erotic-ish novels to read in public.

02 21 20 — Culture

Hidden in plain sight. 

At bottom, pornographic fiction and canonical literature are not mutually exclusive. The literoritca archives are a wildly colorful place...likely with better title fonts than your standard porn site. So, if you’re looking to kill two birds with one stone (the birds being porn and great works of fiction), know that your breadth of options is far from limited in scope. And that most of these novels skew fairly discrete—which is to say, nobody will know you’re reading literotica at your local coffee house. 

Of course, we celebrate brandishing whatever reading material you like in public. But if you’re feeling coy, and you’d like to read something with a little erotic seasoning—while also conveying to everyone in your general vicinity that you’re knee-deep in The Power Broker—you’ve got options. And we have a few prime recommendations to get you started. Check out the below for some understated erotic fiction—with truly impeccable plot lines to boot. 

Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaistkill. We definitely recommend Gaitskill even if you’re not in the market for some unsubtle (though easily disguised) erotica. But we especially recommend this novel—which uses a roster of distinct shorter stories to delve deep into the worlds of bondage, BDSM, and sadomasochism in ways that are sometimes dark and beautiful, but always sultry and revealing. 

Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth. When passersby see “Roth” typed out across the cover of your book they’ll think: Great American novelist—and in turn, about you: Great contemporary intellectual. All of this is true, but they likely don’t know that this is a wildly explicit text all about rage-fueled sex that leaves little to be desired by way of detail. 

Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson. This one—built around an affair between a gender-ambiguous narrator and a woman who is both married and ill— is dreamy, nuanced, and lyrical. You might call it poetry, if it weren’t printed in novel form. And in all honesty, you’ll likely fall for the beauty of the prose itself just as hard as the more explicitly erotic scenes (of which there are many)

G. by John Berger. You’ve heard of John Berger—he’s THE art guy. You know, Ways of Seeing? That old thing? Whether or not you’ve actually read his work, you’ve likely seen his name printed on a collegiate syllabus—which is to say, this particular novel will earn you instant coffee shop clout. Taking place in Europe in the midst of the First World War, there’s plenty of meditation throughout on the state of power and sex. And the word “penis” must be used nearly 200 times. 

I Am a Woman by Ann Bannon. Bannon’s work is fairly iconic—she was a major voice for gay rights and lesbian culture back in the ‘50s, when such a thing was certainly rare. And this novel, which details a romance between two college girls in the center of the “lesbian bohemia” of old world Greenwich Village, is one of her best. It’s arguably a New York novel as much as it is an erotic one.