What To Read With A Writer’s Eye

by | March 18, 2022 | General | 3 comments

Being both a serious connoisseur and a purveyor of the erotic arts does come with its burdens.  All that research, research, research!

Thank you!  Don’t forget to tip your waitress!

However, to be honest, I wouldn’t call it a burden to admit that I’m proud to be something of a smutmonger.  And when I say I’m a “serious” connoisseur, I don’t just mean, “Wow, J.T.  That is a seriously large collection of porn you have.”  I mean that, well, I think seriously about it.  What makes this form of expression of human sexuality clinical and dry and that one steamy, squishy and squelchy?  What separates the good stuff from the bad stuff?  And why?

Being both a reader and a writer of erotica creates a special challenge.  Even when I’m specifically reading something, anything for pleasure, I do it with a writer’s eye.  When I read a conversation on the page, for example, I find I’m not just trying to follow the thread of the plot, but I’m actively critiquing the writer’s craft.  My mind races with thoughts like:

“Ouch!  All those adverbs!”

“That’s a lot of unnecessary exposition.”

“I know who you’re talking to.  You don’t have to keep saying his name over and over.”

Or, the worst,


The writer’s curse.  Of course, we wouldn’t be writers if we weren’t readers first.  We write the types of things we want to read, and we read the types of things we want to write.

And we divide the things we like to read into two groups.

The first group consists of books that, when we finish them, we put them down and say something like, “Wow.  That was very good.  Someday, if I work really hard at my craft and keep at it, and if I’m lucky, I could possibly write that well.”

The second group consists of books that we finish, not by closing the book with a contented sigh, but usually with an “Ugh.  I could write better crap than this.”  Legend has it that James Fenimore Cooper, author of novels like The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer launched his own literary career by launching a novel he wasn’t enjoying into the nearest fireplace.

I confess that for inspiration I often read the classics and poetry, as well as great contemporary novelists as well as yarn-spinners.  The works of Alexandre Dumas, Elmore Leonard, Larry McMurtry, Ranier Maria Wilke and Umberto Eco are all within arm’s reach as I type these words.

What parks me in the seat and gets me working is the fact that E.L. James, author of the Fifty Shades cultural phenomenon, has a net worth of $150 million dollars.

I mean, “inner goddess?”  C’mon!

I will admit that I’ve read the Fifty Shades books (okay, I got all the way through the first two, but I just didn’t have the strength for Fifty Shades Freed.)  They do have their merits, which I’ll get to shortly.

But still, if you’re at this website, you’re looking for quality porn, right?  Good resources.  Useful advice.  In my own small way, I’m here to provide.

As I said earlier, part of learning the writer’s craft is reading with a critical eye, often to the point where it becomes a habit.  Reading becomes part of the learning and the training experience.

I want to share some of my own training experiences, now.  I’ve said, and I strongly believe, that there’s a lot to be learned from studying mistakes, both one’s own mistakes, and those of others.

But there’s also a lot to be gained from studying the good stuff too, of course.  I have ten works in my library that I suggest be picked up by anyone with a critical eye, to get an idea not just of appreciating the work itself, but how the work was put together.  This is stuff that is in the first category, in my humble opinion.

Some caveats.  First, this is In My Humble Opinion.  I can be, and am, often wrong.  Just ask my ex.  By the same token, my opinion is mine alone.  It’s also free, so you have an idea of its value.  If you opt to step outside the box, knock yourself out.  If you choose to ignore me, ditto.  If you choose to argue with me, let’s rumble.

Secondly, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list, nor is it intended to be a syllabus for “Erotica 101.”  The Marquis De Sade is not on this list because I haven’t read him.  Nabokov’s Lolita isn’t on this list because I haven’t read it, although I should.  Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying isn’t on this list because while I enjoyed it, I could think of ten better examples for my point, and ten seemed like a good number at which to stop.

Thirdly, while the list is sorta chronological, it’s mostly not really.  The ranking is in no way a reflection of my opinion of the works’ quality or preference, it’s just the order that came to me when I started writing them down.

  1. Fanny Hill by John Cleland. It’s just my opinion, but I think erotic stories are best told in the first person.  They just seem more intimate and experiential, especially when the narrator has a strong, entertaining voice.  The sex itself is pretty quaint by today’s standards, but if I wanted to write a period piece, I’d read this one to get a flavor of how a good voice should sound for that era.
  2. A Man With A Maid by Anonymous. This is typical of the Victorian-era BDSM genre, with a typical plot.  A man basically kidnaps a woman, rapes and tortures her, (in a good way, of course), until she succumbs to her own desires and becomes a willing partner.  I have SERIOUS problems with this book on many levels, especially but not limited to the concept of consent, but, frankly, it’s an excellent representative example of the works of this genre of the time.  It’s also easy to find on Amazon, and this particular book is a quick read, which is a quality I admire.
  3. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Of course.  Constance Chatterley is everything Anastasia Steele isn’t.  Constance is strong-willed, vivacious, passionate, determined, and a confident sexual animal.  She’s frustrated as Hell, not just sexually but over post-war life and the tedium of her existence, and she’s damned vocal about it all.  Edmund Wilson’s 1929 review from “The Atlantic” said Lawrence had “written the best descriptions of sexual experience which have yet been done in English.”  Hard to disagree.
  4. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. Anything of hers, really.  She was born in France and spoke Spanish, French and Catalan before becoming proficient in English.  I think that, like other writers in English who hadn’t learned it first, (James Joyce and Dylan Thomas, for example), having to translate thoughts in their own head into a complex and logic-defying language like English forced Ms. Nin to acquire a precise style like that of a ballet dancer.
  5. Selected Works by Henry Miller. He was a Beat before Jack Kerouac, and Gonzo before Hunter S. Thompson.  The guy might as well have opened a vein and drained blood into the inkwell before he started his daily pages.  Beyond learning how to be raw with every word, I confess reading Miller is something of an endurance test.  Getting all the way through Tropic of Cancer is like being able to say you got all the way through Moby-Dick or  
  6. The Story of O by Pauline Reage. I’m not sure if it’s a characteristic of modern BDSM novels to be bleak, or if it’s a characteristic of French erotic novels to be bleak, but if it’s a characteristic of modern French BDSM erotic novels to be bleak as fuck, this is the perfect example.  I did think the protagonist was more fully rounded than Anastasia Steele, and while the novel is bleak, bleak, bleak, the sex scenes are very bleak and very hot.
  7. Vox by Nicholson Baker.  I recommend this one to be read as an example of thinking way, way, way outside the box.  It’s all dialogue.  The two people are talking over the phone.  When this novel first hit the bookshelves, it was dynamite, and with good reason.  I tried re-reading it a few years ago, and I found a lot of the “groundbreaking” stuff to be not so much the second time around.  Still, I consider this a must-read just for the sake of considering the possibilities.
  8. The Beauty Books by Anne Rice. Pure fantasy, pure porn.  The sex is incredible, and by that I mean, “hard to believe,” the prose is flowery, the dialogue is contorted, and the characters are archetypes bordering on stereotypes.  And the books are rousing fun.  Another way to be inspired to throw caution to the wind.
  9. The Happy Hooker, Xaviera! Her Continuing Adventures, and Xaviera Goes Wild by Xaviera Hollander. After the so-called “Happy Hooker” retired to write her column for Penthouse, she also put out several pseudo-autobiographical books describing her many sexual antics and adventures.  Like with the Beauty books, these are just sheer, silly, fun.
  10. The Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Beverly Gaddis. Literally, a porno-graphic novel.  Alice “In Wonderland” Liddell, Dorothy “Wizard of Oz” Gale and Wendy “Peter Pan” Darling are all grown up, horny as Hell, and happily fingering and fucking and debauching themselves and everyone around them on the eve of the Great War.  Not just another example of pushing the envelope, but absolutely crushing it.
  11. Honorable Mention. A few years ago, I found myself cursed with having to wait in an airport and I’d already finished everything I’d brought to read.  Someone had left a paperback on one of the seats at the terminal and I, naturally, picked it up.  It was a Jackie Collins novel, and I only remember the heroine was named “Lucky.”  And it was terrific.  I skipped over a lot of the mob stuff, but the sex scenes were great, ripping fun, and I was thrilled to have discovered a hidden treasure.
  12. Honorable Mention #2  I said I’d make a more detailed statement about the quality of the works of E.L. James.  She nailed it.  She found a chord and she struck it and she clobbered it.  More power to her.  And by all means, I recommend reading her.  If you can find her secret, bravo.  If not, well….I can vouch for the fact that her books are great for getting the fire going on a cold winter’s night.

There’s the list.  Read it, ignore it, delete it, line the birdcage with it, make your own list.

A special note about Ms. Rice.  She used to say, “Artists are meant to be madmen, to disturb and shock us.”  By that definition, Ms. Rice was an artist of the first order.  I’ve already mentioned her Beauty books, but just about everything else she wrote was in the stratosphere of, “Holy shit!  What happens next?”  I mean, in The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, the very first book…Prince Alexi…the punishment…his anus….that statue…the stone phallus…the Stone Phallus!!!

But there’s another reason Anne Rice is a Grand Dame of the Damned, at least in my humble opinion.  Awhile back, I came across a quote by Ms. Rice about economics and standards of living in the United States.  It was intelligent and insightful, and completely unlike anything I’d ever read or heard by or about Ms. Rice.  I’m not saying I thought she was an idiot or incapable of such deep thoughts; just the opposite.  It’s like learning Rachel Maddow is an expert in ancient Greek and is working on her own translation of The Odyssey as a side gig.  I believed it, and of course, anything you find on the internet is 100% reliable, but I got a wild hair.  I reached out to Ms. Rice via social media, took a flying leap, asked if she’d said the quote, and waited to see what would happen.

What happened is, Ms. Rice responded.

It was short and very sweet.  Yes, she’d said the quote.  She thanked me for being a fan and she also thanked me for having the courtesy to reach out and verify what she’d said.  It took maybe a minute out of her day to send that DM, but wow.

Anne Rice was a great writer, a great artist, a great pornographer, and a damned nice lady.

I will miss her.

What’s on your list?


J.T. Benjamin

J.T. Benjamin has been associated with the Erotica Readers and Writers Association since he used to chisel his dirty stories onto slabs of rock and his internet connection was through a dial-up modem. As a freelance sex writer/pundit and social commentator, (translation: financially and morally bankrupt know-it-all sexual degenerate), J.T. can and will happily philosophize on subjects as diverse as politics, history, economics, science, biology, religion, literature, and of course, sex. In his secret identity, J.T.’s been a private investigator, disk jockey, truck driver, teacher, preacher-man, thief, …doctor, lawyer, Native American chief. His real-life experiences are as diverse as his academic and intellectual pursuits. J.T. blames a disturbingly short attention span. Right now, J.T. is somewhere in Colorado, lying low through another year of COVID quarantine, working on the next Great American Smut Novel and otherwise lawfully abiding by the terms of his probation.


  1. Frank Wiegers

    Inspiring J. T. Thanks for your thoughts. Makes me want to stop writing and read more.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    Finally, the blog is cooperating…!

    Great list, J.T. Definitely some overlap. The Story of O was part of my awakening. The Beauty books likewise, though after reading more nuanced BDSM I liked them less.

    Here are a few I’d add, some well known, others obscure.

    o The Marketplace by Laura Antoniou

    Explores dominance and submission with a purity that goes way beyond the flesh.

    o The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas

    Not intended as erotica, but one of the most arousing books I’ve ever read, capturing the urgency of desire and the twists of taboo.

    o Laura by Anonymous – not to be confused with Laura MIddleton: Her Brother and Her Lover – this is an obscure, ostensibly Victorian novel about a woman initiated into sexual submission, originally, by her father. It’s very different from much of the Victorian erotica I’ve read, dreamlike, mysterious and as much focused on the heroine’s internal state as on her physical abasement. Unfortunately, I cannot right now find my copy!

    o The Initiation of Ms. Holly by K.D. Grace. Actually this was K.D.’s first novel, and like many of our maiden efforts, it’s brimming with genuine lust and uncensored kinkiness.

    I have found that I’ve become a great deal more selective as I’ve gained experience in the genre. Alas, it’s the curse of the writer to lose the ability to read naively.

  3. Brian

    I enjoyed Anne Rice’s Beauty books as well, and this characterization – “pure fantasy, pure porn,” with contorted dialogue – is spot on. For readers who enjoy that series, it’s also worth reading Rice’s Exit to Eden. It depicts a similarly fantastical, over-the-top world of sexual slavery and fluidity, but set in the real world and modern times. The characters are better developed than are Beauty and her various princes, too.

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