Books of Love

We review 10 new books on the current state of dating and sex.

YOU'VE STILL GOT a few days to race to the bookstore and study the intricacies of the human heart—and perhaps win one with the knowledge. Maybe these titles will help unlock the secret to a successful Valentine's Day. Or at least they'll give you something to read while you're sitting at home alone and unloved.


By E. Jean Carroll (HarperResource, $23.95)

Gag me with a cruise missile. Smart women don't need to land their dream men in a hurry—they're busy enough having fun in the real world. Fortunately, Elle advice columnist E. Jean Carroll does write with a sense of humor—she's funny, frank, and conspiratorial in the way a good best friend should be. But would a best friend really say you need to meet a man, then tell you exactly how to do so? Um, OK, yes. So Carroll lays out a six-week man-catching program, including sleeping 10 hours a night for a week in order to look younger and healthier than you've looked in a long, long time. I'm all for sleep promotion, but I hope this book is meant to be more tongue in cheek than useful. I don't care how lonely you are, there's no pride in, for example, man-finding tip No. 108: sitting on the dock of a marina, waiting patiently for your yacht-owning dream man to walk by and fall in love at first sight. Here's my guide to finding happiness in a mere six days: Stop dreaming, start some hobbies, spend time with your girlfriends, and—yes—sleep 10 hours a night.

A related Valentine's Day footnote: Carroll co-founded, the rather absurd Web site where ex- girlfriends "vouch for" their ex-boyfriends, thereby nominating them as suitable game for other ladies on the prowl. Which begs a couple of questions: If he was so great, why did you break up with him? And what red-blooded woman would actually want to see their ex happily paired with a new woman? KATIE MILLBAUER


By Judith Silverstein and Michael Lasky (Wiley, $16.99)

The arrival of this book was inevitable; the only question is why it took so long. Co-authors Judith Silverstein and Michael Lasky are plenty sincere in their desire to share the Net-surfing wisdom that brought them together as a couple—maybe too sincere. Their how-to guide isn't exactly a breezy, relaxing way to find a mate. In a section called "Checking Your List: Ready to E-mail?" there's a seven-point checklist that includes four references to other chapters?the idea being that after following these step-by-step, cross- referenced directions, you'll finally be ready to make contact with another human being. Or at least take notes. Instructions like "You've read through the essays of dozens of prospects" seem excessive. Dozens—Jeez. Find me a few cute-looking women with fairly intelligent profiles, and I'm in the game.

Some of the book's commonsense advice is unintentionally hilarious, like a cautionary section called "Photos With Babies" (their hint: Don't post 'em). But what Silverstein and Lasky miss is the devil-may-care aspect of browsing for boys and babes online. Internet dating can make you feel like a kid in a candy store; what it shouldn't feel like is a safety-belted, crash-tested Sunday drive. Here's my advice for our non-dummy SW readers: Don't fuss, don't futz, don't worry yourself silly. Just put your profile on the hook, drop it in, and see who bites. You don't have to write (or read) a book about it. NEAL SCHINDLER


By Cam Johnson (Sourcebooks, $14.95)

Looking for 143 ways to spice up your boring love life? How about reading trashy novels aloud to each other, engaging in cyber-romance, or hiring someone to serenade you? So far, with 140 tips to go, Eat might sound cheesy (particularly coming from the TV co-host of Northwest Extra), but there's more to the book than bizarre suggestions for attracting perverts. It's geared less toward singles than couples who are in a rut and need some new ideas for their relationships. If you're tired of going to the Sizzler every Friday night or watching American Idol in your sweats, try some of Cam Johnson's more viable strategies, like moonlight walks, naked bill paying, and underwear upgrades. The familiar ideas behind her advice are to feel good about yourself and to spend quality time trying something new with your partner. Sensible enough, although notions like a date at the cemetery suggest Johnson should've stopped at 100. GINGER DONALD


By Tariq "K-Flex" Nasheed (Fireside, $12)

The jacket-browsing, tee-hee quotient of this one is off the charts?the self-described ex-playa behind, ahem, The Art of Mackin' deigns to offer ladies tips on sifting through cracks in the macks for an ideal "king." Despite the innate, is-this-for-real hilarity in segments like "Are You a Hoochie? Take the Chickenhead Test," Tariq "K-Flex" Nasheed reveals himself as a bright, colorful writer with no dearth of experience or observational prowess . . . who just happens to be an overconfident, alpha male, Maxim-devotee jerk-off.

His flippant riffs on feminists (whose "philosophy is that all women are victims of the evil male patriarchal society") and gay men (they're actually straight but so hard up that they "substitute another man's booty for a vagina") are mortifyingly outmoded; ironic that Nasheed refers to these quasi- gays as "caveman players."

And for somebody professing to empower women in their hunt for a good man, it's odd that Nasheed's tips for maintaining "queen status"?women are born queens, btw, whereas men have to experience hardship to ascertain regality—juxtapose garbage like "feed your man" with the more legitimate "command respect" and "find something you are passion-ate about."

Play or Be Played? The latter is the only option here, chickenheads. ANDREW BONAZELLI


By Tina Tessina (Tarcher/Penguin, $14.95)


By Dave Singleton (Three Rivers Press, $12)

Here's one of the most insufferable results of assimilation for lesbians and gays: Being subjected to the same kind of pandering, mass-market, self-help schlock that used to be the sole property of heterosexuals.

At least give Tina Tessina points for earnest compassion. She identifies herself as a "bisexual rather than a lesbian woman," and prefers to use "gay" and "lesbian" as "adjectives rather than nouns, because people are defined by much more than their sexual preferences." And she has a sensitive grasp on issues like internalized homophobia, lack of role models, etc. But the squishy-eyed, elementary Gay Relationships feels a bit too 1977, geared only for the most sheltered and naive of homos. It'll be hard for anyone not in deepest Iowa to take her seriously after the following observation: "The few present-day models who are open?such as Ron Reagan Jr., Charles Nelson Reilly, and Billie Jean King?are also not talked about, except when details of their lifestyles create some kind of news scandal." Yeah, that last Charles Nelson Reilly hullabaloo really threw Paul Lynde and the rest of us for a loop.

Dave Singleton's MANdates (man dates, get it? Get it?) knows you've been around the block a few times, girlfriend, and can't wait to stereotype you in a cute, accessible, Will & Grace kind of way because, let's face it, "there are eight million gay men, and four stories." (Contrary to Tessina, apparently, people are not defined by much more than their sexual preferences.) Here's a typically wincing example from "How to Type Him by Diva," which tells you what to expect from a fella who likes Madonna: "You better be ready to express yourself fast. You'll have to assess which specific Madonna CDs he owns to learn which Madonna persona he has adopted, as every gay man under 50 on the planet has taken on at least one." The closet looks better every day. STEVE WIECKING


Edited by Susie Bright (Touchstone Books, $14)


By Susie Bright (Thunder's Mouth Press $13.95)

I'm no erotica expert—I mean, I've read Story of O just like everyone else?but I assumed that, with the woman whom The San Francisco Chronicle called an "X-rated intellectual" at the helm, the stories in Best American would be more, well, intellectual. Maybe I went into the anthology with the wrong expectations, but even if I'd just been looking for a few turn-ons, Susie Bright's 2004 edition would've left me cold. The stories are as predictable as cheap porn. In "The Audit" by Dominic Santi, an IRS man pays a visit to a dominatrix, and in lieu of a proper audit, well, let's just say the dominatrix stuck it to Uncle Sam for all of us. Big surprise.

In her acknowledgements to Little Girl, Bright claims that many a publisher tried to talk her out of this book, telling her she couldn't be both a sex goddess and a mom. To this, she correctly replied that the combination is biologically inevitable. True enough, but does it make for good writing on the subject—After reading the four extremely pat and tidy, moralistic essays about her preteen daughter in the section "Mommy's Little Girl," the equally pat and tidy essays in "Who Wants to Be a Sex Guru?" and "Pornoland" feel only slightly less nauseating than having your parents walk in on you. Yes, Bright is growing older, and so is her core audience. And I'm sure many of them have children and dandy sex lives and can totally relate. Great for them, but none for me, thanks. LAURA CASSIDY


By Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey (Nerve, $25)


By Emma Taylor and Lorelei Sharkey (Plume, $12)

Never mind what Nerve, the Web site dedicated to sex and erotic culture, would have you think—sex is not a recent discovery. It's the same old sweaty, smelly, potentially baby-making activity we've been doing for centuries. But the old marital-advice books do need some updating. In Bang, dishy, matter-of-fact columnists Em and Lo tell the dirty details your sex-ed teacher politely left out. Chapters like "Me Time: Nerve's Masturbation Manifesto," "Kink, It's Not What You Think: BDSM for the Rest of Us," and "Self-Help for Your Peter: Everything You Wanted to Know About Penises and Weren't Afraid to Ask" pick up where The Joy of Sex left off. Bang's breezy and funny without glossing over important details on health and safety. The photos of naked hipsters are a plus in an unglam, look-what- my-bored-friends-and-I-did-with-our- digital-camera kind of way.

Etiquette is more about manners than mechanics. How often should an active single gentleman change his sheets? How much eye contact is acceptable during oral sex? Is breakfast necessary the morning after a one-night stand—All these nagging questions and more are answered. The mock erudite, tea-and-cakes language adopted here by Em and Lo can get old. And much of the etiquette is common sense—though I can think of a few exes who could have benefited from this book. K.M.

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