It’s going to be a weird, grimy summer; let’s palliate by turning to the illicit pleasures of yesteryear. Please join myself and my colleague Stassa Edwards for the first Bonkbuster Summer Book Club.
We have decided to devote the summer to great fat mass-market paperbacks whose names once touched everyone’s tongues. The ones whose titles still convey a frisson of sex. The type of books passed around middle school classrooms on the sly until a teacher noticed and confiscated the offending reading material—for her own personal stash. We’ll be reading selections in June, July, and August. And rather than unilaterally select three books, we’ve decided to open the floor. Below are several classic examples of the form; vote on your favorites and we’ll read the three most popular.
Some programming notes: We’ve passed over all men, hence the exclusion of Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins, for whom you could make an argument. Flowers of the Attic might could’ve squeezed onto the list, but the fit isn’t quite right and neither of us wanted to read it, so we’ve exercised our supreme authority as book club despots to skip. Classics like Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls have been excluded as forerunners that aren’t quite raunchy enough to compete with the high instances of the form.
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough: This is, of course, the one where she has the thwarted hots for the priest. She being young Meggie Cleary, who moves to a massive sheep station in the Outback and meets the much older Ralph de Bricassart. It’s more frustrated longing than actual boning and features many more gruesome Outback deaths than I personally anticipated.
Scruples, Judith Krantz: This 1978 bestseller follows the fortunes of Wilhelmina “Billy” Hunnewell Winthrop as she builds an empire on her Beverly Hills boutique. “They’ve done everything but tattoo a ‘P’ for Pornographer on my chest,” Krantz told People as America was buying it just as fast as they could.
Outlander, Diana Gabaldon: The author herself likely wouldn’t be keen on the idea of including Outlander in the bonkbuster canon. But every women in America has been recommended this series at least once with mention made of the sex. In case you have somehow avoided the franchise: World War II combat nurse falls through time to the vicinity of the Jacobite Rising and falls in love for a hot (younger!) Scotsman with what I’ve always pictured as very lovely knees.
Hollywood Wives, Jackie Collins: Who are the Hollywood Wives? Well, according to the flap copy currently on Amazon:
They lunch at Ma Maison and the Bistro on salads and hot gossip. They cruise Rodeo Drive in their Mercedes and Rolls, turning shopping at Giorgio and Gucci into an art form. They pursue the body beautiful at the Workout and Body Asylum.
Dressed by St. Laurent and Galanos, they dine at the latest restaurants on the rise and fall of one another’s fortunes. They are the Hollywood Wives, a privileged breed of women whose ticket to ride is a famous husband.
This list would be incomplete without at least one Jackie Collins.
The Clan of the Cave Bear/The Valley of Horses, Jean M. Auel: The Earth’s Children series follows the prehistoric adventures of the beautiful Ayla, who roams ancient Europe doing things like domesticating horses and inventing spears. Oh, and fucking. Lots and lots and lots of fucking. This series is tricky for our purposes, though, because the first book is the one they made into a movie starring Daryl Hannah, but the sex parts don’t get fun until Valley of the Horses. Until then it’s more neanderthal dub con. Therefore we are including both the original and the sequel in the poll. If both land in the top three, we’ll pick the more popular. (Definitely vote for Valley of the Horses.)
Wifey, Judy Blume: This is the young adult legend’s racy novel about suburbanite Sandy Pressman’s walk on the wild side.
Zoya, Danielle Steel: Somehow, I have never read a novel by Danielle Steel. This classic, about a young woman who flees the Russian Revolution for a life alternating between glamour and hardship, seems like a good place to start.
Riders, Jilly Cooper: Or, as it is billed, “the steamy, scandalous tale of sexual and equestrian competition within the heroic world of international show jumping.” Horny horsey types!
Lace, Shirley Conran: When this book was rereleased in a thirtieth-anniversary edition in 2012, the Guardian wrote in its coverage: “Just whisper the word ‘goldfish’ to any woman in her late 30s or early 40s and see how many of them blush.” Don’t you want to know why? I certainly do!
The Witching Hour, Anne Rice: Short version—a family of witches has a demonic spirit that follows them around, trying to knock them up.
Addicted, Zane: My take—without Zane, there is perhaps no self-publishing boom and no erotica bonanza, and therefore no Fifty Shades of Grey. She doesn’t get the credit she deserves. That said, this novel sounds completely bananas.
You have until Friday morning to vote; at that point we’ll announce the winners and you can begin tearing through June’s selection.