A Very Asian X-Mas Indeed
Gracie's top three book gifts this year each have an Asian theme. While this was not intended (you might even say this is The Accidental Occidental Holiday List), Gracie
prefers to think of it as serendipity ~ for each of these works is singularly wonderful.
As a Gemini, I have great difficulty selecting "a" favorite anything ~ jokes on monogamy aside, I also am, by personality, somewhat of a rebel (OK, rule-breaker) and so while these three are my favorite gift ideas for the year (something made so obvious when I ended up buying no less than 5 copies each for gifts this year), I can do no more in terms of ranking them. So you get an alphabetical list.
Amorous Woman is an erotic novel that enters the ranks of Literature. It's not only that it's a well-crafted story; or even that it was inspired by Ihara Saikaku's classic 17th century novel of the pleasure quarters, The Life of an Amorous Woman; but rather it's the fact that it's the semi-autobiographical story of the author herself that makes this a gem for any sex kitten's library.
The author, Donna George Storey, has taught English in Japan and Japanese at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley. A graduate of Princeton (with a Ph.D. in Japanese literature from Stanford), Donna also lived in Japan for a few years. In short, she lived and lusted both for and in Japan. And it's that honesty that comes through, making this more than just a setting for some hot sex.
While Donna admits her character, Lydia, took things further than Donna did, what remains are the beautiful, lush sexual fantasies and maturation of a young woman.
I said it was an erotic book; so here are my thoughts on the erotic nature of Amorous Woman. The sex is written just as I like it ~ with a focus on the anticipation & erotic foreplay which has you reaching inside your panties, climaxing during (or, I'll admit, before) the actual in-and-out of the sex scene. It's not a book I can say "is so good, you won't put it down." With erotic works, the opposite is true ~ it should move you to put it down and get down. The author has kindly made each chapter (at least nearly; I didn't chart it or anything) an erotic adventure of its own to assist you in your self-pleasure.
But what really makes me gush about Amorous Woman ~ and gift it to my girlfriends ~ has to do with something more than wetting my panties.
The book is, for this 44 year old, a look back at growing up & learning from my 20's to become the mature (yet still randy) woman that I am today. The lessons in lust and love are not so much about other people and parts, but about young Lydia becoming a seasoned woman who grows into her self. While partying & promiscuity are hot for a time (and excellent fantasy), what Lydia learns ~ as I have, and hope you do to ~ is that the hunger she has may be much deeper than any lover can reach with any part of the body, with any sex toy. For this reason, I wept a little at the end. For Lydia, Donna, and myself. Maybe a little for you too, dear reader.
So, give Amorous Woman as a gift to your friends with hearty sexual appetites ~ knowing full well, that there's so much more for them to digest & enjoy.
I interviewed the author, Donna George Story, on Cult of Gracie ~ and the author even read an excerpt on the air.
The Painter from Shanghai is the novel based on the life of Chinese prostitute-turned-post-Impressionist Pan Yuliang, who stunned China and much of the West in the 20's and 30's by defiantly painting herself in the nude, which went against pretty much every Confucian ethic of the time.
I'm not normally one for fictionalized biographies, but in the case of Pan Yuliang, there's so little available about her life that one must either fill-in-the-blanks or have no book at all. That would be unacceptable.
Plus, this is such a fascinating and engaging written work that I can't protest it at all. In fact, I loved the book so much, I interviewed the author, Jennifer Cody Epstein, on Cult of Gracie (download/listen here) ~ and there's also a text interview with lots of images of Pan Yuliang's paintings at Silent Porn Star.
If your friends love art, history, sex, &/or biographies, they will love The Painter from Shanghai. It is the "can't put it down" book on this list, and rightly so.
Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai ~ with DVD of The Goddess, thankyouverymuch. I loved the film and after reading Silent Porn Star's bio of the actress, I had to get the book. This is also the precise order I suggest you (and those you gift) discover Ruan Ling-Yu ~ first film, then book. I double-dog-dare you not to fall in love with Ruan Lingyu.
If your friends are interested in biographies of film legends, like Monroe etc., they should both know of Ruan Ling-Yu and see at least this one film. Those who are interested in sex work, feminism, and biographies will not be disappointed either.
Footnote, of sorts...
Pan Yuliang and Ruan Lingyu occupied the world at the same time. While nothing I've read ever suggests the two met, I often wonder what would have happened if they had... It both humbles and excites me.
Would they have liked one another? Would they have understood one another? Or would their unique and strong personalities have created a Garbo/Dietrich sort of a relationship?
It's amazing to think of these women as contemporaries; each woman so isolated yet larger than life, so talented yet unappreciated, and blowing about on this planet at the same time. Each determinedly trying to cut her own path, her own life, but the fact that they didn't aimlessly find one another almost suggests a larger mystical force which would work to keep them apart. More isolation & suffering for great women.
But now they are together in my head.
And now that I write this, I see also that these two real legendary women now also merge somewhat with the Amorous Woman. It's not just the Asian culture thing. It's about youth, aging, beauty, isolation, determination, fitting in, expectations regarding gender & sex... About the things which we can and cannot control. And what we opt to enjoy.