Confessions of a Librarian: – A Memoir of Loves
Riverdale Avenue Books
Pub Date: Feb 3 2015
In the spirit of such classic female erotic adventurers as Anais Nin, Erica Jong and Toni Bentley, Barbara Foster shares the story of four women who meet to tell the lurid details of their worldly romantic encounters in Confessions of a Librarian: A Memoir of Loves. From Istanbul, Buenos Aries, Israel and back to New York, featuring young women to women of a certain age, with threesomes and everything in between, these inter-connected tales of love and lust are sure to keep you rapidly turning the pages.
So says the publisher book description for Barbara Fosters short-ish memoir. I have to admit that the only reason I can envision anyone rapidly turning the pages of this book is for it to be over. But, let’s step back a second.
Why did I read this? Quite simple really, I’m a qualified Librarian, and whilst not my usual reading fare, I don’t mind a good sex story. I was also interested in the author. She had previously co-authored a book called Three in Love: Ménages a Trois from Ancient to Modern Times, with her husband Michael and their own third/partner, Letha Hadady; and also co-authored The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet: A Biography of the Explorer of Tibet and Its Forbidden Practices, which is mentioned a number of times in the current book. A pioneering Belgian-French explorer, spiritualist, Buddhist, and feminist, she sounds far more fascinating than anything on offer in Confessions of a Librarian.
The loose framework to hang the stories in this book on is a ‘confessions’ club Foster sets up with a handful of close female friends. These the types of friends who live in stylish apartments, kick off their ‘manolo’s, quote Proust and Mao, and share their sexual exploit stories. It’s a pseudo literary sex in the city (a feeling enhanced by a ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ quote at the start of one chapter), and about as enjoyable as sitting through the film of Sex in the City 2.
So, to the stories: Cliché ahoy: tantric sex in India, tangos under Argentine sheets, sexy arab couplings in Israel, anal sex with a New York Mafioso, may to December relations with spiritual guru/musician, etc. What connect all these (with one exception) is that they are told in the same unengaging prose.
The India story is a particularly interesting one given as it does feature her essentially being raped but then ‘coming round’ to the idea of the sex and then consenting and joining in whole-heartedly. Lucky for her, as from her description of events I doubt her sexual partner had any intention of stopping regardless. “When he jammed in his cock, I lacked the will or energy to resist…he pumped furiously back and forth trying to come. In response my vagina became dry and hurt..” Lovely.
Whilst this is unpleasant, the main problem with the rest of the book is that it is mostly dull and flaccid, though the book does highlight just how difficult it is to write good sex scenes. Foster may well have walked the walk, but as evidenced here she clearly can’t talk, or write, the talk:
“He slowly spread my legs to let his scorching tongue travel along my moist corridor or joy”
“Being his vehicle was so exhilarating that my honey dripped nonstop”
“I opened my lips to receive his juicy tongue kiss. His saliva inundated my mouth, then flowed down my throat. Heated up to boiling, I sweated profusely”
Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is great sex writing?, but all it did for me was make me cringe and/or laugh, and the book is full of other examples I could have chosen. Added to this, despite the fact that this is billed as a book about sexual exploits, there isn’t actually that much space given to the actual sex.
Clearly, I’m not the target audience for this book, but I have read Nin and I am a long-time fan of Jong and on this evidence uttering either of their names in the same breath as Foster does both a huge disservice.
This is not to totally dismiss Foster or her writing. When it is focussed and on target, as it is in the section about Danny, the Mafioso, or on the death of one of the ‘club’ it is momentarily engaging and actually quite touching. Sadly the book was mostly bereft of this level engagement for me. Similarly, when it ends and Foster outlines the reasons for these confessions you can identify with the intention, and her honesty if still not totally loving its execution. In the end I wished I had been reading about Alexandra David-Neel instead. Maybe at some point I’ll put my trust in the writer of the Danny chapter and check out her book on the fascinating sounding David-Neel instead.