Sunday, August 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #231: Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen

Well all have catchphrases we like to use a lot. I'm particularly fond of "so what you are saying, Percy, is that one thing you have never seen is slightly less blue than another thing you have never seen" and "if we had some ham, we could have some ham and eggs, if we had some eggs" and "you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" and (most relevant to this particular conversation) "Hey, this is a sequel to something!"

Live Nude Elf is both the first (and only) book by "Reverend Jen" [1] collecting her "I Did It For Science" sex columns [2] and a sequel to something.

How is that possible? Well, Jen (last name Weiss -- it only appears here on the copyright page, so I'll refer to her as Jen, acting as if that's her last name) was not the first person to write that column. Oddly, first had a man write its sex column, showing that they may not have been as up on the what-kind-of-sex-people-want-to-see-on-the-Internet as we thought they were.

Before Jen was Grant Stoddard, whose main qualification seems to have been that he was British and living illegally in NYC at the time. (It's almost like the early Internet existed to throw money at unlikely people for frivolous reasons, and then to stop doing so abruptly.) And, over a decade ago, I randomly read Stoddard's memoir of that column, Working Stiff, covering his two years or so in the writing-about-sex mines in the halcyon early Aughts.

It is a strange feeling to realize that the book you just started reading is (in at least one strange way) a sequel to another book by another person you read a decade ago -- I can tell you that.

I read both of those books for frivolous and prurient reasons, obviously -- why else would anyone read a book of "sexperiments" in the first place? (No, really. If you do have any other plausible reasons, the comment box is just below this post.) And any personal growth I may have achieved since 2007 clearly didn't affect that aspect of my personality, which is either sad or gratifying, depending on whether you think a person should change a lot or stay the same.

Anyway: it was 2005 or so; Jen was youngish (in her very early thirties), deeply bohemian, working crap jobs for low pay to cover the lousy rent on a horrible apartment she shared with random (barely mentioned) roommates. She also -- this is the nonpaying part of her life -- was an Art Star, MCing anti-poetry slams and facilitating what sounds like all sorts of really horrible and pointless performance art made and consumed entirely by a small clique of young attractive hipsters like herself.

She's done some writing as part of that Art Star life -- plays that turned into zero-budget movies, stuff like that -- and that, apparently, led Nerve to think she was somebody would would be willing to do wild odd sexual things once a month and write about it.

And so she was, and so she did, for not quite two years. Live Nude Elf embeds what seem to be edited/rewritten versions of those columns in a more conventional memoir format, explaining Who She Was and What The Hell She Was Doing.

The columns see her do all sorts of things, some public (nude dancer, main event at a bondage party, climbing naked into a giant balloon on stage), some otherwise private (her first anal sex with her then-boyfriend, the Sex Toy Olympics with a lesbian friend, a mostly-theoretical "fellatio class" and subsequent "homework") and some downright sedate (a Sex and the City-watching marathon).

The memoir surrounding the sexy stuff -- well, let's be honest, Jen was interested in sex outside of the column, so it's not correct to say the rest is not "sexy stuff" -- sees her move from "performing my sexuality loudly and openly is empowering and fun" to "this is getting old and boring; it drove off my last boyfriend and I'm getting sick of having to keep thinking up new stuff to top last month's column."

If you grant her some lenience on the exact number, it''s damn close to Voltaire's "once, a philosopher; twice, a pervert." (Though I doubt Jen would blink at being called a pervert: she might revel in the label.) Or, more generally: doing too much of the same thing too much makes you sick of that thing. It works for almost anything; for Jen, it was a sex column.

So she quit, and Live Nude Elf tells you why. She went on to do other stuff after that, and I think had some other books out -- from even smaller presses than this one, if I've worked it out right. From all I can see, she is still exactly as fabulous and as bohemian now as fifteen years ago, even though she must be deep in her forties by now.

I would not be surprised if Nerve had another sex columnist after Jen, but that site was bought out a few years back and shuttered less than a year ago, so it's difficult to tell. I don't intend to wait another decade and then read the book that person wrote about it, but I've learned my intentions aren't usually what actually happens.

If you happen across this book, know that there is a lot of sex in it. Jen is sex-positive, in the sense that she likes to have it and likes to write about it. But you should have figured that out from the title and cover, right?

[1] Yes, the author is credited as "Reverend Jen." And it seems that people seem to call her "Rev," which makes it almost into a weird version of Firstname Lastname.

[2] For, back in the days when both and major media outlets having sex columns were a thing. Hell, when there were major media outlets online, frankly. We live in a horrible, fallen age, and it's sad to think what we had not all that long ago, when we thought things were already pretty bad.

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