in. But most of all, there is a poignancy to Morrison’s words that draws you in without you even knowing it, and it can be the best and worst feeling in the world.
I’ve just started Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Stay With Me, and it is like the sex you have when you’re in a new relationship and you’re in the honeymoon period. Best of all, it’s the sex that lives up to all of your expectations. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you wondering what’s coming up next. It’s exciting and fresh and good, and it also teaches you something about yourself and about other people. It’s exciting now, especially because I’m only getting to know the characters. I’m just being introduced to Yejide, and I know she wants to get pregnant to keep her family together, and I want to know more. But I know Stay With Me contains secrets, too. Secrets I haven’t reached, haven’t unfolded. Just like any new relationship.
And then there is No Future No Past, 2010 ~ 2014 Xmas Special Stories Collection, by Freakie Pam Pam Liu. It is the sex that makes you excited but sad and confused all at the same time. It is the first few times I had sex, and the first few times I felt that pang of guilt in my gut immediately afterwards, like I was betraying my family, my culture, everything I had been brought up to be. Only a slim volume, Xmas Special Stories is a set of graphic novellas, written (and I mean handwritten) in Chinese. I have to read it slowly, and I have to concentrate. I don’t have to translate it in my head, but I feel frustrated and guilty that I can’t skim it like I could if it were written in English.
I still have many more books—and many more different types of sex—to experience. I have Imbolo Mbue’s Behold The Dreamers, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser, Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear. I’m waiting for angry (and I mean angry) breakup sex, sex in a fancy hotel after several glasses of equally fancy champagne, and threesomes. There is Laura Esquivel’s the Laws of Love, Anuk Arudpragasm’s The Story of a Brief Marriage, Bi Feiyu’s Massage. There are price tags I haven’t even removed, spines I haven’t cracked. There are new senses, new people, new pages. I’ve just got to be game enough to dig in.
Yen-Rong is a Brisbane-based writer, and the Founding Editor of Pencilled In, a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the work of Asian Australian artists. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Overland, The Lifted Brow, and more, and she is also currently working on her first full length manuscript.